This is an excerpt from Softball Coaching Bible, Volume 2, The by National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
Recruiting the Right Way
Although the culture and rules in college athletics have changed in the last 100 years, effective recruiting has always separated the most successful programs from the rest. Good recruiting does not always ensure a good team, but a coach’s ability to identify and secure the best talent that satisfies program needs gives the best opportunity to win on the field.
The culture of today’s college recruiting is different from what it was even 10 years ago. Recruiting practices that were once associated only with big-time revenue sports are now common in college softball. The way in which we identify prospects and communicate with them has changed drastically, causing coaches to restructure their recruiting efforts.
No exact formula will produce great recruiting classes, and the process is school and program specific. In our quest to find and secure top-tier talent, we likely have individual considerations that are specific to the culture of our program and university. Identify your program culture and make that the starting point for determining the type of student-athlete whom you want to pursue. Begin building that brand or identity. Sports have become a huge part of our socialization process. The commercialization of college athletics has a significant emotional bearing on today’s young prospect, so creating a brand can help them identify with your school and program.
Determine a Philosophy
Determining a recruiting philosophy for your program will provide you with a roadmap as a reference for current and future recruiting seasons. Creating a philosophy establishes a solid foundation that will provide consistency in your recruiting efforts. This philosophy will assist in guiding you when you are evaluating prospects on the playing field and in the classroom. Example questions that may stir discussion among your staff when developing a recruiting philosophy may include the following: Will you pursue prospects who are regionally located, or will you recruit on a national scope? Are you dedicated to pursuing prospects who are multipositional? Will you focus on a pitching prospect who can be in your offensive lineup? Do prospects need to have a minimum academic grade point average before you will consider them? These questions may become the structural foundation of your program’s recruiting philosophy.
At the University of Michigan our philosophy is tailored toward student-athletes who understand the value of a Michigan degree. We have the greatest success when we identify prospects who are attracted to this type of competitive academic environment and want to compete at the highest level of Division I college softball. Because we have a large alumni base in many regions of the country, we pursue athletes regardless of their geographical location. More important, we try to identify prospects who are not afraid to experience something different for four or five years of their life, considering that the personality of their hometown may not match that of Ann Arbor.
Regardless of the philosophy that you and your staff decide on, be sure to make recruiting a priority. The entire staff should agree that recruiting is of great importance because any resistance to this belief will hinder your efforts. Involve all members to some extent. A congruent staff that understands its role in recruiting will assist in making your recruiting efforts more productive. Recruiting needs to be a full team effort.
Value of a Recruiting Coordinator
Let me first speak to the value of establishing a recruiting coordinator on your staff. Having a coach who dedicates the majority of the workday to your recruiting can enhance your efforts. Naming a coordinator negates any uncertainty that can occur when trying to identify, evaluate, or communicate with prospects. The head coach creates the mission of the entire program, and recruiting is one facet. The coordinator should work within the framework of this mission to help realize all your recruiting objectives. Often, the head coach may not serve in this role yet will direct the coordinator about what the goals may be. The coordinator’s responsibility is to organize those recruiting thoughts for your program. This organization will come in the form of scheduling off-campus evaluations, researching and communicating with prospects, networking with coaches, and scheduling campus visits for prospects and their families.
Willingness to Invest the Time
Choosing the coach on staff who is the right fit to lead your recruiting efforts requires careful thought. The position requires a tremendous time commitment, and no shortcuts can be used when it comes to deciding on recruits. There is plenty of truth to the saying “Your time is not your own” when referring to work hours. The coordinator needs to be available when recruits can speak with the coach on the telephone after school or practice. Follow-ups by Internet research or communication with a club coach cannot always be completed during traditional work hours, so the coordinator needs to be prepared to sacrifice personal time to advance your program’s recruiting. Consider which coach on staff has an established rapport with club team coaches or high school coaches. Examine other program responsibilities to determine which coach has the ability to devote most of the day to the recruitment of prospects.
Choosing a Detail-Oriented Coordinator
A strong work ethic is an obvious requirement, yet because of the volume of recruiting communication today, the staff member who demonstrates a knack for attention to detail may be a natural fit. Whether it’s organizing your on-campus visits or evaluating talent off campus, describing the uniqueness of your program to a prospect and her family may pay dividends when a prospect is deciding whether to attend your school. A considerable understanding of what separates your school from your competitors in the recruiting process often requires this attention to small but relevant details.
An example of attention to detail can be simple communication with the prospect’s high school or club coach to find out what style of coaching resonates with that prospect. This information can be used as a talking point with the prospect or as a determining factor in whether that prospect will be a good fit in your program. You may even take note of the type of equipment the prospect uses when she competes and incorporate that information into your recruiting conversations. The prospect will be impressed that you pay close attention to specific details.
The coordinator should not be afraid to make tough decision when choosing between prospects. Often times, the head coach seeks the opinion of assistant coaches to make a final recruiting decision. The coordinator should feel empowered in sharing an opinion, having placed significant effort into researching and evaluating the prospect.
After you have chosen a coordinator, make plans to use all coaching staff members and support staff in your recruiting framework. Use your athletic director, admissions officer, strength coach, academic advisor, or anyone else who can assist in providing information to the prospect and her family. Each of these staff members can offer a prospective recruit a different perspective about what her experience can be as a student-athlete at your school. Therefore, the prospect can gain the knowledge needed to make an educated decision, regardless of her list of priorities when choosing a school. Use every resource available that can be relevant to the prospect’s recruitment.
The recruiting landscape has undergone major changes over the past few years, forcing coaches to adjust their philosophy and strategy. Some of the contributing factors include a greater emphasis on sport specialization of student-athletes at a younger age, the trend of early commitments, changes in competitive playing schedules, and the ongoing development of Internet websites that promote the visibility of prospects. Regardless of whether you believe that these factors have had a positive or negative effect on the recruiting process, all have provoked change in the way that coaches recruit.
For example, Michigan softball has historically recruited prospects who have competed in multiple sports at the high school level. Our reputation was such that we recruited athletes who excelled in more than one sport. The opportunity to attract a multisport prospect to Michigan does not present itself as often today. Fewer top-tier athletes are participating in more than one sport because of an expanded playing season that has led to increased sport specialization. We now see fewer college softball prospects competing in other activities at their high schools. Because we can no longer easily achieve our (Michigan) philosophy of assembling a team of well-rounded multisport athletes, we now pursue prospects who have the ability to play multiple positions. We have adapted our strategy to the changing recruiting culture.
Implications of Expanded Playing Seasons
As you will notice, one factor affecting the recruiting process often influences another. The trend of prospective student-athletes committing earlier to schools can be considered a result of expanded playing seasons. The argument is compelling because expanded playing seasons allow college coaches to evaluate younger players more often than they could in the past. One implication of early commitments for you as a college coach may be that you will choose to recruit athletes who play various positions and are not fully developed at one defensive position. Instead of charting a defensive lineup during the recruitment process, a more useful approach may be to consider the prospect’s offensive prowess, knowing that her defensive position may change after she arrives on campus.
21st Century Recruiting
The Internet has had a profound effect on our daily lives, from the way that we communicate to the accessibility of information on a number of topics. As we have come to experience, athletics is a huge cyber industry that has reached the softball nation. A multitude of Internet sites promote the visibility of the sport of softball in one way or another. Prospective student-athletes use these sites to promote their talents, a method barely used a decade ago. This information can be useful to you during the recruiting process. You can now become far more familiar with the student-athlete’s achievements, playing statistics, families, and outside interests by surfing the web. You can learn all this information without ever having had a conversation with the player’s coach or seen her compete on the field. Why is this relevant to your efforts? The answer is that you have a base knowledge and talking points when you do engage in conversation with the prospect or her coach.
Read more from The Softball Coaching Bible, Volume II edited by National Fastpitch Coaches Association.