By Keith Manos
Keith Manos is the former Athletic Director and a coach of two sports at Richmond Heights (Ohio) High School. His books include Wrestling Coach’s Survival Guide and Coach’s and Athletic Director’s Complete Book of Forms and Letters, both published by Prentice Hall (800-947-7700).
Athletic Management, 13.3, April/May 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1303/ovojoinus.htm
As administrators and coaches, we all know the benefits of interscholastic competition. But how do we convince teenagers that playing a sport will be a positive experience for them? And, more specifically, how does each coach encourage students to try out for his or her particular team?
Explaining the long-term health benefits and valuable leadership lessons students can learn from sports does not grab most youngsters’ interest. And giving them statistics on how playing sports boosts their time management skills is probably just as meaningless.
But, there are ways to entice young people to try your sport that speak directly to their interests. Such tactics begin with an in-school recruiting process and culminate with a preseason team meeting, where potential team members can get a full taste of how the squad functions.
You can start your in-school recruiting by doing some simple promotions about your sport as the preseason approaches. For example, put up posters in the hallways, on bulletin boards, in trophy cases, and in locker rooms to highlight the sport and the benefits of being on the team. Also, have the school libraries (both middle and high school) order magazines related to your sport.
Another idea is to send a form letter to parents informing them about your program.
Follow up with several public address announcements that are both creative and motivational. Ask popular faculty members to make brief announcements to their classes (and individual students) about your program. Consider showing a highlight tape during the students’ lunch hour that promotes your sport.
Next, work on recruiting individual students who might work well on your team. Ask administrators and school faculty, especially the physical education teachers, for names of potential athletes. Then, take the time to introduce yourself to these students and chat about the program. This can be done informally on campus, or by sending them a letter that introduces yourself and the program. Be sure to make the letter a personal one that explains how you feel the person can contribute to the team.
But, don’t feel like you’re in this alone! There are a host of others who can help you with the recruiting process, starting with students in the school. First, have senior athletes and letter winners talk with younger athletes to encourage them to join the program. Next, get cheerleaders and statisticians to talk to potential athletes about participating.
One varsity letter winner at my school recently told me, “I decided to participate in sports after one of my friends told me to come to practice. I found out that it kept me healthy, and I really enjoyed it.”
Adults can help, too. Have prominent alumni write letters about how the sport benefited them, which you can then give to recruits. And, most important, work with coaches of other sports to encourage multi-sport participation. Let your colleagues know about any players on your squad who could help their teams and ask if there is anyone they could send your way.
While the above strategies may seem like a hard sell, the intent is not overkill. Rather, it is to reach young people in a variety of ways until they are convinced that you’re sincere about including them in the program.
Admittedly, all these steps take considerable planning and communication. But the reward can be a larger number of potential players, and ultimately a better team.
First Team Meeting
The next step is to invite all potential squad members to an initial team meeting. You need to be organized and enthusiastic at this meeting, which typically should take place in a classroom or auditorium one week before tryouts begin. Gym bleachers are adequate, but never use a locker room, which has too many distractions and is often uncomfortable and cramped.
You must begin on time and quickly establish your credibility. Be sure all distractions are eliminated and remain enthusiastic and upbeat throughout. Introduce your assistant coaches as well as any related personnel (athletic trainers, managers) and clarify their responsibilities and authority.
Display or distribute the agenda of the meeting, and make sure you cover all the topics. It’s best to start with a brief introduction, through which the athletes should learn your background and expectations. Other typical agenda items include rules and respect, effort and eligibility, commitment and courage, and sacrifice and success. Invite both new and returning athletes to contribute suggestions throughout the meeting, emphasizing the importance of working together and listening to each other.
You should also cover these points during the meeting:
• What makes the sport fun.
• What makes the sport difficult for some kids (and be honest).
• What is the necessary practice gear, and what equipment will and will not be supplied by the school (and how much will the non supplied gear cost).
• The practice schedule, and where practices are held.
• The competition schedule.
• What would make an athlete ineligible.
• Their responsibilities: to get a physical, to complete all necessary forms (including a personal data form), and so forth.
• The procedure for selecting captains.
• How tryouts will be conducted.
• What makes a successful athlete.
I’ve found it works well to conclude the meeting with a discussion on team goals for the season. Invite athletes to make suggestions, then write their suggestions on a chalk board and lead some discussion on formulating the list into major points.
Not only does this get the returning athletes excited about the season, it also shows the newcomers what your team is all about. It emphasizes your commitment to your athletes’ thoughts and your ability to make the group a cohesive unit. In addition, as returning letter winners speak about the past season or their goals, newcomers learn from their peers why the sport is enjoyable and what is possible for them.
They also may discover that many of them have the same goals. They all want to have a winning, competitive team. Through their own words, they can become unified toward a common purpose: working hard at practices and striving for a successful season.
No matter how many of the above strategies you choose to use, the most important element in boosting your participation rate is being able to answer one straightforward question: “Why would I want to be a part of your program?”
Whether a student asks this unexpectedly in the hallway or you choose to address it at the team meeting, your answers have to be good ones—and honest ones. Know the pros and cons of your team, and your sport, and enthusiastically communicate these thoughts to any student who asks.
This recruiting process can, in truth, be exhausting, even frustrating at times, if some students’ responses aren’t favorable. But, it can make your team more competitive, and ultimately help get more students involved in interscholastic sports.