A Recruiting Blueprint: The Art and Science behind Successful Collegiate Recruiting [ARTICLE]

A Recruiting Blueprint
The Art and Science behind Successful Collegiate Recruiting

By: Dennis Newell

Originally Published in Techniques Magazine

Provided by: USTFCCCA


Eleven years ago I accepted the position of Associate Head Cross Country/Assistant Track & Field Coach at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. The University of Mary is an NCAA Division II university. The University of Mary is a small, private, Catholic, liberal arts school in the Upper Plains of North Dakota. When I first started in this position, I was excited and eager to be a collegiate coach in the NCAA. However, I was quickly overwhelmed with the task of recruiting quality student-athletes to a university which seemed to have many challenges in recruiting and training middle distance and distance runners to compete at the conference, regional and national level of cross country and track & field.
recruiting blueprint
I decided to gather information from coaches around me that I trusted and respected. I needed to find out what successful recruiting actually was before I could try to accomplish it. Once I found general themes I made a list of steps that were important and necessary, in the collegiate recruiting process. These steps can be followed in a sequential order to help keep me on track, organized and accountable with my recruiting.

The first step is to identify the recruits that I want to join my university and program. I start by identifying their athletic abilities in cross country and track & field events that are important to my program and in competitions that show accurate data of their athletic abilities. I look through conference, district, regional and state meet results and highlight those I want to contact in the future. Once I have identified the recruits I want to contact, I look up the address of the school they compete for and enter that information into a spreadsheet. I now have a comprehensive list and means of connection with the majority of the high school recruits I want to contact.

The next step for me is to make contact with these recruits. This can sometimes be the most difficult task of the recruiting process. I send out a recruiting questionnaire to each high school with the recruit's name on it. I call the high school and ask them to hand deliver the recruiting questionnaire to the recruit. The recruiting questionnaire is a simple form with pre-paid postage on the back and is the size of a postcard. It requests information from the recruit including mailing address, email, cell phone, GPA, ACT/ SAT score, etc. Once I have the recruit's questionnaire, I enter the information into the spreadsheet. Once a month, I submit this spreadsheet to our admission's department to add these recruits to our university's global database. The university sends out a vast amount of information on a scheduled basis; helping get information into the recruit's hands. If I do not receive the recruiting questionnaire back in a timely manner I contact their coach, send a private message to them on Facebook, or reach out by some other means. There are many creative ways to get a cell phone number or email for a recruit. I use multiple methods of getting in touch: text, email, recruiting software, social media (private messages only), hand-written letters and notes, phone calls and face-to-face meetings through home, school and competition visits. Each contact method needs to be used in an appropriate manner based on the specific information I am trying to deliver and get back from the recruit. The method of contact also should be appropriate for the relationship that I have at that point in the recruiting process. I typically follow this order of contact for the first two to four weeks of communication:

1. Introduction: Mail a recruiting brochure, hand-written note and business card
2. Follow-Up: Text message asking for a specific date and time to call to talk
3. Contact: Phone call to discuss university and program
4. Information: Recruiting software email with university and program Information
5. Information: Recruiting software email with NCAA eligibility information
6. Follow-Up: Text message asking for a specific date and time to call to talk
7. Contact: Phone call to discuss recruiting software emails

I continue to communicate using email or mail to deliver information, texts to set up phone calls and phone calls to follow up on email or mail information and answer questions and concerns until I build a high comfort level with the recruit. Once a comfortable level of communication is established and developed, I progress the communication into a home and/ or campus visit. I strive to make contact early and often in the recruiting season and to establish which methods of contact work best for each recruit.

The next step is to inform the recruits. I want to get the right information to my contact. That information can be delivered in several different ways (as shown above). Much like using appropriate contact methods, using appropriate delivery methods of the information is vital, as is delivering the 'right' information. If I am proactive in my recruiting efforts and informing the recruits, then I have more control in delivering the information I want them to have in their possession. I always have a reason for communication; to inform them or give them information about our university and program in a positive way. I keep my communication short, simple, to the point and meaningful everytime. I deliver the information as efficiently as I can.

From the first contact to either a commitment or walking away from my university and program, I am continually trying to create the best possible experience I can, from beginning to end. I follow the above sequential steps for the most part, but I am always adding the human touch to make sure the entire process is as genuine as possible for the recruit and their support group. I truly believe that if I can create the best possible experience for them I will have a better chance of convincing them to join my university and program; even if other variables are not exactly what they are looking for.

I am constantly trying to find the best package for each and every recruit. A package can oftentimes be financial. But, a package can also have nothing to do with finances. As a coach who is constantly recruiting, I must first listen to the needs before I present the resources that I have available. The most important variables and resources are the ones that they see as being important. I look for every academic, athletic, loan and need-based aid that is available. I have a responsibility to make the best financial package available. I am recruiting to my university and program, and part of that process is creating the most affordable option possible. Recruits are often looking for several different variables in their collegiate experience including academic, athletic, social, religious, proximity to and from their parent's home, the conference or division or association the university belongs to (NAIA/ NJCAA/ NCAA/ etc.), etc. I try to find out what 'package' they are looking for, and then attempt to develop a package that suits their needs.


The decision is something that needs to be handled carefully and sometimes delicately. I want to make sure I have done everything appropriately up to this point. I have made contact with the recruit I wish to join my program. I have communicated with the recruit early and often. I have given adequate information I want them to have regarding my university and program, collectively created the best package that I have the resources to create for that specific person, and I have created a positive experience in the recruiting process that will give them the clearest picture of my program.

Once I feel the recruit has received all the information they need to make an informed decision, and they have no more questions or concerns about our university and program, I bring up a timeline on making a decision to either join my university and program or walk away. If the first five steps are followed to the best of my ability; then I have done my best to lead the recruit to join my program. However, keep in mind, creating the best opportunity at your university and within your program is not always enough to get a commitment. Some will be looking for something else in their collegiate experience. I understand that I do not have everything to accommodate every single recruit out there. But, if they are looking for a place with the resources I have, then I want to make sure I do my best to get their commitment.

Identify, Contact, Inform, Experience, Package and Decision. These six steps have helped me stay on task in a sequential order in my recruiting duties. I use these guidelines while allowing for my own personal touch to be integrated into the process. I have a set of tools to use from my university and program, and it is my job to use those tools in an appropriate manner.

Most universities and programs are different We do not all have the same number of scholarships, the same number of coaches on staff, the same facilities, etc. I understand that I recruit against other coaches and programs with different assets and different challenges. I decided long ago that I cannot focus on what I do not have and what others do have. I need to use the resources available to me to get recruits to my university and program.


The better I know my university and pro-gram, the less likely I will be to get caught off-guard with a question or concern that I cannot respond too. I make sure I know my strengths and weaknesses as a community, as a university, as a program, and as a coach. I sell my strengths and I defend my weaknesses. I meet with our admissions department once a month to go over our academic programs, scholarships, grants, loans and other aid opportunities available to each and every recruit. What do I have to enhance my university e.g. scholarships, facilities, coaches on staff, graduate assistants on staff, location, altitude, cost of school, degrees, culture, history, etc.? I may have to defend some of these variables as well.

I work at a university that has a niche (I believe all schools have a specific niche). Thus, I need to identify those recruits that fit the niche of my university. My recruiting class, roster retention and overall team success is directly tied to getting the 'right' recruits into my program. I work at a NCAA Division II, Catholic/ Benedictine, private university in south central North Dakota that has limited resources from academics, budget and facilities to scholarships, staff, etc. I identify the recruits that most closely fit the niche of my university. I own what we are, I never try to sell the recruit something that we are not.

Every day of the week I have a schedule of states I will call. Every week I go through and highlight the recruits I speak with in blue, and the recruits I can't get in touch with in orange, helping me track inter- est levels. Every four weeks I sit down with my coaching staff to communicate where we are as a program. I continually evaluate each staff member to make sure everyone is accountable to the overall recruiting goal of the program. At this time I also reevaluate my goals and strategies to enhance my recruiting; do I need to make more calls, less calls, longer conversations? Should I use different methods of contact for different recruits, develop better recruiting resources like brochures / videos/ etc.?

There are several steps to getting a recruit into a university and eligible to participate in athletics at the NCAA level. I walk the recruit and their support group (high school coach, parents, high school counselor, etc.), through the process step by step until the recruit has been accepted to my university and evaluated by the NCAA through the NCAA Online Eligibility Center. The NCAA and the university will likely need an official high school transcript, an official SAT/ ACT score, a completed application and payment of the application fee. A list of tasks will need to be completed by the recruit through this online account; both the university and the NCAA will make evaluations and determinations on the given information to make a decision on acceptance and eligibility status.

Recruiting international student-athletes can sometimes add an extra element of work in the University Admissions and NCAA Eligibility Process. Each university is different and I suggest you contact your admissions department and your international admissions representative in these regards. My university requires many steps to get international student-athletes in a position to attend our university and to be eligible to participate in athletics. The international student-athlete needs to register with the NCAA Online Eligibility Center and submit official transcripts and test scores like any other student-athlete looking to become NCAA eligible. The extra work comes into play when getting accepted into my university. The international student-athlete needs to take the above stated steps to get accepted into the university. However, they also need to get an official transcript evaluation by World Education Services, an official TOEFEL score, an official passport, an official proof of finances and an official I-20 form completed and submitted to the university in a timely fashion. These steps can be very time consuming and need to be addressed early in the recruiting process. Also keep in mind that some international student-athletes will have special circumstance that could differ from your local student-athletes such as finances, travel, communication, etc.

Social Media is a very useful tool if used properly and professionally. Our program uses Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to show potential teammates our day to day life so they have a sneak peak of what it will be like to be a part of our program. We use these types of social outlets to show pictures, events, awards, team activities, new recruits, coaches, etc. that help to show a positive reflection of our community, university, program, student-athletes and coaches.

'Diligence is the mother of good luck.' - Benjamin Franklin
I make contact with recruits that I might think would never go to my university, for whatever reason, as my first challenge. I try to make contacts with as many recruits as I can in hope to find the next "diamond in the rough." I put in the time because I believe hard work pays off with BIG returns. Recruits very rarely just randomly show up on the doorstep of my office in Bismarck, North Dakota, so I have to go out and find them and get them interested in my university and program.

It is important to get to competitions to evaluate recruits to determine more than what is on a piece of paper. Biomechanics, build, attitude, social interaction, team cohesion, relationship with coach, etc. Home visits are a great way to personalize the recruiting experience and show that I am willing to make the effort to accommodate the recruit. I take the opportunity to find out what the recruit's background is in their home with their family. A campus visit is a must for any recruit that is seriously considering my university and program as an option. I walk them through the halls and classrooms, show them all the facilities, have them eat lunch and stay in the dorms with current student-athletes.

I want to do as many things to make the recruiting process genuine. Hand written notes and face to face interaction are the best two methods of creating a lasting impression on the recruit and their support group. An email can be easily deleted, a phone call easily forgotten; but a hand written note from the Head Cross Country/ Track & Field coach is something that can make a lasting impression on a recruit and their support group. A home visit is an interaction that will also make a lasting and genuine impact on recruits and their support group.

I can assure you that you will be told "no" more than you are told "yes" by the recruits. The first few times I had a recruit tell me he (and she) was going to another university... well, I was really upset. I could not accept that the recruit did not want to be a part of my university and program.

I understand that I am recruiting into my niche. I need to be open to the idea that my strengths are not the right fit for every recruit. Again, I don't want every recruit, I want the 'right' recruits.

I look and sound the part. First impressions and perceptions can make or break my relationship with the recruit. I establish myself as a professional in every sense of the word from the start of the coach/ athlete relationship. My professional- ism will earn respect from the start of the recruiting process.

I made a rule from day one that I would never recruit by speaking poorly of any other program, university, or coach. No matter what, I only can attest to my university and program. I refuse to 'negative' recruit another program. If the recruit hears you talking in a negative manner about another program or coach it only reflects on your character and can ultimately tarnish your reputation, as well as your university and program.


"Recruiting is like a shower; you have to do it every day or you will start to stink!" - Gary Wilson I am building relationships with the recruit, with the recruit's parents and with the recruit's coach. I know this process will take time, and I know I need to earn the recruits trust over time and by my efforts. Thus, I am constantly trying to separate myself from other programs with my personal touch and genuine approach to the recruiting process. I talk to the recruit about their goals and where they want to take their running, career and life. I make the recruiting process about their needs, wants and desires. If I am like every other coach and every other program, I don't trust I will win that battle.

The majority of this article is built around two learning experiences; gaining knowledge from those around me and making mistakes with or without that knowledge being used properly. I understand that mistakes are going to be made, and recruits will be won and lost. However, this information is designed to minimize those mistakes and losses and increases those successes.

My recruiting philosophy is fairly simple. I focus on becoming better at the process of my daily tasks, instead of the outcomes. I follow sequential steps in the recruiting process and work hard to showcase the resources I have available to me with a genuine delivery.

Dennis Newell is the Head Cross Country/ Associate Head Track & Field Coach at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. Newell holds a B.S. in Exercise Science and a M.S. in Kinesiology. Newell is also a USTFCCCA Specialist in Endurance and is currently completing his USTFCCCA Master Endorsement in Cross Country.


1 Review
Craig Christians
Bellevue, NE
A Recruiting Blueprint

Dennis Newell does an excellent job describing the recruiting process and the systematic steps in recruiting. It is obvious that he is extremely thorough in his approach. As a new recruiter, I will use his guidelines to develop my own recruiting process. Thank you for this great article.

February 2017

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08 Feb 2017

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