Want to get comfortable with something? Do it. Over and over again. Nothing helps you get over the initial awkwardness of a cold call with a new hockey player like practice. Picking up the phone and reaching out to a human being with whom you’ve never had a conversation is fascinating. They don’t know who you are or what you’re all about. They don’t know where you work or what you’ve done in the past.
But none of that matters yet. You’re calling to listen first, talk second.
1. But Before You Call…
Do your homework. Reach out to your contacts to see if you can learn more about the player before you make the call. This is why you’ve got a circle of contacts in the hockey world, so lean on the people you trust. If you’ve been helpful in the past then most coaches will be happy to make time to talk about a player you’re recruiting. Try to find differing opinions too – sure, the player might have been the captain one year on a great team where he or she got a ton of ice time, but what about the down years? How does the player react when times ain’t so rosy?
2. Ask Questions
Once you’ve got a picture painted of the player’s background and decided you still want to pursue the player, then it’s important to remember that you’re driving the bus. You’re the professional in this situation, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to benefit the process to spend 15 minutes talking about how amazing your powerplay is. Let your questions start the process and then do what all good coaches do: listen. Ask about the player’s experience in youth hockey. Ask them about what they do outside of hockey.
Quick story: I was on the phone with a player this spring who told me he could only talk for a few minutes while his class was finishing an assignment. “Oh, you’re in school? Dude you don’t have to answer the phone in class.” He tells me no, he’s in class, but it’s not his class – he’s the teacher. Seriously. This teenager is a substitute teacher somehow and he was talking to a potential new coach while his elementary school classroom listened in. Small-town hockey, man.
Anyways, remember you’re calling the player to learn more about their character first. You’ve seen them play, that part is easy. Encourage them to talk and create a healthy two-way conversation. Besides, if you do end up recruiting the player, that initial conversation won’t be forgotten.
3. Encourage Info Gathering
Most players you talk to are also talking to other teams. I’ve read text messages sent to players from other organizations that would make your blood boil – the threats, the promises, the pressure – encourage your recruits to gather information so they can make an informed decision about their future. They’re well within their rights to do so. If you encourage a player to talk to other teams and learn as much as they can, and they do just that and commit to another team, well, then you’ve done right by this person. And hey, maybe you dodged a bullet in the end, too.
You can’t fake these conversations. If you genuinely care about the player, which you should, even if you’ve never met them, then you’ll give them sound advice. In most cases that advice ends up as a point in your favour anyways. Hounding a kid and slamming another organization might work at first, but maybe the reasons you finally landed that player turn out to be the wrong reasons, and now you’ve got a problem on your hands if that player is unhappy with their ice time or the promises you aren’t able to keep.
Be honest about your program. Talk about what you have to offer instead of what you don’t. In any event, hockey players don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.