Two Ways to Approach Your Prospect's Growing Desire to Commit Early

The COVID trend that saw recruits wanting to decide early is continuing...

The trend we saw developing during the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020 is continuing. And that’s surprising a lot of coaches, especially since one year later we’re seeing signs that things could be returning back to normal from a youth, club and high school sports perspective (as well as more normalcy when it comes to campus visits around the country).

Simply put, a majority of recruits are making final decisions on where they’ll commit for their college sports careers earlier than they did back before the pandemic and the lockdowns. Each of those things that happened kind of ‘kicked the anthill’, so to speak…they caused anxiousness, confusion, and a rush to secure what they could when it came to their college sports career they been dreaming about and working so hard to achieve.

And, it’s continued into a new recruiting cycle: Primarily because 1) uncertainty about the future remains in today’s athletic world related to COVID, and 2) the overall recruiting trend this past decade has been edging earlier and earlier. Most student-athletes want to know where they’ll be going to college and competing in their sport sooner rather than later.

One problem on your side of this process as a coach, of course, is that your process isn’t always set up for early decisions: Either your school doesn’t get it’s admissions and award packages out soon enough, or you’re offering a full ride scholarship and need more time to evaluate the prospect’s development as a student-athlete, or a combination of the two.

With that scenario in mind - and fully acknowledging that there are always exceptions to the rule, and some recruits will drag it all out as long as they can - here are two ways you can approach this, as a college recruiter:

Accelerate your recruiting to match this new timeline

As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”.

Or as Ricky Bobby would say

Coaches who make the decision to do this sacrifice something that they need to decide whether or not they’re really willing to give up: Time.

More time to get to know the athlete, more time to sell them on your campus, more time to evaluate their skills…all of those things fall by the wayside when an earlier commitment is asked for by you, and made by the prospect. The other thing that could suffer is your recruiting list: If a prospect says ‘no’, many coaches feel like they may have rushed the process and ruined the chance to get a good recruit. (Note: Our research doesn’t reveal those worries, but it’s front and center in the mind of many coaches).

Regardless, if you want to take this approach in response to the internal desire of your prospects to speed-up the decision making, there are important things to make it all happen successfully:

  • Ask your prospect when they want to make their final decision, or establish your timeline for what the latest point will be for them to make their final decision. One or the other has to happen, unless you’re a fan of disappointment, surprises, and betrayal (fun if you watch shows like “The Bachelor” from what I hear, but not so fun if you’re trying to build a college program).

  • Agree on the timeline with your prospect for when their final decision will be made. A verbal handshake is essential, we find…it isn’t a decision etched in stone, but if they are tempted to change their mind it is somewhat harder after giving you their word.

  • Develop a ranked priority list, and ask them to commit early in that ranked order. If you’re going to get a ‘no’ or a ‘can’t decide yet’, you want to know who those prospects are. Likewise, if a prospect is ready to say ‘yes!’ early then getting that affirmative confirmation from the recruits most highly ranked is preferred, obviously.

  • Be comfortable with potentially not scouting and evaluating them as long as you have in the past. That goes with the territory of a shorter timeline, and you need to be comfortable with it as a college coach jumping onto the earlier decision and timeline trend.

Work to decelerate their internal push to decide early

If you aren’t going to jump aboard the runaway commitment train, then you’re going to have to slow it down. And if you know anything about slowing down a train, it takes a long time and involves intentional effort. There is momentum working against you in both instances, but it can end up working.

There are a lot of reasons you might want to slow the process down, all of which aren’t necessarily important to this discussion…your reasons are your reasons. If that’s the case, here are the things we view as the essentials to go over with your prospect.

  • Like the above scenario, ask your prospect when they want to make their final decision. You need to establish the baseline date for the discussion you’re having with them.

  • Let them know that you have a different timeline in mind for when you will be ready to decide, and ask them if they feel they can wait until that date.

  • It’s vitally important to them that you explain the advantages to waiting, as you see them, for your specific situation. It could be financial, it could be sport related, but the most important thing is to make the case as to why they shouldn’t decide early, and why it specifically benefits them to do so.

  • Let them know that you aren’t going to be ‘one of those coaches’ who pressures or asks them to commit before they’re really ready. We want to ‘negative recruit’ not against a particular coach or school, but against an idea. They need to understand your reasons for making this suggestion if we’re looking for them to change their mind.

Each approach involves a strategy, and each can work when that strategy is used. One thing that doesn’t usually work? Not doing anything, not approaching the topic with recruits, and hoping it all just works out somehow.

Because so much has changed in the way recruits make their decision, and when, it’s imperative to guide and direct that decision as you build your program, regardless of which strategy you’re in favor of with a particular recruit.