Because not every college has a local youth pipeline or name-brand recognition as an ultimate hub.
August 30, 2016 by Alex Rummelhart in Opinion with 0 comments
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One of the things that makes college ultimate — indeed all of college sports — so interesting is the constant need to rebuild a team.
Both a great opportunity and a great drawback, most university teams are constantly in need of new players to refill their ranks. Every four years at the least, a squad is drastically different than it was before. Such a reset can make it very difficult to make a winning program stick for more than a few years and has been the death of many a dynasty hope. Even more difficult for struggling teams, the loss of veteran players, who are extremely valuable as leaders and on-field contributors, can make it difficult to climb into the elite echelons. Small squads, especially, constantly need to be on the lookout for new players simply to help pad numbers.
However, college recruiting always offers an opportunity. Tantalizing and hard to grasp, it nevertheless creates a new beginning where anything is possible. Many ultimate players can remember the hot days of late summer as school begins, dreaming of what their college team might just be like this year.
Once that team is assembled, building, forging, and honing it to a finely-tuned weapon is where the bulk of the work takes place. But that is another matter. In this article, we are going to talk about step one: getting college kids to an ultimate practice and (hopefully) getting them to stick around and join the team.
In the world of recruiting, unless you’re blessed with a magical local youth pipeline1 or the name recognition as a premiere ultimate school2, you have to take any and every route to get the bodies to the fields. It’ll take some work and some willingness to put yourself out there, but it will all be worth it in the end.
Here are 20 quick ideas on how to recruit new players to your college team:
Advertising! Many people attending college don’t know what ultimate is, let alone that your team exists! You have to change that as fast as you can by making as many cool flyers as possible (think action shots mixed with practice times and locations) and plastering them everywhere and anywhere. Proudly and loudly let everyone know that you are out there.
- Knocking on Doors
Once you have the flyers, take things to the next step. Organize your team together one night and divide up the dorms or freshmen housing. Send squads out to knock on every door that they can and hand out flyers to every new person they meet. It may be awkward, but it’ll get results.
New students usually have to attend some kind of orientation (oftentimes there are many events that are required). See if you can be present at one. Have players volunteer to act as tour guides, RA’s, and more. Ask permission to have a representative address or hand out flyers to each and every group.
- Activity Fair
Almost every school has one. Make sure you are in good with your school’s club or activity board and make an effort to go above and beyond a normal booth or table. Get a TV out to play highlights, have people roaming with discs, or even get a scrimmage showcase at the end of the event.
- Class Announcements
Many ultimate players forget that college is about school too. Class time is valuable time to recruit, but go beyond the obvious friends or small-talk connection. Talk to your professors and TA’s and ask to make an announcement about the club the first week of class. Why would they say no? Now go and do the same thing for all those gen-ed freshmen required classes.
- Coach and Sponsors
Along the same lines, get a coach (if you don’t have one already) and/or sponsors and have them talk to the school about opportunities to recruit. External adults tend to be taken slightly more seriously by school administration than students and there are lots of powerful resources to use out there including school-wide information emails, advertising in bulletins or newspaper (talk to the students if student-led), and more. Coaches or adult sponsors also give a reassurance to many new players.
- P.E. Classes
Many schools have elective physical education classes and some even have courses devoted entirely to ultimate. Make sure you have a volunteer show up to those at least once a quarter, and if possible get involved trying to help teach and recruit. Other non-ultimate classes can still be great opportunities to announce and plug your club.
Similarly, many universities have intramural leagues (some of ultimate) or summer leagues for the sport. Make sure you have current players present and recruiting hard. If ultimate leagues or tournaments for intramural don’t exist, try to start your own. Challenge dorm against dorm or build off existing intramural sports to recruit. Flag football teams are often competitive enough that those squads won’t mind trying out an ultimate game.
- Crossover Sports
Ultimate has a lot of crossover appeal for people who are athletic but unable to play serious sports in college; likewise, because it’s a club, people involved in other activities are likely to be interested. Find and visit as many athletic (or non-athletic) clubs as you can to try to recruit, emphasizing that players can do multiple activities (for now). Disc golf, soccer, track, and football especially have players that would fit the ultimate mold.
Be present on campus the first three weeks of school. Try to have people throwing the disc around or playing pickup games in the afternoons where lots of eyes can spot them. Ideally a quad in the dead-center of campus is the place to be. Even if it is relaxed or cramped, try to show off your skills and have one spotter looking to hand out flyers or talk to people.
- Competitive Challenges
Likewise, engage people in competitive challenges. Pull aside a student walking to class and ask him or her how far they can throw the disc. Play a small-group game like flutterguts, in/out box, or do a disc-target competition and invite people to join. It takes two minutes, it’s fun and free, and most people won’t mind the friendly challenge. Some will thrive in it and those are the ones you really go after.
- Disc Sales
Try to set aside some money during the summer to make a disc order (remember these take time, so think ahead!). Get these discs out everywhere (if you can try to sell them at the school bookstore) and have a booth out on the quad. Not only will you make money (what kid or parent wouldn’t buy a disc the first week of college?) but they basically act as advertising for the team.
- Free Stuff
Use some of that money you earn to double-down on recruitment by buying free stuff for new players. A hat, t-shirt, or pair of shorts rocking your logo and team name will be cool to wear and likely get people to come to an event. Hand it out at practice and rock it yourselves to promote.
- Friend Network
A selling point for any recruitment is the tons of free friends that are available (especially for people new to the school). Make sure it happens by encouraging your veterans to mingle with rookies and make connections. Specifically try to learn names, get contact information, and invite new players to hang out (especially if they bring other friends).
- The Opposite Gender
Many teams practice co-ed or side-by-side with the opposite gender squad the first few weeks to try to entice players to join. Showing a close relationship between men’s and women’s teams can be intriguing because it is very different than traditional sports and (let’s face it) it’s a chance to meet someone a new player might be interested in romantically.
- Spirit of the Party
Ultimate is non-traditional and it can be clutch to play that up at certain times. Showcase the self-officiated and independent role of the team. Emphasize the fun and goofiness that can be had surrounding the squad. Play a weird game after a competitive practice, tell a story of an epic tourney exploit (and promise more to come), and host parties specifically designed to be fun for new people. An epic night of revelry has been the hook for many a player.
- Team Dinner/Cookouts
A little more chill than a full-on party, have a cookout or a team dinner at the dorms after practice or on a set night every week. Get as many people as you can to attend with the promise of someone to eat with, and perhaps go out and find people eating alone and invite them over.
- Open Practices
In the early stages of recruitment, it’s key to keep an open practice schedule. Don’t hassle people about attendance, don’t emphasize cuts, and always make it clear that it is never too late to join (or rejoin). Be flexible about people doing other activities and let ultimate slowly woo them in to its addicting embrace.
- Scrimmage Heavy
Another good practice plan is to keep the teaching and drills light and the scrimmages heavy during the early weeks when the number are high. Make it fun and competitive rather than confusing and frustrating; remember, a lot of people may just show up to play, not realizing how serious a deal it is until a later point. Teach one thing, do one warmup drill to practice it, and then play as much as you can.
- RECORD KEEPING!
None of the recruitment is any good unless you can quantify what you’ve accomplished. Keep detailed records. Make sure you get every person’s name, email, and phone number, and then follow-up and keep inviting them to fun events. People like to feel welcome and part of a community, so use your records during practices to build small groups or teams, getting people to know each other. Hopefully, you’ll have so many showing up that your records will be very important for making rosters later in the year.
Recruit, Recruit, Recruit
Bottom line: your recruitment style should fit your team. If you’re a fun and wacky group, have a good time with it! If you’re a competitive force to be reckoned with, showcase those skills and challenge your recruits. However, keep in mind, everyone is different and has different priorities. A savvy recruiter has lots of options and motivational styles in his or her back pocket to use, depending on what a new player is looking for.
Above all else, don’t be shy. There’s no shame in putting yourself out there and making the team known. Recruiting is not only awkward at times, it is hard work, but it is important to keep putting hours aside to do these things and find those new players. Keep at it; find what is successful for you and repeat.
Build the team young and strong to have success for years to come.