Enrollment Management

Athletics and Enrollment: Communicating Across the Divide

(Jill McCartney, Doane College Athletic Director, is a guest blogger this week providing her perspective on the relationship and communication between athletic departments – specifically coaches – and enrollment offices)

Recruiting is the lifeblood of Athletics. While the same may be said for Admissions and the Enrollment staff, the way that we operate in Athletics and the strategies we use may not be altogether commensurate. For instance, admissions folks may be happy to welcome all applicants meeting admissions criteria, but sports coaches are not necessarily happy about welcoming all prospects.

As Athletics plays a larger role in enrollment management, ensuring good communication between Athletics folks and enrollment staff is important. Key to this communication is not only making sure everyone is aware of the lines of communication and who reports to whom, but also that the language we speak means the same thing to both groups. How the Admissions Office operates may not look like how sports coaches go about their work. Thus, making sure that both groups understand each other can go a long way in helping them function cooperatively.

To this end, I’ve listed some of the most important things for Enrollment professionals to know about how Athletics operates in recruiting:

  1. Coaches want the “Red Carpet Treatment” for their top prospects. What is interesting here is that coaches agree they want this, but they don’t necessarily know what this “Red Carpet Treatment” should look like. When I told our Admissions Director that this is what our coaches wanted, he expressed that this is how their staff attempted to treat each prospect they recruited. Admissions folks, he said, try to make each student feel wanted, so he wanted to know what specifically coaches were looking for. I had no definitive answer for our Director, even after asking our coaches a few more questions. I came to the conclusion that coaches just wanted admissions staff to know who their top prospects were and, therefore, needed to do a better job of communicating with the Admissions staff about their recruiting priorities.
  2. Coaches don’t like to be surprised with prospects. Coaches tend to be very intentional about their recruiting, which means they usually know most of the players in the area. They also tend to have busy schedules, so having an admissions staff member ask for a meeting within the next hour or, even worse, having the admissions ambassador show up at the coach’s office with the prospect and her family in tow, are not good for promoting good will between departments. Given that coaches now work under the expectation of maintaining larger rosters and supplementing campus recruitment, coaches generally understand the need to help out with students in whom they may not be very interested; but coaches still want to ensure that they make best use of their time, so having some background information on the prospect or having the time to delegate the visit to an assistant will go a long way toward maintaining good will and optimizing the time spent on the visit.
  3. In recruiting, coaches operate on a sped-up timeframe. Coaches live in a here-today-gone-tomorrow world. When they have a hot prospect, coaches recruit with an urgency, and they want others to show this same kind of urgency. For instance, when the arch rival down the road has already admitted the hot prospect, coaches expect their school to act accordingly—and right now. They want their prospects to be admitted in the same window as other schools against whom they compete.
  4. Coaches’ recruiting calendars can depend on the sport and gender of the student-athletes. And these recruiting calendars may not work very smoothly with academic or admissions calendars. Coaches of women’s sports tend to start recruiting players as sophomores and try to get commitments from their top prospects by December of their senior year (if not earlier!). On the men’s side, coaches typically find that early recruiting is not as effective, so they make their big push during the senior year. In football, campus visits get going in December and January, with many players making decisions by the first of February. For football recruiting, then, the winter break can make visits somewhat problematic, as December visits fall during final exams and January visits occur before classes start. We are fortunate at our institution that the Admissions staff and key faculty are willing to work with football coaches to set up visit days before the start of the semester to ensure a high quality visit for prospects and their families. While coaches would like for Admissions staff and faculty to be available during evenings and weekends—when many prospects are able to visit campus—finding other creative ways to adapt to coaches’ recruiting calendars is key to recruiting success.
  5. Coaches want admissions counselors to know about their sports programs. While coaches understand that they are the best and most effective promoters of their own programs, they want to feel as if it’s a team effort with admissions when their prospects are on campus. Coaches like to hear from the prospect that the student ambassador giving the tour talked about the football team’s big win over the top-ranked opponent, or that the admissions counselor told them about the baseball team’s unbeaten record in conference last year. On our campus, we have created promotional sheets for use by coaches and admissions staff, and these can serve admissions staff as “cheat sheets” for key talking points.

While this list reflects the specific priorities of coaches at Doane College, Crete, Nebraska, I believe the underlying principle—the need for clear and effective communication—pertains to all. What has helped our coaches and, I believe, our Enrollment staff, is the use of multiple means of communicating. Having our Director of Admissions as an invited guest to our Athletics Department meetings, creating an Admissions staff “liaison” to the Athletics Department, and using Google Docs for coaches to update offers and acceptances are all ways that we have worked to shore up communication and effective rapport between departments. The good news is that we are still speaking to each other, and the even better news is that both groups feel that we have benefited from the increased and improved communication.

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