It struck me a few days ago how often the “distance from home” objection so completely controls whether or not your recruit takes your interest seriously or not, and ends up packing up and jetting off to your campus for four years.
That epiphany probably shouldn’t have made such an impact on me, but some previous conversations this past week with our clients – who are working with us to map out the start of this next recruiting season – seemed to be coming face-t0-face with the hard, cold reality that they weren’t exactly sure how high to place their really good out-of-area recruits on their developing recruiting boards.
For a lot of coaches – maybe you, too – the distance from home question can end recruiting before it even begins.
The difficult part of all this is the prospect, and their parents. Once in a while, you’ll get an honest family who tells you right from the start that they don’t want to compete that far away from home, and politely suggests that you don’t need to put any energy into trying to convince them otherwise.
It works otherwise, too: There are some prospects who won’t want to compete for you because you’re too close to home. They want something different in a college, and since they’ve already defined you over the past few years, it’s going to be a long-shot to convince them that you deserve to be a serious consideration.
As a college recruiter, the problem with these all-too-familiar scenarios is simple:
Your prospects will rarely offer-up their true feelings and tell you how they feel.
Today, I want to make the case that determining those feelings right away is probably one of the hurdles I’ve seen really good recruiters clear, leading to consistently good recruiting classes. They know when to pursue the out-of-area recruits, and when to cut bait and run. And they don’t waste a lot of time making that determination.
Taking a cue from these recruiting pros, and mixing it with what I’ve seen work over the years, here are five proven ways to figure-out whether you should invest your time and resources in that really good prospect in an area code far, far away:
- As soon as possible, ask the prospect why they want to look at out-of-area colleges. If they don’t give you an answer that centers around a specific reason that they can verbalize, that should be a red flag as a college recruiter. Answers like “oh I don’t know, I just want to see what’s out there” or “my parents want me to keep an open mind and listen to everyone that’s interested in me” don’t necessarily mean you should throw in the towel, but it should cause you to really dig deep and find out some additional thinking behind those statements. If, on the other hand, you hear your out-of-area prospect say something like “I really want to look at a college in your part of the country because I’m looking for warmer weather, and plus my best friend is going there and she loves it”, then that’s a great indicator that there’s a substantial reason behind their desire to talk to you. Ask the question, coach.
- Ask the parents why they would want to see their son/daughter go “away” to college. You need to phrase it exactly like I worded it, coach: “So, why do you want to see your son/daughter go away to college?” If you hear a response like, “well, I don’t really want them to go away…I just think it’s smart to keep all their options open”, approach with caution! Our research shows that when push comes to shove, mom or dad (or both) is going to play the emotion card and push for them to stay close to home. Again, a response like that doesn’t mean you give up; however, it does mean that you really need to have the parents define why they see you – as an out-of-area program – being a smart consideration for their son or daughter. Asking this question will help you get an answer that tells you how to move forward.
- Ask sooner rather than later. Want to totally bog-down your recruiting efforts with out-of-area recruits? Wait until later in the process before asking them and their parents those questions. Asking them at the start will tell you exactly what you need to do next in determining whether you keep pursuing that recruit, or walk away before you begin to invest your valuable time and resources. “Wait a minute,” you say. “Did you just say that maybe I should keep pursuing that recruit who is giving me those red flag warning statements you just listed???” Yes…
- Keep recruiting them, but do it efficiently. Wishy-washy out-of-area recruits may change their mind as the recruiting process moves forward: Some of their other local top choices may not come through with an offer, they may like what you have to say about your college and your program as time goes on…in short, teenagers and their parents change their minds. While I’m advising that you approach with caution, I still think a consistent message sent efficiently (group letters and email) is smart to do. Too many coaches give up too soon and just stop messaging those kids at the first sign of trouble. Don’t be one of those coaches. Continue to consistently, efficiently sell them on you and your program.
- The good prospects that reach out to you should be your priorities. Note that I said “good” prospects, not all prospects. When you have a solid recruit who can compete for you at your level, and they have taken the time to personally send you something in the mail or fill out your online recruiting questionnaire, that shows a high degree of interest in you no matter where they live. These prospects have invested their time in you; if they’re good, do the same. Show special interest.
One final note on out-of-area prospects:
When we conduct our detailed athlete surveys as a part of our On-Campus Workshops when we are asked to teach at college athletic departments, we’re finding a real rise in the willingness to go far away from home from a significant number of top prospects. The reasons vary greatly, from perceived academic opportunities in particular parts of the country to a desire to experience a different climate. The point is, they’re willing to listen.
Your job? Ask smart questions on the topic, be consistent and persistent, and look for signs that your prospect is more open than most to looking seriously at out-of-area scholarship and playing opportunities.
If we haven’t been to your campus yet, make this year the year you get us there! We’ve worked with high level Division I athletic departments, as well as small, private college coaching staffs, with one goal in mind: Finding the right story to tell for those coaches, and training them to be the most effective recruiters possible. For all the details on reserving a date for your athletic department, click here.