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Recruiting 101
Countdown: The Role of Social Media in College Recruiting

The vast utilization of social media in this day and age is an undeniable phenomenon. But whether or not social media use has a meaningful impact on a tennis player's recruitment to college, and how it might be used in advocating oneself as a desirable prospective athlete, is a topic we wanted to explore. Our interviews with a number of current college tennis coaches from a variety of divisions and levels has shed some light on the role of social media in college tennis recruitment. In addition to the anecdotal evidence that we collected, our findings were reinforced by thorough research conducted by Cornerstone Reputation, an a research-based education company that has surveyed over 1000 college coaches, representing both men's and women's sports, to gather information on when, how, and why they search recruits online, what types of online content can affect them in the positive and negative senses, and how student athletes can use this information strategically to gain an advantage in the recruiting process.

Almost every coach we spoke with acknowledged that recruits' activity on social media is a given and that it is, whether desirable or not, a significant opportunity for coaches and prospective student athletes to connect. It offers avenues of communication that were not available before and therefore can be valuable for both recruits and tennis programs to promote themselves. Social media has the dual purpose of helping coaches to get to know players in a unique way, and helping recruits to become acquainted with a school or program. Colleges increasingly use social media outlets to post match updates and results, and through pictures and videos, offer an inside look at the day-to-day experience of a school's student-athletes which until recently was only available to see on a campus visit. Social media is an effective, efficient and modern way to share the personalities of recruits and programs alike.

Even though the use of social media is seemingly very prominent among recruits, recruits should not make the assumption that coaches are equally engaged or have altered their approach to recruiting because of these new avenues of connection. While most coaches we interviewed acknowledged that they have some kind of social media presence to communicate with recruits or find out more about them, and Cornerstone Reputation cited that 85% of coaches surveyed in a recent recruitment year said that they (or someone on their coaching staff) conducted online research of recruits, we did not come across any who use social media as their primary or sole source behind recruitment of players. As one Division II coach put it, "It has not altered how I recruit, but it has become part of recruiting for sure." Players also have to realize, as the data suggests, that there are still coaches within the ranks who do not use social media at all for communication and/or learning about recruits, so prospective student athletes must have a varied approach to presenting themselves to coaches.

In tennis recruitment, the coaches who are engaged in social mediazz utilize this medium to see tennis video that may be posted, and build relationships through casual communication, but the primary intent is to learn more about a prospect's outside interests and activities. 99% of the coach respondents to the Cornerstone Reputation survey said that evaluation of a recruit's character was either very important or important when deciding whether to pursue the recruit, and 85% of respondents said that they believed they could get a better sense of a recruit's character and personality by researching him or her online. It is important to note that coaches do not necessarily follow recruits on social media with the intent of catching them in a compromising situation or noticing negative attributes, but recruits should be aware that posted material can have that unintended effect that can severely harm their recruitment. Elements like bad language or vulgarity, long rants about personal problems, inappropriate social situations, images that challenge the idea of commitment to your sport, etc., are examples of ways in which a player's social media content might hurt his or her recruitment. One Division I coach shared a story about a high priority recruit, who he had been pursuing for quite a while, that he had to disengage with because of the message she portrayed over social media. "One recruit had a lot of pictures of partying and alcohol. We knew she was a good player, but she just kept posting things that we perceived as detrimental to us as coaches. We had to look elsewhere as we just could not see that person fitting into our type of program anymore, even after all the recruitment we did." Other coaches we interviewed, in all three NCAA divisions, also told stories of "passing" on players because of the big picture created by their social media presence.

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