by Paul Nemetz-Carlson, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
When prospects begin to ask for advice on selecting a college or university, they’re sure to run into someone outside of the college athletic world that presents them with a version of the broken leg question.
What’s the “Broken Leg Question”, you ask?
It goes something like this – “If you broke your leg and couldn’t play your sport, where would you go?”
It’s fair to say those asking the question feel they’re looking out for the best interest of the prospect, reminding them this decision is about fit and a feeling, and that a college experience is more than sports. But for those of us in the college athletic world – this question has some serious problems.
And before you say college coaches aren’t asking prospects this question, trust me, there are a LOT of coaches using this as a part of their recruiting pitch.
Twenty years ago, when the first coach I worked for asked all our prospects to frame their decision around this question, I was bothered it. I’m still bothered now, but I’ve finally figured out why. It’s because recruiting is storytelling and coaches should OWN their story.
First, your prospects really care about their sport. The ones you want on your team have invested and committed to the sport. They’ve developed, excelled, and see college athletics as the celebration of their journey. It’s part of their identity and their search for the right college includes a valuable and rewarding athletic experience as part of their education.
Second, when you ask this question you become reliant on someone else’s story to define your student-athletes’ experiences. True, your story is tied closely to your institution. Its location, reputation, and opportunities it provides are fundamental parts of the evaluation process for recruits and families. However, know that without your input – this story is mostly admissions and perception driven – and it gives you less of a chance to control the narrative.
Your story CAN be about student-athlete balance and the great academic opportunities available at your institution. In fact, it should be a HUGE part of it. The more effectively you incorporate the admissions/academic story into your compelling college athletic story, the stronger connections you will make with prospects. But remember, you’re not an admissions counselor, you’re a coach. You have a unique opportunity to share something different. What your program does to BETTER the college experience matters to your prospects.
My final problem with this question is that by asking it, you’re taking yourself out of the story. As a coach, you’re devaluing your role in the student-athlete experience.
You spent countless hours developing a plan for your program, consciously selecting the right people, defining your culture, and crafting a story that celebrates all of it – and then when you ask prospects to make a decision – you rely on someone else’s story.
In our experience – confirmed in all our data and focus groups we’ve conducted talking to athletes on campus – this generation of student-athletes are actually picking schools based largely on the quality of relationships they’ve developed with the coaches and your athletes throughout the recruiting process.
And their biggest complaint about how they have been recruited is that coaches don’t tell them why they should come play for them. So, put yourself back in the story.
They want YOU to be a part of the experience and to know how YOU see them as a great fit for your program. Tell them the story of you and your staff. Define your vision for the future. Let them see how you’re working to develop a strong culture and the way you connect with and care for your student-athletes. Share what you are going to do to put people in positions to be successful.
While it would be terrible if an injury forced a team member to end his/her athletic career, what if they didn’t get hurt? Just what if, that prospect grew and developed as you thought into the missing piece on a championship team, leaving a lasting legacy on your program AND on the University?
Isn’t that the story you want to tell?
Be Distinct. Be Different
Paul Nemetz-Carlson is a Regional Recruiting Coordinator for Tudor Collegiate Strategies. He brings a background in coaching and operations at several different division levels throughout college athletics. To contact Paul with questions or needs, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org