Nearly every coach uses a version of the same cliché in their recruiting pitch: “Make a 40-year decision, not a 4-year decision.” They encourage young athletes to consider life beyond their sport and after graduation.
Words are nice. But the question is: What are teams actually doing to enable that 40-year impact?
Savvy prospects, along with their parents, expect more than lip service – they require real-life examples and a clear plan. They want to know not only how you’ll help them make it to graduation, but also how you’ll keep them engaged as alumni, connect them with employers, and continue empowering them for decades to come.
This is where the recruiting pitch often falls flat and coaches struggle to differentiate. Every school has the table stakes: a campus career center, academic support, and concern for mental health. Every coach has a spreadsheet of alumni with contact information that is at least somewhat accurate. But checking these basic boxes doesn’t differentiate a program.
Innovative college athletic programs, like the ones at Iowa and San Jose State, are changing that. By using Branded Student-Athlete Affinity Groups, they successfully set themselves apart from their competition. These digital and real-life communities, specifically designed for student-athletes, easily answer the “how” and provide tangible proof of the “40-year decision”.
Read on to learn how these micro-communities, built on NextPlay, help coaches bring their recruiting pitch to life.
THE SPECIAL TREATMENT
Recruits want to feel special and their parents want them to have every advantage. They desire resources specifically designed to help them flourish. And rightfully so – the student-athlete college experience presents a unique set of challenges and obstacles that necessitate targeted support.
Creating programs tailored to the needs of a given cohort isn’t a novel idea – graduate programs and specific departments, like business or engineering, do it all the time. What is novel is when an athletic department recognizes the unique needs of their student-athletes and does the same.
Imagine a football coach sitting down with a key recruit and his parents, delivering largely the same pitch they heard from a rival school down the road yesterday – playing time, scheme fit, life after sports, etc. Only this time when the coach says “make a 40-year decision, not a 4-year decision”, he pulls out his phone and opens up their team’s customized mobile app.
Showing this to the prospect and his parents, the coach says “As soon as you come here, you’ll be empowered to connect directly with our vast network of alumni. You’ll gain access to a library of on-demand career development content built specifically for athletes. You’ll be invited to apply for job openings at companies looking to hire athletes with your skillset. And regardless of how your career turns out, you’ll have access to this community for the rest of your life.”
That is real, compelling, and visual evidence of the program’s commitment to their student-athletes’ success – something the recruit and his family will remember when it’s time to make a decision.
THE REALITY OF NOT GOING PRO
Thirty-four percent of parents think their kids are good enough to go to the Olympics or make it to the pros. Far be it from a coach in the middle of recruiting a young athlete to burst that bubble.
But that same stat indicates the other two-thirds of parents are realistic. Not talented enough for the next level, a career-ending injury, or simply burn-out are all likely ends to their child’s college athletic experience.
Now imagine a basketball coach, while talking with a prospect and her parents, shares the story of one of their athletes who gave her all during a four-year career and was a projected first-round pick. But in her senior year, a terrible knee injury left her unable to play and unsure of what to do next.
Instead of becoming disconnected from the team, feeling isolated, and being left to figure things out on her own, she had a supportive network of current and former student-athletes. The mentorship, content, connections, and opportunities helped her through a tough transition. She’s gone on to have a successful career in sports psychology and remains actively engaged with her former team by funding support programs for current athletes and often connecting with seniors through the app to offer transition guidance.
The challenges athletes face when they retire from their sport are well documented. They’ve built an identity throughout their lives rooted in their athletic prowess. For most, this identity is stripped away when they graduate from college. They are no longer competing, no longer part of a team, and no longer the athlete they’ve always been. As a result, many former athletes struggle with mental health issues and fully disconnect from their program after graduation.
What if, instead, those four years were only the start of an athlete’s relationship with their team? What if they could evolve, instead of dismantling, the core of their identity during their transition? What if every athlete could maintain a sense of belonging with their team forever?
A strong Athlete Affinity Group makes this a reality. Instead of fading away, a retiring athlete deepens their connection to their team and program.
Let’s again imagine a coach sitting with a recruit and their parents about the importance of the “40-year decision”. He recalls a former player who recently graduated and was debating between going to law school or entering the working world. Using the team’s app, he created a group for former teammates to talk about professional goals and potential career paths.
Now, as he’s finishing up his law degree, he continues to engage with the team and gives back to the program on his own terms by mentoring young student-athletes and sharing feedback on graduate school applications. Even though he’s no longer on the roster, he maintains a meaningful connection to his trusted “tribe”.
ATHLETE AFFINITY GROUPS ARE THE “HOW”
Like the mottos and values on the walls of every athletics facility, the “40-year decision” is only real if your student-athletes are living it every day.
Branded Athlete Affinity Groups are how that lasting connection comes to life. It’s real community building that creates the stories recruits and their parents will remember when making their final decision.
To learn more about how NextPlay can help your program create a Branded Athlete Affinity Group, schedule time to talk with us.