As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
That holds true whether it’s related to a first time encounter with another person, your first time dining in a new restaurant, or for that matter the first time your recruit comes to campus to watch an athletic event on your campus. If that experience (whether the event involves your team or not) is bad that will be the impression that stays with them AND their family. That will be the lens through which they see everything and hear everything else you say. Furthermore, if that event is staged poorly, rest assured the recruit and their family will share their experience with others. Your problem has grown exponentially.
Hopefully I’ve got your attention because while it is true that you could lose that recruit if the event they attend does not live up to their expectations, if your athletic department’s event staff hits a home run you have just taken a giant step forward toward gaining their commitment. Over the span of my 30 years as an athletic administrator I have based many decisions on my experience at an athletic event my school hosted as well as an event I attended on someone else’s campus. I have made decisions to not play an opponent if the head coach and or their team behaves badly. Why would I invite a potential problem to my campus? I’ve made decisions to not even interview an applicant for a vacancy based upon things I saw and experienced when they were coaching elsewhere. The experience IS important. The little things DO matter and it’s very difficult to put that genie back in the bottle once it’s out.
How does this relate to your recruiting? If you are a soccer coach and you have recruits on campus for an overnight visit and part of the visit includes attending a basketball game and the event is poorly managed what does that say to them about the experience they might be able to expect for their sport? As pointed out previously the opposite is true as well so let’s focus on things your event management staff can do to assure your recruits have a positive experience attending an athletic event on your campus.
- Let event staff know the details about your recruit so not only their names are on the pass list but also their hometown, high school. Anything that might spawn a conversation.
- Badly behaved fans will turn a recruit (more importantly their parents) off about a campus faster that you can turn flip the switch on a light. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen. If spectators are allowed to treat the athletes badly, the coach badly, the referee badly what the recruit is really seeing is how THEY’RE going to be treated when THEY are competing. If your event staff sets the bar high here they can expect to be challenged. But isn’t it better to have expectations that are too high rather than too low? Event staffs have to hold spectators accountable because it will without question impact your recruiting either positively or negatively. They will not leave in a neutral position.
- On the flip side, nothing will win a recruit faster than an engaged student body. In that scenario, when they see a great student turnout, positive and spirited cheering, pep bands, they see themselves part of a larger community that values the athletic experience. One strategy to achieve this is to have teams come together through your SAAC organization to build support for each other. Nothing sends a better message to a recruit than seeing athletes supporting athletes. In addition, it makes the relationship between coaching staff stronger.
- What are you doing to promote social interaction between parents at home events? Parents are the single most important influencers in what college their child will choose. They see themselves being part of your team in the same ways as their son or daughter. If you can put together a great tailgating environment or hospitality room where your current parents can brag about their child and YOUR program you have a captive audience to win the day.
- This sounds silly but how many of those you are recruiting against give their recruits guest passes on lanyards for attending an event? It’s a simple thing to do but sending them home with a “VIP Guest Pass” on an institutional lanyard is a huge thing to a recruit and their family.
- While some things may seem insignificant all the little things come together to create a comprehensive picture of your event. Those working your home events should be wearing institutional apparel. It denotes professionalism. The list of things you can do to be sure your home events look professional is endless. Signage, professionally scripted public address, programs, recognition of sponsors, engaging the local community with school programs, youth sport days… Again, the list is endless.
I cannot overstate the importance of paying attention to what your home events look like for your recruits. If you are not happy with the way certain things are happening speak to your events manager and athletic director. Staying silent only hurts the product you are all trying to promote.