Storytelling and the College Recruiting Process

story-telling-college-recruiting-processGood morning!

Wow. Hard to believe that Summer is winding down. Across the country, many schools have already started and some will start right after Labor Day. It always seems to go by way too quickly.

This week I want to talk about storytelling. As you can imagine, I watch a lot of video. And, as I watch the video, a story unfolds before my eyes and it is my job to tell the story in a way that gets a coach to take action. A couple things stand out as I write this.

The first thing that stands out is that I know our ultimate customer (the college coach) is super busy and we have to organize our player information and plays in a way that grabs their attention immediately and encourages them to keep watching.  It is similar, in my mind, to a television commercial.

I spent 2 years with The Nielsen Company consulting with our clients on ad effectiveness. We actually measured the effectiveness of television advertising through an online panel of viewers. It was incredibly interesting and debunked the theory of whether or not advertising was really working.  Even more interesting is the fact that a television ad has to tell a story in 30 – 60 seconds.

Out of that work, I learned a few things that are extremely important and I think translate well into sports recruiting videos and storytelling.  I will highlight just a few here.

The Hook

The Hook is the thing that is going to grab your attention immediately and keep you interested.  If you look through our videos, we put the first  “hook” in a frame right after the opening that puts “facts” on the screen. Things like grades, height, weight, GPA, academic and athletic awards are great “hooks” that keep a coach interested. The second “hook” is in the way we organize the plays by category and start with the player’s strongest skills. It may be scoring, ball handling, passing, defense – whatever is the best thing that the athlete does.  We want to “hook” the coach in the first few plays with something that blows them away!  The best plays always go up front.

Branding

In television advertising, branding needs to come within the first few seconds of the video and repeat throughout the commercial.  Again, we accomplish this in the athlete video by establishing the brand early (the athlete) and then we repeat on each category frame with the athlete’s name and the specific skill we are about to see.  And, then again on the final frame.

Appeal

If you think of your favorite television ads you will undoubtedly have a few that come to mind.  It’s that “thing” that spurs emotion in you.  I am a car nut (makes sense I spent so many years in the automotive space!) and so I think about two kinds of commercials.  One is what we call “car on road” which is running, boring footage of a car driving through different scenery.  You see them every day and these ads don’t really evoke any emotion.

Then, I think of ads that actually appeal to me.  Sports car ads with squealing tires and engine noise will get me to look up for sure!  And, that is how I think of athlete videos.  I’m looking for that “squealing tire” moment that I know will get the coach’s attention and bring it up front.  Then, the job is to keep showing repeating evidence of the promise made in the first few plays.

Call to Action

At the end, an ad has a call to action.  In the sports highlight video, that call to action comes at the end of the video with an email address or phone number for a coach to be able to take that next step.

All this adds up and ties back to storytelling and hopefully some context as to how we approach the athlete video.  So, as your athlete approaches their next season, please ask them to play the game as if they are telling a story!

Have a great week!

 

John

College Recruiting Tips: What a Coach is Looking For

I had a great conversation with a parent last week that prompted me to write this article.  He mentioned that his player didn’t “give their all” in a recent game at a tournament only to find out afterward that a college coach was in the stands.  Ouch.

As I thought about it, I realized that there are a couple of ways to look at this.  First, you can say it was just a bad game and brush it off.  Secondly, (and this is where we’re heading), this is a course correction that needs to be dealt with right away.  Hear me out.

Don’t Let Years of Preparation Vaporize in a Minute

Last week we talked about the funnel and how the opportunities to play at the next level get progressively harder and the competition for those spots on the roster grow more intense.  And, with that narrowing, the tangibles (athletic ability) start to mix with the intangibles (attitude, effort, leadership, etc.).  Said differently, there are a ton of great players out there and it is the intangibles that separate one player from another.

We have all been to games and seen exceptional athletes bring down the energy of their teammates with their attitude.  And, we’ve been to games where we have seen an athlete (even with a little less skill but a ton of heart) lift everyone around them.  You can just feel it.

Now, put yourself in the college coach’s shoes.  Which athlete do you want?  Pretty easy decision.  It is a hard lesson, but “one game” really can have a significant impact on your future college career.

Let’s Play Every Game as if a College Coach is Watching

Here is a checklist of things you, as an athlete, can do to make a strong impression:

college-sports-recruiting-work-hardPre-Game

Energy.  Bring it.  Warm up with enthusiasm, focus and intensity.

Encourage everyone. Greet every player and every coach.  Pump them up.  Watch how things change when you bring positive energy onto the field of play.

Technique.  Show your best stuff.  Crisp moves and finish the drill like a pro.

Game Time

Lead. Be a positive leader.  Keep everyone together.

Always on.  Your demeanor and body language has got to be positive and you need to engage with those around you in a positive and uplifting way.  Hustle everywhere you go – to the huddle, off the field, back to your position – whatever you’re supposed to do or are asked to do.  Do it right now.

Effort.  Every play needs to demonstrate full effort even if something goes wrong.  Get back to full speed immediately.  Hit the reset button.

Celebrate together.  Be genuinely enthusiastic when you or someone else has a win.

Be respectful. Always, always, always be respectful of the referee, your team, the other team, your coach and anyone you come in contact with during the game.

Compete.  Every play.  Give your absolute best as one play can make the difference between a win and a loss.

Be teachable.  If your coach gives you instruction during the game, listen and apply what they tell you.

Take correction positively.  If you get benched, tell the coach you will be ready when he or she calls on you again and you will do your absolute best.  Then, get to the sideline and cheer your team on.

Post Game

Shake hands with everyone you can find – starting with your teammates, the other team, the coaches from your team and the other team and the referees.

Keep your head up during the post game wrap up.  Listen to what your coach says and make a point to go up to them afterward and say thank you.

Go see your family.  If the coach allows it, go up to your parents, grand parents and siblings and thank them for being at the game.

Put Yourself in the College Coach’s Position

You have just finished watching the game and you saw the athlete you were interested in check off everything on this list.  What’s next?  I think it is a pretty safe bet that you would likely make your way to the field and introduce yourself as this is someone who can help you build a team.

Let’s give the college coaches what they are looking for and make the decision to recruit you an easy one.

Have a great week.

John

College Recruiting is a Two Way Street

I talk to a lot of parents and one of the topics that comes up most is balancing where to play (D1, D2, D3, etc.) with what happens after college (working career).

That leads to what is perhaps the most important question an athlete will have to answer – where they should try to play to keep their athletic career going while balancing what they want to do once their athletic career draws to a close.

Often, I like to compare the athletic career process with the professional career process that all of us will face at some point (or perhaps multiple times!) in our lives.  I’m going to head down that path again.

Our Goalscollege-recruiting-goals

Often times, we can get so caught up in the process of playing at the college level that we miss the bigger picture.  What I mean by that is the choices that we make at any stage in life carry with them outcomes – sometimes intended and sometimes unintended.  Choices that focus on one or two key objectives versus the “whole” decision.  Here is my perspective on how I look at any choice that I make professionally as my athletic career is now way behind me (unless recreational golf counts!) and how that connects with the college recruiting process.

Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

One of the most frequent questions you will get asked in an interview for a job without question.  Sometimes it is a throw-away question but it really shouldn’t be.  That is certainly the case for the aspiring college athlete something they really need to think through.  Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario 1 – You intend to play professionally.  

And, based on that, your decisions will point you in a direction that is going to help you get exposure to professional teams.  Certainly, that leans toward Division 1 athletics but is not always the case.  But, a fair bet.  Your research would take you down a path to see:

  • How many conference or national championships a college has won
  • How many athletes a given school has placed professionally
  • How well connected the coach is into the professional space
  • Did the coach play professionally and is their style of play preparing athletes for that next level

Scenario 2 – You intend to get a job or seek a higher level degree.

Based on this criteria, your decisions will likely take a very different path:

  • How is the school ranked for the degree you are seeking?
  • How strong is the alumni group at the school and where do they work?
  • What is their placement percentage for graduates in the degree you are seeking?

That is not to say that you can’t have it both ways.  You can.  But you have to be exceptionally gifted athletically and academically to accomplish both.  Which brings me to my next point.

The Funnel is a Thing

We have all heard the stories about “the funnel”.  The funnel is the progressive drop off in athletes who play at the next level –College-Recruiting-Funnel

from grade school to high school to college to the pros.  The math is what it is and we all know the opportunities at the next level continue to get smaller and smaller as the level of play increases.  So, we have to do that “sober assessment of self” to make an informed decision about our next steps and how we approach the opportunity to play at the next level.

 

Get Clear on Who You Are – Athletically and Aspirationally

I have to admit that it took me until I was in my mid-40’s to get clear on who I really was and what I really wanted to do.  When I was coming up in the working world, the prevailing thought was to get with a great company (which I was fortunate to do) and then stay there until retirement (which I ultimately did not!).  We all remember the recession of 2008.  It was brutal and it forced some hard choices.  In my case (without getting into too much detail), I had to choose between an uncertain future out of my control or feed a desire within me to doing something more entrepreneurial and have some level of control over my destiny.  I chose the latter.  The short summary is, since 2008, I have chosen to do what I am passionate about and links back to the work I did to sit down, take time and really understand my passions and my strengths.

One of the ways I did that was to take every assessment test and personality profile I could find to see what drove me internally.  One that I love is the Strengths Finders by the Gallup Organization.  And, there are many more.  The point here is to spend time assembling the things that are important to you and then line up your decisions against that criteria.  There are tons of books on this stuff.  But, worth the time and effort to set up the rest of your life.

Athletically, be realistic about where you see yourself playing.  And do not think that it is only for a D1 school.  You can feed your desire to compete at the next level and get that done at any level of collegiate play.  And, here’s a secret for you from a guy who hired a ton of college graduates.  I always looked for athletes.  Athletes “get it”. Athletes know about commitment, teamwork, preparation, hustle and dedication.  When I’m building a team at work, it’s an easy decision between a college athlete with great grades and a candidate who only has the grades.

Look for a Great Fit

Whether in your career or college athletics, you have to find that great fit.  Pretty simple here.  Think back to all the teams you have played for or the places you have worked.  Which ones bring a smile to your face and which ones leave a bitter taste?  Then, figure out what made you smile. Things such as:

  1. A motivating, positive and great teaching coach or mentor.
  2. Great teammates that you got along with and actually liked spending time with.
  3. “We” versus “I” mentality.  Everyone on the same page and striving for the same things.
  4. Personality of the Team.  They all have them.  Think through which “team personality” you enjoyed most.
  5. Winners versus whiners.  Enough said.
  6. A place where you contributed.  Pay close attention to this desire within you.  It’s one thing to make the team and another to get on the field.  You will have to balance the internal tug of war on this important question.
  7. Geographically.  You may want to be close to home.  You may want nice weather most of the year.  You may want to play in an area where you intend to get a job.

So What Are You Saying?

I am saying that you have to think through all of it.  And, you have to be clear on what you expect and what you are willing to accept.  Project your future self out those 5 and even 10 years down the road and line up your decisions to get to that point.  It changes how you approach your college interviews in a hopeful and intentional way.

Summary and The Formula

We covered just a few points.  I will likely add to this topic going forward because it is something I am passionate about.  But let’s recap in bullet points how I recommend you approach your college athletic career:

  1. Get clear on who you are as a person and what drives you internally
  2. Get clear on where you see yourself in 5 – 10 years after your college career has concluded successfully!
  3. Formulate questions you would have for a coach that would align with your goals so that you get clear on who they are and who you are
  4. Only approach colleges that align with your goals.

And, by the way…..  Coaches are looking for athletes who are clear on what they expect to get out of their college careers.  They are interested in you as an athlete and as a student.  Your preparation will make a difference.

I hope this is helpful for you and your family.  And I have no doubt that I have missed some points.  That is where the Prospect Nation can help!  Like us on Facebook and join the conversation.  We are stronger together.

Have a great week!

 

John

From Behind the Camera

I spent Friday at a Softball Showcase in Lockport, New York filming a great softball player for an upcoming highlight reel.  Tons of coaches were there to see her and she played great!

Also, had a lot of windshield time (about 5 hours!) to think about things in general and this tournament in particular and what I saw.

As I was thinking about what to write, it occurred to me there were some great life lessons I was reminded of while filming these games.

college-recruiting-showcase-highlight-videoForget About the Last Play

The player I was filming had a great 2 games.  Not every play was perfect (though most were) but her reaction was steady whether she performed well or had a disappointment.  I’m sure the coaches in the stands saw what I saw – that she forgot about the last play and got herself ready for the next.  And, she did.  That was great to watch and I saw multiple coaches approach her after the game.

 

Remember, it is a Game

There was a play where there was a collision and, as part of that, a blown call.  All credit to the coach who FIRST asked if the player (on the opposing team) was alright and only after confirming she was, CALMLY discussed the play with the umpire who ultimately got it right.  Then, another disputed call and the same coach again calmly discussed the play while reminding everyone (including himself) this was a showcase for the young ladies which kept everything on the right note.  Great job, Coach!

Course Correction is a Constant

The player had a tough time at the plate.  But, what happened next was fantastic.  The father jumped up on the next at bat and filmed her with his iPhone and he and I both looked at the swing in slow motion and saw that it was a minor adjustment to correct which I am sure she did for the rest of the weekend.  Lesson here is the difference between success and disappointment is sometimes just a fraction of an inch – certainly the case here.  We always have to be ready to make adjustments to optimize our performance and often they are smaller than we think.

Your Body of Work is Important – Player and Parent

This was a showcase for softball players in the area and there was a lot of talent there.  The young lady I was filming had several coaches in the stands to see her which is a testament to how she prepared day in and day out to get into this position and way before this tournament.  Great parenting too as they didn’t say a word to her during the game.  Often times, parents are way too involved and this only makes it harder for the player.  Letting them “figure it out” is one of the great teaching moments and builds confidence.

Have Fun and Stay Loose

The first game didn’t go well for the team overall and they had about a 2 hour break before the next game.  Rather than focus on the loss, they came back having fun, laughing, encouraging each other and putting a smile on the face of everyone at the game – me included!  Oh, they scored a bunch in the first inning and kept scoring throughout the game.  I believe there was a direct connection between attitude and results.

Fundamentals and Repetition are Key

As I watched both games this morning on my computer, I saw the player doing the same thing each pitch.  Same footwork, moving toward the plate on each pitch, backing up the play, reading the ball off the bat, anticipating and knowing exactly where to be next.  This didn’t happen on Friday – it happened in practice starting years ago.  “Practice makes perfect” or as my Dad used to say “perfect practice makes perfect”.

Coaches Building Coaches

In the second game in particular, both coaches were fantastic at motivating and teaching in a positive way.  Always upbeat and using self deprecating humor to make a point which was well-received by the players.  And, I cannot help but think that these lessons will transfer into these young ladies as they continue their softball careers and their careers after sports.  I think about the impact they will have on the people they will influence throughout their lives.

So, I hope there are some encouraging things here for you and your athlete to consider.  Have a great week and finish the Summer season strong!

John