Years ago, a basketball coach at a college I was doing one of our recruiting workshops at told me about his frustrations with the seemingly constant losing streak he was having against other schools in his general region who would come in and offer recruits larger scholarships, nicer facilities, or use the negative perception about the coach’s campus against him.
“Dan, it’s like I’m going to the neighborhood bar and getting beat up by the same guy every night”, I remember his saying.
My response? “Go to a different bar.”
The truth is, of course, recruiting locally or regionally seems to have some big advantages. You can see more recruits more often because of the proximity to your campus; it’s more economical than flying long distances and the expenses associated with that kind of trip; you can build better relationships with local high school and club coaches; it’s less overtime you have to put into your job as a college coach. All of those are valid points, for sure.
But what many college recruiters are discovering is that out-of-state recruiting is getting easier. Like, much easier. Some of that has to do with the changes in technology, some of it because of shifting demographics and attitudes about college, and some of it simply comes down to money for the prospects searching for a place to compete at the next level.
- Twenty years ago, your only communication link with home was a payphone in the dorm building. Ten years ago, you could talk to a loved one’s voice on a personal cell phone. Today, your recruits can have instant real-time, high quality face-to-face video interaction whenever and for however long they like. The result: Going ‘away’ to school isn’t as much of a risk as it once was for a growing number of recruits.
- As a byproduct of that easier communication, more local prospects are feeling free to search beyond their traditional backyard. Going to another state – or across the country – doesn’t seem like as big of a divide as it once did, which means other coaches and universities are gaining access to your area’s kids compared to twenty years ago when they would have been a largely captive market for you to recruit.
- There’s a good chance that local high school prospects, familiar with you and your school and your program because they are from your area, have already defined you – positively, or negatively. Great if it’s positive, but often times that familiarity equals ‘boring’. “College is supposed to be exciting”, so why would I want to stay local and just to the school 10 minutes away from my house? Where’s the adventure in that? This perception, coupled with easier communication, make it more likely they open up their search wider.
- Because economic conditions like employment and inflation are in flux more than the recent past, the search for money – as in, who’s going to give us the best scholarship or financial package – has increased the likelihood that families will broaden their search to find the best deal, most money or premium value for their son or daughter’s education. You lose sometimes because of that, sure…but if you expand your own recruiting sphere to include out of state prospects, you can balance the flow in and out of your program.
Bought into the idea I’m getting at?
If so, here are some primary ways we have seen our clients use these strategies successfully when it comes to recruiting, and ultimately get commits from, out-of-state prospects:
Pick cities and regions that closely resemble the look and feel of your school. Right off the bat, let me say that there are exceptions to that rule. Some athletes want a completely different environment and location to go and compete in during their college career. However, they are in the minority. The most success comes from coaches who try to make ‘lateral’ recruiting moves with their prospects. For example, a Minnesota school recruiting a Wisconsin athlete. An Arizona school recruiting a Texas athlete. A Georgia school recruiting an Arkansas athlete. They move laterally across the map, offering the same look and feel that a younger athlete is accustomed to. Like I said, that’s not a requirement for everybody, but it is the case for most.
What is harder to see working? The Indiana school that recruits the Florida prospect. A North Dakota school that recruits a Louisiana athlete. That ‘horizontal’ recruiting methodology offers to many differences for the prospect, much of the time…different landscape, different regional culture, and much different weather. The result is often centering around college freshmen who leave after the first year, or first semester, because it’s so different than home. The same is true for the small midwestern college to fly into Los Angeles International airport, thinking they’ll make the most of their trip by getting access to fifty times the available athletes in close proximity to each other, only to find out that the cultural and landscape shift is just too much of a bridge to cross for them.
Right at the start, explain why you see them as a good fit. And, if at all possible, link it to something about where they’re from. “We’re trying to bring in more recruits from the west coast” or “I really like the athletes that are coming out of the southeast in our sport”…something that gives them a reason to take you seriously, and context for why they should dig deeper into the possibility of making you a serious consideration.
Make them sell you on them. In other words, once you’re talking to them, have them explain why they see you as a possible good fit for them. Look for something from their point of view that would tell you they are seriously considering you as a possibility, backed-up by opinion or reasons on their part. This is the first test that would tell you whether or not you have a serious candidate on your mind.
How do you best do this? Ask them, “So what is it about us seems to be giving you the feeling that we might be a possible fit for you at this point?” Or, “Walk me through why you’re feeling like it would be a smart idea for you to truly go ‘away’ to college.” Ask their parents the same question. If you do this step as I just described, you’ll find out very quickly whether or not you have a serious prospects, or someone who just wants to be ‘blessed to receive another offer from…’ on social media.
Cycle through those prospects at a faster rate than your local and regional prospects. One thing we’ve learned is that there are two nearly unbeatable objections that a prospect would have when it comes to your school. “You don’t have my major”, and “I don’t want to go to school in your part of the country.” That second one applies directly to this conversation: If you can find out that they aren’t serious candidates for your school by getting them to admit that they would never want to go to school in your type of setting, or in your part of the country, do it. As soon as possible. And, if it were my, I would take them off my list as soon as possible and get somebody else from out of state on that list instead. If you recruit out of state prospects, fluidity is the name of the game. There are a lot out there, but you still have to find them by actively engaging with them and asking them questions that can help determine how much of a consideration your school actually is.
The opportunity for some great out-of-state prospects coming to your school has never been greater. If you put the work in, you’ll be able to build your roster faster and more diversely than you have previously. It’s never been easier, if you have a plan.
Need help with this plan, or other aspects of redeveloping your recruiting approach? The team at Tudor Collegiate Strategies is ready to help! We work with more than 750 coaching staffs around the country, helping them to develop their recruiting messaging, teaching them how to close prospects, and assess the effectiveness of their campus recruiting visits. For more information, email Dan Tudor at email@example.com.