One of the predictions I made several years ago when talk of a mechanism to ease the college sports transfer process was that it would create a cultural of free agency among college student-athletes, as well as coaches.
And that’s exactly what’s happened.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all necessarily a bad thing. Giving young adults the chance to correct a mistake they feel they made during their decision-making process, or to explore opportunities that could take them from a good college sports experience to a great college sports experience, is a good thing. It’s what college coaches get to do in their profession, why not let college student-athletes do the same thing?
But of course, we had to know there would be ripple effects from such a switch in college athletics: Rosters are more in flux than ever before, coaches are having to re-recruit kids to stay in their program, and getting to coach that well-developed fifth year senior just got a lot more rare. And one other ripple effect has occurred, which possibly changes more than any of the previous ones I’ve mentioned so far:
There has been a cultural mindset shift on the part of your future and current college student-athletes.
- More than ever before, your prospects know that if they make a mistake in their choice of program to commit to, they can get out of it by transferring to another program – possibly the one that was the runner-up in the initial recruiting sweepstakes coming out of high school.
- More than ever before, because of the ability to have a do-over in their college sports career, they are committing faster to programs based on the coaches that show them the most interest and give them the opportunity to do so. Free agency makes it something that isn’t a forever thing, just a ‘lets get there and see how it goes’ thing – and if it doesn’t go well, no biggie…there are plenty of other programs that will have them, more than likely.
- More than ever before, fighting and working, sacrificing and developing as a way to earn a starting opportunity isn’t the only road to college athletic fame. Choosing the path of least resistance isn’t just permitted, it has been formalized into a sanctioned process.
- More than ever before, college student-athletes are fueled by a vision for what they can get out of their program and their experience there in the first 6 to 18 months, rather than what they can give to that program over a four to five year period.
That’s what I mean by a mindset shift. And I’ll say again: there have been lots of good aspects of easing of transfers, but coaches are having to deal with a lot of new challenges that were created from it, as well. And while there isn’t any of us can do to change or alter this major cultural shift (except complain and yearn for the good ‘ol days, when transferring was hard and colleges were less expensive), coaches can adjust their overall approach to incorporate the new cultural realities they’re facing heading into a new recruiting year.
Recruit with a future transfer back to you in mind. Coaches at all levels, in all sports, are starting to realize that the high school prospect you lose today may also be the prospect you get back in your program as a rising sophomore or junior in two to three years. This is where the cultural mindset shift works in your favor; the ‘no’ you get the first time around doesn’t mean the same kind of end to the process that it used to mean…not that I’m suggesting you continue to recruit the athlete and stay in contact once he or she has started their college career at a different campus; rather, ask yourself what strategic changes you can employ during your recruiting process prior to them deciding that would make you the obvious fall-back choice if something doesn’t go right with the school and coach they just chose. Specifically, we’re finding the way coaches end the process now – and what get said after they lose a recruit to a competitor – factors in heavily to whether or not they are still in the game when it comes time for a potential transfer a few years later.
Increase interaction with the prospects’ parents, focusing on the logical reason your program should be the one. As a parent, we want our kids to have a stable, predictable college experience that decreases the drama and increases the likelihood for a good overall experience. If you don’t communicate with them effectively and consistently, explaining why you are the logical choice, and laying out reasons that bolster your case, you risk losing the stabilizing force in the conversation that leads up to a decision. Of course, there are variations to this approach based on the psychological make-up of the parent, as well as where they see you in the scheme of choices that they have, but overall we know that too often a coach will ignore the relationship with the parent during the recruiting process, allowing them to define you inaccurately to their son or daughter. When that happens, we can’t blame the parent – they’re just working with the limited information they’ve been able to scrape together on their own. College coaches own this one: it’s your responsibility to define the ‘why’ to the parent of your recruit, and do so as early as possible. If you do, that’ll get remembered…if not completely during the first decision making process, certainly later when they start their search over again during the transfer process.
Embrace losing the recruit the first time, and realize you can win them over the next time around. Speaking of mindset shifts, this is one I’m hoping more coaches embrace: Realizing that losing a recruit the first time around is going to happen, for both good and bad decision-making reasons on the prospect’s part, but this new cultural of free agency doesn’t mean you won’t get them back. And, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get an athlete from a previous year’s class through the transfer process who you didn’t talk to before, but has replied to your interest in them through the NCAA Transfer Portal or other means. What I’m saying is that coaches no longer have to look at an initial hard-fought recruiting loss as the end of the road. End the process professionally, tell them that if they ever rethink their choice that you want to be the first coach on their list to reach out to, and that you really believe in what they bring to your sport. End things positively, and set up the next round of conversations.
“I was wrong,” isn’t something you hear all that much from recruits, or their parents, after they realize they’ve made a mistake in their decision making. It’s true for people in power, or the rest of us who believe something initially only to find out we were tricked or lied to.
As a coach and a program builder at the college level, remember that it’s far easier to persuade someone to make a new decision based on new information, or information that they recall you gave them that they now realize was the truth. That way, they can be right now, and they can also believe that they were right before when they made the choice to go in a direction away from you.
Don’t blame them for their mistake, create an opening – even as they are making the mistake – to choose you as the eventual right path for their college athletic career.
Want to see what it would be like to work with Dan and his team at Tudor Collegiate Strategies in helping you implement advanced strategies to help you take advantage of the latest recruiting trends? Email Dan at email@example.com so we can find out where you’re at, what you need, and how to get you there. 600+ programs around college sports partner with us to help them build winning programs, and we can do the same for you, too. Let’s talk and see if it might be a fit for you and your program, Coach!