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The Recruiting Rules: Rule 8 - Recruit to your strengths

Self knowledge is key to recruiting success

Recruiting, at its heart, is convincing teenagers to come play for your team. Selling your program to someone else is made easier when the program has a clear sense of self, and is able to communicate that clearly. And that leads me to the next Recruiting Rule:

Recruit to your strengths

There are several areas in which a team can know their strengths. And, while mainly focused on the field of play, other factors at the University count, because other things at the University could (and likely will) count for recruits as well.

If you remember EA Sports’ iconic NCAA Football video games (you do) (RIP), and you played dynasty mode (you did), you had multiple “pitches” you could use to convince a player to commit to your team.

Obviously, you would use the pitches that were most favorable to your school and mattered most to the recruit to get them to sign with your school. Conversely, you would avoid those topics that weren’t favorable for your program, in the hopes of increasing your chances with the given recruit.

While not exactly the same, similar topics or program traits are used in real life to connect with prospects in an effort to get them to connect with and commit to a given program. I mean, you think coaches at Alabama aren’t pitching championship caliber or pro potential to recruits? You think coaches at Stanford aren’t pitching top tier academics? You think coaches at Miami and USC aren’t pitching weather and premium location? They absolutely, unequivocally, are.

I’m not saying those factors are being pitched exclusively — there are other factors being pitched to players every day — but the ones that stand out in the minds of fans and players are sure to be at the top of the list.

There is more to the picture in recruiting than just having a program be clear in their strengths and goals. SB Nation National Recruiting Analyst Bud Elliott detailed a couple of those items for me:

Recruiting to fit is also very important. Take players you project to work within your system, and have a real knowledge of what sort of talent inefficiencies you can exploit. Which skills are non-negotiable, and which skill deficiencies can you let slide?

Trust, but verify. The best recruiting staffs make their own evaluations and judgments, but they still reach out to scouts and recruiting media. Some of the ones who are big failures are those who think they know it all.

Getting players to fit the scheme of a program is big. So, too, is reaching out to all available sources of information, so the view of the program, and by extension their strengths and weaknesses, can be as complete as possible.

Sanjay Kirpalani, a longtime Recruiting Analyst and host of the Recruitniks podcast elaborated on the topic of recruiting players to fit the scheme further:

Programs have to know what they are looking for and when to break from their own tendencies.

Every program should have a specific set of traits they look for in players at each position on the field. They also should be looking into intangible qualities such as character and how a player will influence your locker room.

With that said, the top programs in the country usually recruit from the same pool of players. So, what separates them?

The answer is the ability to evaluate players for specific roles and trust their instincts when things such as stars, offer lists and measurables don’t line up with what they see. For example, most schools want corners that are 6-foot or better these days, but usually, there are a few players out there in each cycle worth breaking your rules for.

On the same token, when a player has all the measurables you are looking for and the physical traits necessary to be successful on the college level, but your instincts question his love and dedication to the sport or anything else a prospect possesses that could negatively impact your program, you have to know when to back away.

Kirpalani also discussed the “strengths” and traditions of programs as they pertain to recruiting (which, yanno, is the Recruiting Rule we’re discussing):

Every school is unique and has its own traditions. Coaches should emphasize their school’s own special characteristics. But more importantly, each school should have a culture that is established and sets the table for what will be expected of each prospect that commits to your school and what each prospect can expect from the staff and administration as far as helping them grow on and off the field.

The most successful programs are the ones that have the players currently on the roster active and involved with helping in the recruiting process. After all, who else can let a recruit know what things will really be like in the program more than a current player? And that’s where the culture of your program comes into play. If you have good leadership and players finding success on and off the field and they are involved with helping your recruiting efforts, it’s a strong signal as to the strength of your program. That’s likely to attract other talented players to want to be a part of your program.”

For yet another look at this Recruiting Rule, Michael Felder from Watch Stadium had this to add to the conversation:

Find an area where your school can crush it and just absolutely demolish that focus, while also casting a wide net. “Area” can mean a physical region or it can mean “personal relationships” or “NFL pedigree” or “Explosive offense” or “Smothering defense” just find something you can do better than most anyone and use that to be your guide for kids

Yeah, that makes sense.

When teams have a clear sense of self, what their inherent advantages and challenges are, they can then move in recruiting to use those things to their advantage, or to mitigate those things that might be less than exemplary.

Whether it be a top championship caliber program, or a major that the kid wants to study, or proximity to home, or something else, teams that know their advantages in recruiting and use them well have a big advantage over teams that don’t.

What’s why self knowledge and recruiting to your strengths is a key for recruiting success, no matter what team you happen to be.