Written By: Dan Tudor
On a consistent basis over the years, we have emphasized the specific ways that high school swimmers and divers make their decisions as to which programs they will commit to, and which coaches they will compete for.
At that age, high school prospects desperately need certain things from a coach and the recruiting process in order to make that life altering decision.
But in our ongoing research, we find that transfer student-athletes need something completely different than their high school counterparts do. And, swimming and diving coaches who fail to understand that difference are going to find it increasingly difficult to land those transfer student-athletes, whether we’re talking about a junior college prospect you have interest in, or an athlete you find through the NCAA Transfer Portal.
Successfully maneuvering through this growingly complex maze is going to make a big difference in the quality of programs that those coaches are able to build. Many swimming and diving coaches are realizing that a handful of these types of recruits can quite literally make the difference between a future conference championship, or another season watching competitors win instead of them.
So, how should a college coach approach recruiting this special classification of swimmer today? Let me start with junior college transfers, an increasingly less common transfer situation, but still one that many coaches will use to build their teams.
College coaches need to realize that a junior college transfer swimmer has probably followed a path that was not likely the plan growing up. They may have had academic challenges that needed to be corrected at a junior college, injuries in high school that caused them to go to junior college, or they just needed to do it for their athletic development at the junior college level before being ready to go to the four year college level. Other circumstances, such as the cost of college or a family situation, might also be a play when it came to reasons they went to swim or dive at their local junior college.
On the surface, those might seem like facts that are basic and fairly unimportant when it comes to recruiting them now for your program; after all, that is the past, and you were focused on their future with you and your four-year college swimming and diving program. However, coaches who fail to account for the past, and why it unfolded the way it did for those student-athletes, don’t approach recruiting them in the right context. As a coach, and as a recruiter, you need to approach the process with junior college athletes by understanding why they chose that option.
For example, one of our clients asked us to help develop a strategy for recruiting one of the better swimmers in the country at the junior college level in their sport two years ago. By making sure we were approaching things in the right context, and asking that young athlete about their decision to go to junior college, the coach discovered that a sick parent was the reason they chose to stay close to home and swim for two years of that year in college level, turning down opportunities to go with several four year college offers they had. Knowing that fact, and how it would be affecting his future four year decision, was instrumental in landing that recruit. The coach and I both agreed that had we not known that fact, and what some of those original four year coaches did wrong at the end of the process with that prospect, we would not have approached the situation correctly. Around the country, many college coaches never find out why their student-athletes chose to swim at the junior college level at the beginning of their recruiting process with them, and it ends their chances of successfully recruiting them before the process ever really begins.
The other primary trait we find with both junior college athletes and NCAA Transfer Portal prospects is that they do not need as much of the personal relationship with your current team, or even with you, compared to their high school prospect counterparts. For most of these swimmers, this takes on more of the look of a business transaction then it does forming a relationship: they have a few years left to compete, in most cases, and they need to understand right away as to why it should be with you and your program. As a result, they become much more focused on your plan for them, and how they see themselves to be used within that plan, during the abbreviated recruiting process.
In addition, transfer athletes usually go through this decision process much more quickly than their high school counterparts. That should be an important planning factor for any swimming and diving coach involved in recruiting process to understand and remember, because it will affect how you were able to tell your program’s recruiting story, and the time with which coaches and others at your school have to tell it. Most college coaches over-estimate the time they have to help form a decision in the mind of their junior college prospect, and end up getting burned by that at some point in the process when the prospect makes their decision sooner than expected.
As far as student athletes who are being recruited as a result of going through the NCAA transfer portal or individually contacting a school or coach, they emulate the decision making process of junior college transfers that I just described, with one important exception:
They originally made the decision to go to swim or dive at a four year college or university as a student-athlete, and now something has gone wrong with that original plan. Whereas a junior college athlete might’ve been a little frustrated with having to go to junior college in order to gain the opportunity to swim at the four-year school eventually, athletes who are coming through the portal tend to be a little shell-shocked. They became disillusioned by a coach’s broken promise, or they missed being closer to home, or his coach left for another job, or she broke up with her boyfriend…somewhere along the way, something did not go according to plan, and now they are reeling – personally, and as a college student and athlete.
Your job, as the coach who might now be interested in having them compete for your program, is to understand - as deeply as possible - the “why” behind their decision to leave their current college team. Failing to do that will put you at an extreme disadvantage compared to one of your competitors who happens to stumble into a better understanding of what is motivating that athlete’s decision.
So in summary, here are the main things that you will want to do as a college swimming and diving coach anytime you were dealing with transfer in the recruiting process:
First and foremost, view their decision as something that is happening because their original plan they envisioned growing up as a rising athlete did not materialize.
They are more concerned with how they fit into your plan moving forward, and not as concerned with relationships as much as a regular high school recruiting is.
The exception to that rule is when the basis of their transfer is because of bad relationships with teammates or previous coaches; make sure to look for that as one of the reasons, and plan to emphasize relationships with players on their team that are their age as you take them through the abbreviated transfer recruiting process.
You won’t have as much time to recruit them and make your case to them. That is why finding out the “why“ behind the reason for transferring Is so critical.
Because they have been through the process once before, and are older and more mature now, they do not rely on their parents as much for this new decision. While it is always recommended a coach communicate with the parents and get their perspective during the process, you do not need to place this much emphasis on “selling“ the parent of a transfer athlete as you may with a high school recruit.
We find that they are very cognizant of a mistake or misstep they may have made in the past and choosing their previous program, so look for what those issues might be and spend time in your abbreviated recruiting process emphasizing how your program is going to be different, and bring with it a different outcome for them.
They usually have less room for negotiations and delays, and can and should be guided strongly through the process towards making a final decision, either to compete for your program or make a decision to take another opportunity.
Transfer student-athletes are going to be a more common market segment in four year college swimming moving forward. How you as a college coach maneuver through that process may determine the strength of your program compared to your competition in years to come, and will certainly determine your individual success as a college coach. My advice: Make an immediate plan of attack for how you and your program will approach this lucrative segment of athletic prospects.
Check out Dan's Keynote Events in our Video Channel HERE where he goes in depth into the transfer portal and other helpful topics for College, Club, and High School Coaches!
Dan Tudor is a regular speaker at the CSCAA and is the Founder of Tudor Collegiate Strategies, a nationally respected athletic recruiting advisory firm that specializes in training coaching staffs to communicate and recruit their prospects more effectively. Dan has been referred to as “America’s recruiting coordinator” thanks to his company’s cutting-edge strategies, research and ongoing advice to the college coaching community. Dan and his team at Tudor Collegiate Strategies conducts recruiting workshops at athletic departments around the country, as well as serving several hundred individual coaching staffs as clients as he and his staff help to craft their recruiting strategy and communication. You can contact Dan directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.