Written By: Dan Tudor
To be an effective college swimming and diving recruiter today, you need to be able to channel your inner Julie McCoy.
(Oh wait. You may not be old enough to know who Julie McCoy is.) She played the cruise director on The Love Boat. It aired from 1977 to 1986, and was the go-to show on Saturday nights on ABC (right before Fantasy Island). Some fantastic acting on those two shows, let me assure you…but hey, when only had about ten or eleven channels to choose from back in the olden days, you took what you could get.
Anyway, Julie McCoy: She made sure, as all cruise directors do in real life on real cruises, that the passengers had a good time, had plenty to do, and connected with each other.
You have the same job today as a college swimming and diving coach.
I know, that’s not why you got into coaching. And you may not feel that’s your natural gift. But the reality is, it’s got to be part of your job now.
Why? Because for you to be the best you can be as a program, you need Juniors and Seniors competing for you. And to get them to stay in your swimming and diving program for that long, many of them are going to need reasons beyond just the degree they’ll earn and the sport they’re involved in. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this thing now that’s kind of popular with the kids called the “Transfer Portal”, making it easier than ever for college athletes to leave a place they might like for a place they think they might love.
Your job is to make sure they love your program, and stay. And the thing is, we’re not talking about a complicated equation to make that happen (if, in fact, you do want your athletes to stay). Some of the things we’ve seen work very, very well that takes virtually no money, and just a little extra time:
Make sure they feel connected with you and their teammates - and not just at the start of the swimming and diving season. This generation isn’t all that skilled at creating interpersonal relationships. Help them. Explain their role on the team, what your goals for them are as their coach, and what their time in your program will look like. Not just once, but consistently as they get settled in as a member of your team.
Their first 12-18 months in your program is critically important to making them feel like they have a role in your program. Part of that role can and should be being an integral part of your program’s recruiting process - primarily when it comes to hosting campus visits. Avoiding the mistake of not letting them spend time with their future teammates is crucial - it’s THE main connector for this generation of college student-athletes. Let your freshmen host campus recruiting visits. When you do, it’ll achieve two big things: They feel like they have an important purpose in your program, and they’ll feel a connection with the kids coming in behind them as they move through their career.
Your role as a swimming and diving coach is to coordinate all of this. Create non-sport events that get you and your team either off campus or doing something that isn’t related to school or your sport on a regular basis - by ‘regular’, I mean at least monthly. We’ve seen first hand of this working, and some of the best examples are from Division I football BCS national champions…they know the value of connection and friendship among their guys, and they work hard throughout the year to foster that connection. You should do the same thing. It could be as simple as having a bbq with you cooking the dogs and burgers, and then spending time talking and getting to know each of your prospects more deeply, away from the pool. And, at the same time, showing them that they matter to you as a person, not just as a swimmer or diver.
All of this is a simple antidote to losing your athletes to another school and creating deficits on your team. And look, I know that's not a solution that works 100% of the time, but what I do know is that when we survey student-athletes who have transferred from one team to another, they cite two main reasons for transferring: No connection with the other players on their team, and not feeling like the coach knew them or had a plan in place for them.
Communicate with your team, and create the right environment for them in your program. Like I said, I know it’s not a part of the job you signed up for, but it’s the reality you now operate within. So be great at it, like Julie McCoy was.
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.