by Paul Nemetz-Carlson, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
Our sports world is defined by schedules. For many – fans, athletes, and especially coaches – a carefully scripted arrangement of practices, games, and seasons provides the real framework for their daily lives and annual calendar. Schedules provide structure, a sense of normalcy, and a picture of the future.
And now, all schedules have been paused as time stands still. We wonder, what’s next?
With no games, no practices, and no team meetings scheduled, college coaches are left to focus on recruiting and the future. All college coaches know that when the season ends, recruiting season begins. But now, there are no games to attend – no events on the calendar.
Which begs the questions, can you successfully recruit if you NEVER leave your home or office?
As someone who spent over 20 years in the profession – on the hamster wheel of pre-season, regular season, and recruiting season – I’m a believer in the idea that you succeed in recruiting by getting on the road to evaluate, building relationships face to face, and using all that information to make the best decisions on the right fits your program. However, faced with a new reality, I’m also the same person that believes you can actually be successful without leaving home.
In fact, I think you can separate yourself from your competitors if you’re willing to do things differently and attack recruiting with a new plan – one that connects you to your sports community to improve identification; tells a better, more creative story; and truly embraces the role college coaches play as guide and dream maker.
First of all, I acknowledge there will be mistakes. Coaches will be making decisions with fewer opportunities to evaluate. Prospective student-athletes will be asked to consider opportunities with less information – including being unable to visit campuses. The unanswered questions about the impact on academic eligibility, training, and transfers pose serious future challenges for roster management.
Yet, there will be a future, with games, practices and a need for players. What it looks like will be up to you.
The process will be different – which is a good thing!! Too many coaches are currently set in their ways from ten years ago – heading to the same events with the same teams on the same weekends year after year and have relied on the same small group of club/high school coaches to build their team. Too many coaches think that “if I can just get them to campus,” they can win over kids and parents and don’t understand why prospects choose to visit in the first place. Too many coaches focus on the transaction – scholarship or financial aid dollars in exchange for an opportunity – and not building the relationships that drive prospects’ emotional decisions.
What can you do from home to change this?
You’ll need more people you can trust to help you. Expand your network of club and high school coaches. Find ways to explain to them why their athletes should want to be a part of your program. (Because they already have an idea of why they shouldn’t.) Rethink your communication strategy to focus, not on outcomes like a campus visit and submitting an application, but on building trust, addressing fear, and using consistent contact to demonstrate you want them more than your competitors. Find creative ways to share your campus, your team, and your vision of the future. It might be time for TikTok or to answer those request for participation in creative ideas you’ve been ignoring from your Athletics Communications department. Truthfully, some will work, some will not. But there is no better time to experiment.
There are two groups who will thrive in this current recruiting environment – those who are perceived as better than their competitors (from reputation, consistent success, or local/national brand strength) and those who CREATE the perception they are better than their competitors.
As you talk to your peers, you’ll see this in their fears about the lack of recruiting events. Coaches feel prospects won’t be properly evaluated and tough decisions regarding scholarship, admissions and roster slots that had separated great coaches from the good will level the playing field. Other coaches – who had only evaluated one class at a time – won’t have a big enough pool of athletes to contact. There’s a panic this will benefit the have’s and hurt the have not’s.
Identification is a challenge, but let me share something. If the recruiting process is broken down into two parts – identification and persuasion – it’s persuasion that actually separates the best recruiters. Many people have an eye for talent – or at least have an appreciation for the SAME talent. Considerably fewer have the ability to persuade the right individuals to join their program. The best recruiters ask better questions that get prospects to reveal their inner thoughts and consistently tell a comprehensive story that connects emotionally with their prospects. Use this time to evaluate and improve your story.
As you approach the current state of recruiting, know this, there is a ton of fear and anxiety on the prospect side as well. They’re looking for information, trust, and someone to help them make a decision. The best recruiters have always actively guided prospects through the process by providing clear next steps and explanation of why each step is important. This could be, and should be, you!
In college athletics, we’re all in the dream business. Right now, we’re dreaming of a better tomorrow. With people looking for answers and hope, it’s your job to find new ways to define those dreams and then provide a story to support how you’ll make it happen.
This, you CAN do from your home office, or your couch.
Be Distinct. Be Different.
Paul Nemetz-Carlson is a former college coach and operations director, and is now part of the team at Tudor Collegiate Strategies that advises coaches and departments on the best practices and strategies to use in recruiting their next class of prospects. Want to team up with our experts? Click here for the details on how it works – and why it works so well – and find out more.