by Paul Nemetz-Carlson, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
How do you create your recruiting calendar?
No really, I want you to think about it because you’re probably doing it wrong. Who told you when to start identifying prospects? When to contact them? And what the key dates for tasks along your timeline should be?
For many coaches, they’re doing it the same way they’ve always done it. Despite changes in prospect expectations, competitors’ approaches, and at their own institutions – they’re still doing it the same way. They start at the same time. They have the same key dates. They expect prospects to make decisions at the same time.
And they stick with it even when it doesn’t work because they don’t know any other way.
But you don’t have to be bound to your current recruiting calendar. Most likely, it’s a plan that’s tied closely to your academic calendar and the tasks that define the admissions process at your school. While the timing may be influenced by your playing season and evaluation opportunities, the driving forces that create most coaches’ recruiting plan don’t often reflect their program’s specific needs. They’ve been created in alignment with the traditional applicant and general student population.
To be a great recruiter you need to know this – your athletic recruiting process is DIFFERENT than your institutional admissions process. The best coaches separate them. They find ways to define what works for their program and explain to their prospects WHY that’s the better approach.
There are many benefits to re-imagining your recruiting calendar. By separating your recruiting process from your institution’s admissions process, you help remove your prospects from a crowded and difficult decision space. You allow them room to make a choice that better reflects fit over pressure.
From the coaching side, you will surely address your biggest challenge – waiting for others to act before you can move forward. Instead of waiting for the prospect to find time to visit, complete application and financial aid paperwork, or attend the next big showcase because that’s when others say they should happen – you get to define how it works for your program. Instead of waiting for admissions decisions, financial aid offers, and reacting, you get to proactively tell them how they should think about them when they receive them.
The best teams have been doing it for years – offering scholarships, roster spots, or admissions support on an accelerated, coach controlled, timeline. They’ve promoted exclusivity and scarcity as a way to outline the process and move prospects through it.
Recognize that to be successful with this approach, it requires a new understanding of both when and how you do these things. Here are three things to consider.
Your recruiting calendar will be earlier. It must be defined. And it relies on you being able to confidently explain how certain processes work at your school and why your institution is doing it the right way.
It’s going to be earlier because your prospects and their families want and expect it to be.
From an athletic perspective earlier recruiting is associated with the most talented athletes – and the better athletes you are recruiting want to be perceived as part of that group, worthy of attention and offers. From an admissions and financial aid perspective, enrollment teams across the country are exploring ways to incentivize early reads, early action and early decision programs to secure students before their competitors. The individuals you are recruiting are hoping your institution will provide the same feedback.
In this environment, families expect schools and programs to cater to them, making the process easier to understand and navigate. They welcome any opportunity to bring clarity and peace of mind to an anxiety filled process. Providing that information earlier – even if it’s not in the same exact form as your competitors – helps them feel more confident in their decision to choose you.
There will still be opportunities late in the process – and you may choose to position yourself as the coach that takes advantage of the uncommitted, undecided prospects. But remember that not only limits your access to the best athletes, it increases the stress on you as coach scrambling year after year to pull together a class from a group that’s less informed, less educated, and less committed to the process.
It has to be defined.
Because your recruiting calendar will be different than the way most influential people in their lives – college counselors, club/high school coaches, and classmates – understand the process, it must be defined by you. You must provide clear direction about how it works in your program and the reason WHY you believe it’s the best way to do it.
If you’re starting to see the benefit of getting out of a timeline that runs parallel to all of your competitors and are ready to make a change, the first thing you must do is to define the end. All of our research tells us that most recruits understand how the process starts – contact from you – but don’t understand how it ends. When you define the end, you provide clarity for your recruits on how they process works and when they should take action.
You’ll need to pick a date that makes sense for your program, your sport, and your school. That end may even be different than other programs in your department, but should consider potentially stressful dates for your recruits, when you need them to decide, and how to get them to decide on you before they make choices on your rival. With that in mind, the most effective recruiters share it from the beginning as a guiding light for the whole process.
From years of experience, we find when the process is clearly defined, you’ll be amazed at how willing prospects are to follow your guidance. Recruits deciding in their junior year – a common reality across all sports, all levels since the NCAA revamped first contact dates – aren’t bound to application deadlines, financial aid award dates. And yet, they move forward with the process because they’ve worked collaboratively with coaches to develop comfort around those decisions and outcomes. They become easier to work with and instead of using tasks – questionnaire, application, visits – as a benchmark of their interest, they complete those tasks as a continued fulfillment of their commitment.
Your role as the trusted guide.
One of the side effects of the pandemic has been that prospects focus on you, the coach, as the one stop information source for your school. They’re less excited to be shuffled around campus offices trying to have each individual question answered. They want, and expect, you to be able to speak intelligently about academic programs, campus life, and admissions/financial aid. It’s your role, as the trusted guide, to have answers.
Institutional knowledge has always been a differentiating recruiting skill, and it’s vital in establishing your recruiting calendar. I believe far too many coaches are using admissions and financial aid timelines as their timelines because they’re not sure how those offices work and can’t confidently provide families with the information they need to move forward.
The best recruiters don’t delay the process waiting for answers to questions they already know. There are actually very few candidates, even at the most highly selective institutions, that experienced coaches have no idea about their potential to be admitted. And financial aid – how packages are put together, merit scholarships benchmarks, and your institution’s approach to gapping students in establishing its discount rate – should be something you understand and can explain, even if you can’t influence it.
While you need to deal with the unique cases individually, adjusting your timeline for admissions’ reaches or tricky financial situations, your ability to project confidence around these topics as an informed, trusted guide allows you to move prospects forward on your preferred timeline. It also allows you to spend more time telling your recruits why they should choose you and why your program is better than their other options.
The truth is, even if you haven’t separated them, your admissions process has always been separate from your recruiting process in the minds of your recruits. It’s coaches who have tied them together, so it will be the smart coaches who benefit from pulling them back apart.
Winning programs sell their program experience as the primary draw, adding the benefits and assets of their school as a bonus to that experience. Successful programs present themselves as a destination. And in doing so they define the process and how it’s supposed to work. They’re not reacting to an admissions or financial aid timeline or a prospect created timeline that puts them at a disadvantage with their competitors.
And neither should you.
Be Distinct. Be Different
Paul Nemetz-Carlson is a former college coach who is part of the team of experts at Tudor Collegiate Strategies dedicated to working one-on-one with college coaches who are looking to improve their recruiting results and build a long term successful program on their campus. Contact Paul with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.