How To Land A Great Rookie Class: 5 Tips For Retaining New Prospects

Pittsburgh coach Nick Kaczmarek's recruitment tweet.By this point in the fall, most college teams will have been practicing for at least a week or two. You’re probably over your first huge practices and are starting to shed rookies.

Now, the focus should shift from getting large numbers of people out to your practices to making sure your rookies stick around to become veterans. However, the best way to do that isn’t always so clear. Here are some tips to ensure that you end up with a great rookie class.

Individualize: Stop trying to recruit whole groups and focus on individual rookies. After a short time, people tire of telling yet another veteran what they plan to study. Freshmen shopping for extracurricular activities aren’t just looking for something to do when they’re not in class. Rather, they’re looking for a group of actual, real-life friends, so focus on having one-on-one interactions with them. Get to know a few very well instead of getting a superficial understanding of all of them. By becoming friends with rookies, you’re giving them a reason to come back other than “Sprints are so fun.”

Use the Whole Team: Make sure everyone on your team is working on recruiting. If only a few people are taking the one-on-one approach, only a few kids are going to feel like a part of the team. You risk making the other rookies feel unwanted and undervalued.

Even if you think a player is going to be committed, don’t let him or her slip through the cracks into musical theater, or whatever hobby you don’t know about because you never asked. To befriend all the rookies, you can be official about it, assigning veterans to particular rookies, or you can just encourage your teammates to befriend them. No matter what you choose, pay attention to which rookies are being neglected and find people on your team who seem like good matches.

At that point, you can assign them to talk with your neglected rookies or just encourage them to do so. Some teams assume that the rookies that commit without a nudge from you guys are going to be the most driven players who give the most to your team, but I don’t think that’s always true. You never know when the sport or team is going to click with someone and push them towards that next level, and it’s hard to tell with whom it will happen. Make sure to keep as many of your rookies around as you possibly can, in case someone you never expected becomes your star by senior year.

Stay Off Ultimate: While it’s obviously OK to talk about Ultimate with your rookies, try to center some of your interaction on something else. There are two good reasons for this. One is that rookies, like everyone else (even Ken Dobyns), have interests outside Ultimate. The majority of rookies (at most colleges) haven’t come to school to play Ultimate and some are scared that one activity will swallow up all the other things they want to do. Talking about your non-Ultimate life (or making one up if you’re one of those people) reassures them that such a thing is indeed possible.

It will also help them feel like they matter to you as more than a pair of legs to put in when the starters tire. Many freshmen know little to nothing about Ultimate. To them, a German is an international student and PoNY is capitalized terribly. All but the most knowledgable rookies will not be able to converse about Ultimate with you as an equal. Talking about a common interest will allow them to feel more included while assuring them that they can make some time for their personal “girlfriend, family, job, God”, whatever that may be.

Even better, do things with your rookies. Invite them to your non-Ultimate parties. Have them over to play video games. Do what you do for fun outside of ultimate with a rookie or two. It makes them feel like someone on the team really wants them to join while giving them the knowledge that Ultimate players can do things that aren’t Ultimate.

Go With Your Gut: Trust your own experience. You’re on the team, meaning that someone recruited you. And if you’re reading Ultiworld looking for a way to recruit others, your recruiter did a damn good job. Ask yourself what made you commit to the team. Try to share that positive experience with your rookies, particularly the ones who remind you most of yourself.

Be Friends: Above all, just be friends with some rookies. ‘Recruiting’ can seem impersonal and mechanical, but it shouldn’t be. In the end, you’re just trying to give some rookies friends on the Ultimate team. They’ll be more willing to come to practice and tournaments if their friends will be there. Hopefully, all these things can happen organically, but sometimes you need to remind yourself to do it. Just remember that rookies are individuals with varied interests who are looking for some friends and you should be okay.

  1. Alexander Palmer
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    Alexander Palmer is an Ultiworld opinion columnist. He is the captain of Columbia University's Open team, Uptown Local. He has played in the Club series with Flight NYC. He lives in New York City.

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