by Paul Nemetz-Carlson, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
Our research says that over 60% of club and high school coaches think you’re not very good at your job and they could do it better.
So it makes sense that so many of them feel confident calling you up and telling you who you should recruit and who belongs on your team. And while you don’t often agree on the fit, they have no shame in sharing their opinion with you.
Anyone who has been in collegiate coaching for any length of time has a story of that one individual who constantly emails, calls, or grabs you on the road to tell you they have someone for you. You’re incredibly polite, you listen, but secretly you wonder if they’re ever going to have someone for you.
But trust me, some day the “I’ve got a guy for you” guy will actually have a guy for you. And I’d like this year to be that time.
Instead of getting random calls and suggestions, this year I’m going to help you get more rewarding recommendations by providing some insight into how you can better activate your network. If you want to change the quality of people being recommended to you, you need to change the way you approach your relationships with club and high school coaches. When you do it right, they’ll respond to your intentional efforts with better players and better fits for your program.
In this year of limited evaluation, extended NCAA mandated dead periods, and budget challenges, programs at all levels have never been more reliant on the opinions of others in developing their player pool. And yet many college coaches still aren’t effectively engaging these resources to improve how they tell their story and the quality of recruits they’re able to tell it to.
In fact, based on my conversations, I see most coaches treating club/high school coaches like parents, keeping them at arms’ length because of a fear they may become too involved or think they have too much influence. It’s a lack of understanding of the power of both groups. And by trying to maintain independence, coaches continue to not fully unitize valuable resources and advocates.
First off, let’s all agree this is a tough year for you and tough for them.
Beyond a nation-wide pandemic challenging the business model of youth sports, the rules of recruiting have changed with sweeping NCAA legislative changes. Many high school and club coaches are actually struggling with how to navigate the changing landscape that includes an extra year of eligibility, increased activity on the transfer portal, and a lack of showcase opportunities.
I suggest that if you want to engage them, listen to their story. Be clear in how you intend to approach this and what you’re looking for. Imagine how you would stand out if you’re the one to provide clarity around how programs are handling roster management, the transfer vs. high school athlete debate, and extra years of eligibility.
I believe it’s an opportunity to build trust. This doesn’t need to be an overwhelming project. If you pick just a few influential coaches – ones that match with your program’s needs and goals – and change your targeted communication strategy, you’ll see tremendous benefits. They’ll come back to you more often for advice. They’ll be more willing to listen to your story. They’ll be more informed about your needs and more understanding of who in their program might actually be a good fit.
I say this knowing that relationships take time. This will force you to change both WHAT you tell them and HOW you tell them. One of the reasons I find coaches are not effectively using club and high school coaches as advocates is that college coaches don’t spend enough time educating them about their program. Seeing this college-club/high school coach dynamic as transactional – centered around the recruitment of an individual prospect – limits its value. Like how we ask coaches to tell their story to prospects, it’s vital to consistently share who you are and your vision of the future with these influencers over a period of time.
Create a plan to get them information on a regular schedule. I’ve seen programs have success with a monthly newsletter sent to just 10 coaches that offers three talking points about their program in an easily accessible, visual form. This is a simple, yet manageable, task that provides consistent reminders of what makes your program great and can counter widely-held negative perceptions. When you don’t have a national profile, this type of storytelling is effective branding when it includes both the highlighting of your program’s positive elements AND the reframing of common objections. It gives you increased control of your program’s narrative, delivered to the right people.
Second, most coaches fail to provide clarity to club and high school coaches around who they are, what type of players they’re looking for, and how others should perceive them.
It’s so much easier for club and high school coaches to guide players to you if they can make a logical connection from one of their players to who you are. You get to choose what that is and how you sell it – but be known for something. It can be a commitment to development, your style of play, your culture and program experience, or outcomes and post-collegiate experiences – whatever you want. The more defined and unique it is, the better.
One of my best recruiting wins happened years ago when asking about a player, a club coach responded, “they’re talented, but they don’t work hard enough for your program and won’t buy into your emphasis on development and the weight room.” Thank you very much for helping me avoid the headache. (And no, that athlete didn’t go and succeed elsewhere, but actually had an injury riddled four years and an early-career transfer.)
Remember, as you define you, all relationships and interactions are framed by the other individual’s perception of you as well as what you both perceive you can do for each other. It’s an uneasy balance for most coaches, secretly hoping to be able to talk to the best athletes while unsure if their program is good enough. Be comfortable with the fact that it may take time to change the dynamic of how they perceive your program and how it fits their need to place athletes as a central component of the youth travel sports model. But it’s worth the investment, and the good news in this different year is that you probably have it.
Finally, one of the biggest benefits of engaging club and high school coaches comes from your ability to create another voice to speak for you when you are not. When they’re better informed they can articulate the reasons your program is a good fit for their prospects and the reasons that you’re not. They eliminate friction in the process – helping explain difficult questions like why your prospects should feel comfortable committing without a visit, making the link from your story to the prospect’s personal goals, and giving confidence to move forward to indecisive prospects.
Recruiting has always been about relationships, building trust, and finding new ways to maximize your resources. The best coaches effectively expand their network using others to grow their player pool and grow their influence on prospect decisions. And in turn by educating the club and high school coaches, they get that network to work for them.
So as you start to approach a new recruiting class, make this year to start having those calls from unknown numbers and unsolicited email suggestions actually be worth picking up and answering.
Be Distinct. Be Different.
Paul Nemetz-Carlson is a former Division I coach and Director of Operations who now advises college recruiters as a part of the Tudor Collegiate Strategies team. To find out how we work with coaching staffs one-on-one to make them more successful and efficient in recruiting, click here.