Nobody wants to confront a co-worker, admit a mistake to a friend, or even ask their boss for a raise. All of those examples have the built-in risk of escalating the conversation into a fight or misunderstanding, and because most of us are pretty decent people at our core, we don’t want that to happen.
One aspect of our job as coaches that we carry-over to our work in bringing-in the best student-athletes to our program is talking about money with our recruits. Unless you can offer a full ride athletic scholarship to every one of your prospects, the conversation about money – coming to compete for you and your program, but having to pay part or all of your college’s tuition – is one of those difficult topics most coaches would rather avoid.
In normal times, this would all be really important to do. In the times during a crisis like the one we’re in the middle of, and as we come out of it, that conversation becomes vital.
As they did during the Great Recession of 2008, students at four-year colleges who are a part of families experiencing financial stress are questioning where they get their education. Some are making the financial choice to switch to less-expensive community colleges instead. Others are asking for refunds on their tuition, deciding that online classes aren’t as effective as in-person learning, and student-athletes are trying to weight the cost and benefits of being granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. Heck, even before the current crisis emerged, both students and athletes were beginning to push back at the rising cost of college.
All of those new conversations, as the result of a crisis and the trend of increasing costs associated with higher education, come back to a conversation about money.
And coaches need to lead that conversation.
Not wanting to, or feeling nervous about it, doesn’t get you off the hook: If you want to keep building your program, and getting the best overall group of athletes collected to compete for you, talking about money is going to be at the center of that task.
Here’s how to do it:
- First, and most importantly, start the conversation about money as soon as possible. As consumers, we tend to want to consider the cost of something for a while before we buy – especially if it’s a major purchase, and let’s all agree that a college education is a major purchase. Waiting until late in the process to have that conversation is one of the leading causes of losing a recruit, when simply switching the timing of the conversation to earlier in the process would have changed the outcome. Giving your prospect more time to weigh the financial aspect of their decision is the top way to immediately improve your chances with that recruit.
- Put aside insecurities about you asking a family to invest a significant sum of money for their student-athlete experience. Specifically, I want you to move past the discomfort around the idea of you asking them to pay an amount of money that you might have trouble paying yourself if you had to attend the college you now coach at. This is a major mental barrier that coaches struggle to get past – especially younger coaches at the start of their career. Your job is to lead them to a decision, their job is to make that final decision that works best for them. I talk about this important concept here, in case you want more details.
- Early on, give a likely range of what it’ll cost. With whatever tools you can use, put a cost out there for your prospect. You can base it on your school website’s Net Price Calculator (recommended) or a general idea of the range of money you see student-athletes receiving from the college on a regular basis. You need a baseline number to for a discussion around as early as possible.
- Ask questions and get feedback. Coaches have nothing to do with the academic and aid money that a student-athlete receives from their admissions and financial aid department. What you do control is the conversation you have with your prospect’s family about how those numbers sound. For example, if you know your college is going to cost $21,000 to $28,000 after scholarships and aid, ask your prospect and his or her parents, “So based on that amount, would you see us being a place where your son/daughter comes and competes for us?” Their answer to that, based on reasonable projections, is going to give you an early look at the likelihood of them coming to your campus as a student-athlete.
- It’s the first topic parents want to talk about with you. No matter when you begin recruiting a prospect, this topic – money, and how much they’ll get to come to your school – is the first thing they want to have a conversation about. 82% of the time, it’s the initial topic of conversation parents say they want a coach to bring up.
- Early conversations give you time to justify the cost. Most importantly, when you bring up this conversation earlier rather than later, it then gives you the time you need to justify why they should invest that amount of money in your campus and athletic program. If you’re a client, this added time allows the messaging system we create for you to take effect, and justify the investment. When a college coach waits until they have all of the data and final numbers at the end, it almost always comes in at a higher number than your prospect expected. So, not only do you now have to overcome that disappointment, you then have the task of quickly trying to justify the investment so they can make a final decision. You’re having the same money conversation you could have had months earlier, except now you don’t have the time to overcome it and justify the cost.
The topic of money, and the cost of college for a student-athlete, is front and center in the minds of your prospects right now. Coaches who take control, lead the conversation, and have time to justify their opportunity are going to be the ones who come out of all this successfully. Those that stay stuck in their old habits will continue to struggle.
It’s as simple as that.
There are two ways any coach, or athletic department, can become more proficient at executing the right conversation about money and the college choice their prospects will make: Bring in the TCS team to campus for one of our recruiting workshops, or letting us work one-on-one with you and your staff to create a messaging campaign that will help tell your story better than your competitors. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to talk.