The nun who prays and cheers at every Loyola University-Chicago men’s basketball game didn’t become the focus of the 2018 NCAA Tournament because of ‘luck’. She doesn’t think so, and I don’t think so.
That’s normal, by the way. The media covering any event is always looking for interesting, compelling or inspiring stories associated with the sporting event itself, because they want to make it more than just about the game. It makes for entertaining television. The 2018 tournament has become all about the story that nobody wants to stop talking about: Sister Jean.
The thing is, how this whole story unfolded (and stuck) offers some pertinent lessons for college coaches. For years, we’ve preached that telling your recruit a story is one of the key aspects to getting them to seriously consider you as one of their options. When I make the case that Sister Jean isn’t a good luck charm, that wasn’t a knock against her as a person, and the inspiration she provides her university’s team. I’m pointing out that she has been made a central part of an inspirational story we’ve told ourselves about the team, their amazing run, and the role she plays in the story that has evolved around the team’s play in the NCAA Tournament.
So if I were going to give you a roadmap of how you should tell that story, there’s no more perfect example than the story of Sister Jean.
You have to decide to tell your story. It starts there. The reason most recruiting plans don’t work? Nobody tells your story. Coaches most often revert to a list of statistics, facts and data that they relay to their recruit. Worse yet, most coaches stop telling their story way too early in the process, thinking (mistakenly) that once they actually begin speaking one-on-one with their recruit, they don’t need to continue telling their story. That’s an incorrect assumption that has cost coaches more than they know. Make a decision to tell your program’s story, tell it beginning sooner rather than later, and keep going.
There’s always more to tell. Like I mentioned, Sister Jean now has a popular selling bobblehead. Word is, she’s been a ‘thing’ all around the Loyola-Chicago campus for years. She regularly prays with students, and her pre-game blessing on the team her college is about to play includes her exclusive who-to-watch list for the other team.
My point is this: You can’t just tell one aspect of your program’s story. Just like Sister Jean’s story, your program has a lot of layers to it. In one exercise we regularly take athletic department coaching staffs through during our On-Campus Recruiting Workshop, we have coaches take one of their top objections they face in recruiting, and turn it into part of their positive story. Each campus is different, of course, but most staffs come up with eight or more topics, or answers, to the objection that they were convinced was going to stop them from getting the athletes they want – usually in a matter of two or three minutes. Don’t tell just one story, and don’t think for a second that I’d accept an excuse that ‘our program just doesn’t have that much going on.’ You do.
Look for the emotional connection. Just like Sister Jean at Loyola-Chicago, your program’s ’emotional connection’ might just be something simple that you experience every day on campus. That connection could be right under your nose. When you’re telling your story, ask yourself what the emotional connection is when you are about to write your message to your prospects. I’m not saying you need one every time (Loyola-Chicago does actually play basketball games, and they have to outmatch their opponents, and win the game…that’s factual and practical, not emotional) but it does require you focus on a central theme that ties into your recruit’s emotional motivation for putting you on their list and, ultimately, choosing you.
We look for emotion in today’s culture as a way to assign value to what we want to align ourselves with. Whether its a political cause, what brand of coffee you drink, or whether your favorite team has a 98-year old nun cheering and praying for your team. Emotion draws us towards something. The lack of emotion causes us to lose interest.
That’s bad for television ratings, and it’s bad for recruiting.
Sister Jean isn’t good luck. She’s a great person, with a big heart, and a great story.
Looking for creative ways to weave your unique story into your outgoing message to recruits? Make plans on attending this summer’s National Collegiate Recruiting Conference. You will be treated to some of the most creative ideas available, and come away with a new sense of mission and purpose when it comes to telling your story the right way to your next class of recruits. Click here to get all the information, and to register!