For most coaches around the country, you’ve now officially started the formal recruiting process with a new class of prospects. The first letters, emails, phone calls and social media messages are being sent. And, if you’re fortunate, maybe you’ve had some of your prospects reply to your initial outreach efforts.
Or, maybe they haven’t.
Regardless, you’re now faced with the daunting two-word question that haunts even the most savvy college recruiter:
The answer to that question is crucial. in fact, it will undoubtedly determine what kind of class you end up with in the months to come. For more than a few coaches, it will determine whether or not they keep their jobs.
So, what should be next? I wish there was a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to that question. However, as you probably already know, the answer for one program and one division level varies greatly from another program at another division level.
That being said, I wanted to outline a few key successful approaches that we’ve seen work on a consistent basis over the years in working closely with individual coaching staffs and conducting research around the country. As you review these strategies and key strategic questions for your program to consider, adapt them to your individual situation:
How are you going to establish the foundation for proving that you are the logical choice? In an age where this generation of student-athlete seems to be gravitating towards more fluff on various social media platforms, a surprising trend has taken shape when you uncover how this generation of recruit actually makes their final decision: They have to justify it logically. It’s true that they can emotionally gravitate to a coach or a school throughout the process; however, at some point in the later stages of the process, they (or their parents, or their coach) start asking the important question of “is this a smart decision.”
What you do with your communication between now and that final decision will determine if you pass that important test, and end up being a prime consideration for them. Establishing that foundation – and moving beyond just the visual stimulation that social media provides – is going to be the key with this generation of recruits. Giving them a consistent story that emphasizes answering the question, “why should I choose you, Coach?” will be the separator for many programs during this recruiting cycle.
How are you going to establish the foundation for proving that you are the emotional choice? Since I just made the case that they will initially gravitate to a coach and program that creates an emotional tie with them – the ones that make them feel the best at the start – it’s important to have a strategy for how to create that feeling in the first place. One of the examples I’ll use when we present our On-Campus Workshop to an athletic department staff is Starbucks. They are the master of creating and managing a feeling when you walk into their stores…the color on the walls, the music that’s heard, the inviting furniture…all of that is done specifically to create a feeling of warmth and comfort. As a smart recruiter, what is your plan to create the right feeling for your recruits now that the initial contact message is in their hands? If you don’t have one, you’re introducing random results into the process (that’s why every Starbucks looks and feels the same; they want you to have the same consistent feeling in each and every store). So, what’s your plan for establishing a feeling that they will gravitate to over the coming months?
How are you engaging the parents early. Our research finds that parents are polite, yet anxious, as you begin to contact their sons and daughters. On the one hand, they know that they aren’t supposed to interfere with the process and let you explain your interest to their young student-athlete, and on the other hand their irresistible urge is to step in and play a part as soon as possible in making sure that the process begins smoothly. We also find that there is an element of competition in their actions; if they are able to help their son or daughter manage the process, maybe that will give them a leg up in the competition for a scholarship or roster spot. While the majority of your competition will ignore the parents as long as possible – and fail to do the most basic functions like getting their prospect’s parents’ cell phone and work email information – I want to encourage you to do the opposite. Establish early contact with the parents of your recruits, and work to establish that same emotional connection with them. Call them, email them, ask them questions, and engage them. If you do, what you’ll find is that they are ready with really useful information, and more importantly, they will look at you as a coach that respects their opinion and input and is treating them as a valued partner in the recruiting process of their son or daughter. Do you have a plan to communicate with your prospect’s parents as you start the process?
Are you establishing a mutually agreed upon timeline for making the final decision sooner rather than later. Do everything you can, as soon as you can, to find out when a prospect (and, yes, their parents) sees themselves making a final decision. Even if they can’t give you an exact date, a general time of year that they verbally commit to is really important. Not only will you find out how long you probably have to recruit that prospect, you’ll also gain valuable insight into how they’ll be making their decision: Will they be making it after taking visits to several schools? Do they want to commit sooner rather than later? Are they being realistic about the process and how they will navigate through it over the coming months? Most coaches we observe wait to have this conversation until after they know the prospect is interested in their program; from my experience, I see it being a critical set of questions to answer so that a coach understands exactly how to strategically design a messaging plan that earns their prospect’s interest. As you start your conversation with each of your prospects, come to an agreement on what the timeline will be for making a final decision.
Are you establishing control of the process? Are you going to control the recruiting conversation and the decision making process, or will you abdicate that role to them? Note that I am not suggesting you “force” them or “trick” them into deciding that you are the best choice (as if you or I have that power). No, what I am suggesting is that you should establish yourself as the party that will be guiding them through the recruiting process, rather than telling yourself that your job is to give them your school’s information, answer questions, and then stand by and wait politely for their decision (if I just described you, I imagine I don’t need to give you a detailed explanation of how unnerving and frustrating that makes the whole task of recruiting, right?). Your job, as a college recruiter, is to guide your athlete’s decision – from start to finish. Not trick, not force, but guide. You do that through effective questioning, establishing logical “next steps” throughout the process, and continually giving them the smart reasons that you and your program are the right choice. So, as you start the process with this next class, how do you plan to establish that role as the leader of the conversation and their trusted guide in making the right decision?
That’s not an exhaustive list, of course. And, some of these questions may not be applicable to you or your program. Heck, you may be knocking all five of these out of the park and not need to adjust your approach at all.
However, if you had the feeling that you were spinning out of control with your last class, and that you really were ineffective when it came to carrying on a logical, consistent conversation with your recruits and their parents – and you’re getting that sinking feeling that this year is turning out to be the start of the same bad story – now is the time to act.
It starts with a plan now that first contacts are underway, and developing answers to these five immediate ares of focus should be the beginning of a more strategic approach to this next recruiting class.
Dan Tudor and his team offer one-on-one help with formulating a research-based approach to communicating with recruits. If you’d like to see what that looks like, and get an overview of his approach, email him at email@example.com.