Prospect Talent, Assessment and Your Program
How do successful coaches balance realistic expectations with wanting the best?
This is a really cogent question that applies to pretty pretty much every coach at every level, and it came from one of our text messaging community.
(if you aren’t a part of it, just text 661-218-2166 and I’ll get you on the list…we send out exclusive, free video instruction and advice to this group of 1,000+ coaches who are a part of it)
Here’s what he asked:
“What is the best way to have an understanding of what level of player your prospect is the best ‘fit’ for? D1, D2, D3, NAIA, JC, for example…”
Because isn’t that the recruiting goal of every recruiter? You want the best prospect possible, and yet you want to try and assess their ability accurately so that you don’t waste your time and resources (and roster spots) on kids who 1) are too advanced for your program and level, or 2) not good enough to make an impact at your level.
Is there a perfect answer for this question? Like with most things in recruiting, I would say ‘no’. But let me give you my thoughts, coupled with what we’ve observed in the best performing programs we work with.
Don’t shoot too low when it comes to going after new prospects you find.
It’s interesting when we find Division I talent competing for lower division level teams.
I mean, you have to wonder, “why did she choose to go there?” and “couldn’t he have played at a higher level?” And of course, the answer is yes. But they didn’t.
Because the coach didn’t pre-judge the athlete’s wants with what they could offer. In other words, the coach didn’t take himself or herself out of the game before it even started.
Case in point from December 2021: Jackson State University football, a rebuilding program lead by former NFL star Deion Sanders, just got a commitment from the #1 football prospect in the country.
Coach Sanders decided not to take a back seat to higher ranked, higher level Division I programs. He made his case, told the story, exuded confidence, and got it done. That’s a simple recipe that can be duplicated by any coach at any level, even if you aren’t named Deion Sanders. Will that work for you all the time in every single case? No. Will it work for Coach Sanders with every single top recruit? No. But it’ll work sometimes, and sometimes just might be enough.
Travis Hunter, the recruit, followed up with this explanation of his decision to say no to Florida State and yes to Jackson State, a HBCU institution:
“Florida State has always been a beacon for me. I grew up down there, that’s where my roots are, and I never doubted that I would play for the Seminoles. It’s a dream that is hard to let go of, but sometimes we are called to step into a bigger future than the one we imagined for ourselves. For me, that future is at Jackson State University... Historically Black Colleges and Universities have a rich history in football. I want to be part of that history, and more, I want to be part of that future. I am making this decision so that I can light the way for others to follow, make it a little easier for the next player to recognize that HBCUs may be everything you want and more."
So where did Hunter learn all of that, and how did he come to believe it? The story from Coach Sanders, who passionately and consistently explained why he should choose JSU, and why it was a better choice than his other options. Just like you can, and should, be doing.
Don’t count on the home run prospects, but step to the plate and take some swings.
Focus on the B prospects: The largest group of above average non-superstars that make up a big part of rosters.
While you go after the top prospects, also focus simultaneously on the high “B” prospects (on the A, B, C scale of rating prospects).
They will always make up the largest group of recruits who commit (at your program, at Florida State, and at Jackson State) so try to get them committed first while you work on the A prospects who will have more options and likely take longer.
Like home run hitters, you’ll swing and miss a lot on your top recruits - especially if you are really reaching for some prospects who have other higher-level options. But wow, when you connect with one and send it over the fence?…magic!
Trust your instincts and scouting abilities when it comes to assessment of talent.
I won’t instruct you on how to grade recruits in your sport. And frankly, I couldn’t even if I wanted to.
You have to assess talent and rank prospects, which you and I both know you can do.
Once you do that, recruit all of them. Even the ones you don’t think you’ll be able to land. There’s no pressure on you! You aren’t supposed to get them anyway, so who cares if you lose? But step to the plate, and take the best swings you can.
Don’t linger with them, don’t pin your hopes on them, but for goodness sake, try your best and see what happens, Coach. You never know…