Recruiter or Recruitee?

Richard Hunkler, PhD
Water Polo Planet

What would you rather be a recruiter or recruitee? When I was a senior in high school, over a half-dozen college swimming coaches tried to talk me into attending their schools. Offering me a swimming scholarship with their talk also helped me to listen to what they had to say very closely. Moreover, at Slippery Rock University I recruited well over a two hundred female and male water polo players; however, I never had the luxury of scholarships but most of the schools we played didn't either. Choosing between being a recruiter or a recruitee is similar to choosing between having with your steak of water polo a baked potato or a baked sweet potato - they both can be fulfilling, but the latter always leaves a sweet taste in your memory. On recruitment visits to your school the recruitee is always in the "cat-bird" seat waiting to be enlightened and the recruiter is always in the "hot" seat waiting for the recruitee's one electric question that requires an answer that might place the recruiter's school out of the recruitee's choices.

Don't Lie to the Recruit

The one cardinal rule for all recruiter's should follow is "don't lie to the recruit". The recruiter can exaggerate, procrastinate, and even exacerbate but never, never, fabricate.  If the lie is not discovered on the recruiting trip then it will surely be found out when the recruit attends the school where the repercussions from the lie will be much greater. I used to tell recruits that no matter which school they visit including Slippery Rock the coaches are going to tell them a lot of border-line stuff to try and convince them to attend the coaches' school. Consequently, they will need to talk with the players on the team to find out the real skinny on what the coaches are saying. I also recommended that the recruits talk with players other than the ones that are escorting them around the campus. The worst thing a coach can do is lie to a recruit to get him or her to come to the coach's university or college. Because when the player finds out about the lie then he or she will never be able to trust the coach about anything again. Unhappy campers on your team or on your list of recruits can be a holy terror to you and your teams success as they should be to all people that bend the truth to get what they want.

There used to be a swimming coach at Slippery Rock University that would continually lie to recruits. The two worst lies he would tell are as follows: 1) he would give a swimmer a partial scholarship consisting of a small stipend, tell the swimmers he was receiving the maximum amount that is given which most of the time he wasn't, and then tell the swimmer not to tell any other swimmer on the team how much he or she was receiving because other swimmers might become jealous; and 2) he would say he had no scholarship money left when he did and he would tell the swimmer if the swimmer did well his or her freshmen year that he would give the swimmer money for his or her sophomore year, and when the swimmer did well his or her freshmen year he would tell the swimmer he had no scholarship money left.

It was bad enough that the coach lied to the recruits but to tell them a stupid lie such as the first one, added insult to an egregious injury. Did he really think young scholarship athletes would not discuss how much money they were receiving? The second lie reminds me of a story my Daddy use to tell me. My Dad said they were so poor that at the supper table his Daddy would ask who would go to bed without eating for a nickel, and my Daddy would say, "I will; I will". The next morning his Daddy would ask who would give him a nickel for breakfast and my Daddy would say, "I will; I will". The difference was that the swimming coach was dealing with the athlete's ability to pay for a college education and my Grandaddy was not.

The only lie I ever remember telling a recruit happened in my last year of coaching. During that year the Athletic Director said that he was going to give me a thousand dollars for scholarships for women's water polo. I told him to roll it over for the next year for when the sport would have a new coach and a new start, and I further told him I started water polo thirty years ago without scholarships and that I wanted to finish water polo without scholarships as well. To make Pinocchio's nose shorter than it was I told a recruit and her mother that I didn't have any scholarship money. While I was talking to the recruit about the school the recruit's mother went and asked the Athletic Director why the university didn't have any women's water polo scholarships since women's water polo was doing better than any other sport at the university.  Of course, he answered that I did have scholarship money but that I refused to use it. By the way the Athletic Director, Paul Lueken, is the same A.D. that was instrumental in having nine sports dropped at Slippery Rock University.

When confronted by the mother I told her what I told the Athletic Director, and she said that was too bad because her daughter would not be going to any school without some kind of scholarship. The saddest thing, besides me ending my career on a lie, was that the daughter would have come to the ROCK without a scholarship if it were not for her divorced mother, because the recruit's father was an M.D. making a high six figure salary that would have easily paid her way to Slippery Rock rather than an ivy league school. The recruit was not only an excellent water polo player but also an outstanding young woman. She would have made a great addition to the team, but I didn't get her and that's what I deserved for breaking my cardinal rule.

Don't Tell Recruits Water Polo Is the Only Reason to Attend Your School

Another no, no, is for the recruiter to spend 90% of his or her time talking about the water polo program and to spend only 10% of his or her time talking about his or her university or college. Water polo is important but it is not the most important thing. You ask, "Doc what is the most important thing?" Using Doc instead of Mr. has to give you a hint as to what I think is most important, and, that of course, is earning a university or college degree. ( I have three degrees, B.S., M.S., and PhD and my wife says I would still be in graduate school if we wouldn't have had three sons.) I always used to tell recruits that water polo is important but that earning a university or college degree is more important. I would also tell them that what they did the next four years academically while playing water polo may very well effect what they did the rest of their life. I would remind them that water polo was not exactly a cash cow and that making their living from playing water polo would be about as easy as becoming a rock and roll singer (pun about school not intended).

 I truly believe that good water polo players make good students. The statement, “good water polo player and bad student” is an oxymoron to me. I think it is very difficult to play good water polo and be dumb. Good water polo players who make bad grades do so mainly because they do not apply themselves to their academic work and/or because of the lack of discipline. I used to tell players that they already have excellent discipline concerning their water polo. Now, all they have to do is apply that discipline to their studies and their grades will go up a letter or two.

One of the most satisfying part of recruiting student athletes was seeing those players getting an undergraduate degree from Slippery Rock University, and it was even more satisfying to see them earn a graduate or Master's degree because to me more education always means more life choices for that individual. Winning a few championships along the way also seems like a good reason for recruiting student athletes, and this secondary reason didn't seem to hurt either the student athletes or me one little bit.

Don't Get Emotionally Involved When Recruiting

It is so easy to get so wrapped up in recruiting that a coach can become devastated when an excellent recruit decides not to attend his or her school. Losing one super recruit can some times disrupt a coach's entire recruiting process for that year. This is a major mistake because for a coach to base a recruit's sole decision to attend his or her university on the recruit's  like or dislike of the coach is in general, hog wash. There could have been a thousand other reasons why a recruit chose not to attend a coach's university - available major, distance from home, tuition and room and board costs, team chemistry, not a parent's alma mater, campus too rural, campus too cosmopolitan, not the boyfriend or girl friends choice of school, to name just a few other reasons why a recruit didn't choose the coach's school. Be disappointed that you did not reel in the big fish recruit but not devastated. Remember, that recruiting fish are getting better and better in the water polo pool of recruits and there will be some for you and your school to try to catch another day.

In the years I was recruiting I found that the number and/or quality of recruits to mimic a sinusoidal curve. Some years you crested with the number of good prospects you were able to land and other years you found yourself in a trough with recruited players who could not catch the ball much less shoot it on goal. Consistency, to me, is the keyword to winning good recruits. If you don't continually take your recruiting net to the sea of  perspective college water polo players then you can't expect to consistently catch many good players for your school and water polo program.

Another important aspect of recruiting is to know who you are trying to recruit. Do your homework on recruits before they come to an official school visitation! I would tell recruits that one of the main reasons they should come to Slippery Rock University was because the school will treat them as individuals rather than as an ID number in their colossal computer. In all honesty I couldn't have said that to the recruit if I did not try to learn everything about what makes the recruit an individual before his or her official school visitation.

Don't Burn Your Bridges When Recruiting

This is a first cousin to not getting emotionally involved in your recruiting. When a recruit turns you down it is very easy and very human to be rude to that recruit. This is a big-time mistake that many big-time coaches make. If you think for one nanosecond just because you are the coach of a big-time water polo program that you can treat recruits who turn you down as second class citizens then you have a lot to learn about recruiting. Do you really think this helps the reputation of your school or your own reputation as a coach or your water polo program or water polo in general when you act like a spoiled child?

Do you really think the recruit you have been rude to is not going to tell his or her high school and college teammates how they were treated by you? Do you really think such incidents are going to stay isolated to this recruits high school? In the days of very few available scholarships you would have been lucky if some other intended recruit from this person's school didn't hang up on you after such an incident. I guess to be realistic in today's recruiting wars money talks and bad behavior walks. I still believe this type of bad behavior is bad for water polo, and I believe the only thing worse than this type of behavior is a coach yelling and humiliating a player on the pool deck during a game (do your yelling at practice and in the confines of your own swimming pool).

Keeping Recruiters Honest

The first thing a recruit can do to keep the recruiter honest is to do his or her homework and try to learn what he or she  can about the recruiter and his or her school. They say knowledge is a dangerous weapon and in this case it is a dangerous weapon against the lies and fairy tales of the unscrupulous recruiter. There are a good many other things I could tell the recruit about keeping the recruiter honest but instead of doing that I am going to refer to the suggestions of experts in the this field. Here are a series of links that I think will help you in your quest for finding a school and a coach for whom you can play water polo (notice I placed school before coach on purpose):

These first three links are to the NCAA Mauals, and there is one for each sport division.  The fourth link is information for any college bound student athlete. Each guide is written by the NCAA. They are in pdf files so you have to have the Acrobat Reader program installed on your computer to view them.

2008-09 NCAA Division I Manual

2007-08 NCAA Division II Manual

2008-09 NCAA Division III Manual

2008-09 NCAA Guide: College-Bound Student-Athlete

The next link is some NCAA Recruitment Information which again was written by the NCAA. This is a doc file and when clicked a dialogue box will appear. Thus, you can either open the article now and read it or you can save it to your hard disk to read at your leisure.

NCAA Recruiting Information.

The next link is recruitment information provided by a typical university or college on their web site. I chose a neutral site, a site that doesn't have a varsity water polo program - Texas Women's Universitye. This is an HTML file.

Texas Women's University Recruitment Information

The last and possibly the least informative link is one generated by an organization independent of the NCAA. Usually these type of links try to sell you something, but this one doesn't rub your nose in a lot of advertisements. Also you are to contact them personally by email to find out what they can do for you and what their fees will be. This is also an HTML file.

College Sports Recruitment and Financial Aid for Water Polo

Last Official Visit

Recruiting can be a positive experience for both the Recruiter and the Recruitee if both do their homework about each other and the school and most importantly they are honest with each other. There is nothing worse than Recruitees having to spend a year, a semester, or a day at a place in which they do not know; do not belong; or do not like. Or a Recruiter who thinks he or she is getting a comic book super hero and instead he or she is getting an 18 year old who would rather read comic books than his or her textbooks. and who can talk the talk but not walk the walk.

Recruitees don't let your parents, relatives, boy or girl friend or teammates talk you into going to a college or university that you are not certain you want to attend. My Dad went with me on many of my official recruiting trips and at the end of each trip I would ask him which school did he think I should attend. What he said to me every time I asked that question is the same advice I want to give young recruits, "Don't ask me because it's your bed, and you better make it up because you are going to have to lie in it!"

PS: Some second thoughts about being the Recruiter or being the Recruitee. The memories generated by writing this article have caused me to conclude that being a Recruitee is a great deal more fun and a heck-of-a-lot easier than being a Recruiter.

Email Coach Hunkler at [email protected]