Before COVID-19, going for a meal, meeting the team and touring the athletics facilities were all big highlights of recruits’ visits to campus. But not anymore—visiting campus is, at least for now, prohibited, dining halls are closed and many teams are spread out across the country.
Despite these hurdles, Bowdoin athletics has continued recruiting and has found some new and creative ways to reach prospective students and give them a taste of the Bowdoin experience.
While most steps of the process have changed, the first part, a prospective student reaching out to Bowdoin, has not.
“It varies from sport to sport,” Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “But in most cases, students are reaching out either during their sophomore or junior year to start the process as they start their college search process.”
In a normal year, this would lead to at least one, but more likely a few visits by the prospective student to campus and meetings with the coach to see if it is a good academic fit. But this year, that process cannot happen.
“Travel is probably the biggest change in [recruiting],” Ryan said. “We aren’t having visitors to campus so [prospective] students can’t physically walk around campus.”
Meanwhile, coaches cannot visit players, so getting an understanding of a prospective student’s athletic history and skills has been difficult.
“It’s more challenging for students to have film or statistics to be able to share and convey their ability level to coaches,” Ryan said. “So that certainly has put a different take on the recruiting conversations that our coaches are having with prospective students.”
Even with the limitations on travel, some are expressing optimism.
“Over the years, the average number of visits for guys that have committed to the schools I’ve coached at has been three to four,” said Head Coach of Football B.J. Hammer in a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient. “That’s pretty normal, and this year there’s a lot of faith and I think Bowdoin’s reputation is great and that helps with these kids and their decision- making.”
In order to facilitate this process, coaches have been utilizing the same tools everyone else has turned to during this pandemic: Zoom, Microsoft Teams and FaceTime.
Head Coach of women’s track and field and Assistant Coach of men’s track and field L.J. Que stressed the importance of using Zoom and Microsoft Teams this year.
“I’ve really been leaning into the technology and leaning into social media, Zooms or Teams more than I ever have,” Que said in a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient. “Prior to the pandemic, a Zoom [interview] wasn’t really a thing. It was just phone calls and then in-person recruiting in the summer and in the fall season, so that has been something that we’ve really leaned into and shifted.”
Hammer also underscored the value of virtual communication, noting the additional perks of this new format.
“We basically had to start doing everything virtually,” Hammer said. “There were some really good perks with that because we could do a lot of home visits on Zoom or Microsoft Teams where we hadn’t been doing that before, because of the NESCAC rules where you can’t do a live in-person home visit, but we were able to do that by Zoom so that was a big perk”
However, not everything can be so easily transitioned to an online environment. Campus tours, for instance, cannot happen, so Que sought out a creative way to provide prospective students with a tour of Bowdoin.
“I actually FaceTimed with them for an hour as [though the prospective students] were walking around campus and I kind of essentially was giving them the tour through their cell phone,” Que said. “I did that with a decent amount of prospective students, and although it was strange, we found it really funny. They appreciated the energy and the effort that we all did to make that experience as intimate as it can be with our policies and guidelines.”
Que also noted that social media, especially Instagram, has provided an essential platform for connecting current and prospective students and conveying a sense of community.
“We had current members of our team do a question-and-answer [on Instagram Live] every week during the pandemic,” Que said. “We highlighted people from different grades and different events, and it was a really awesome opportunity for prospectives to tune into our Instagram account and hear directly from members of our team.”
With the pandemic still raging and a vaccine rollout progressing slower than expected, many in athletics are preparing to utilize these experiences in future seasons—maybe even when they return to a new normal.
“There are things that we will take from this experience that will help us going forward in terms of an online campus tour, the Zoom sessions with students and their families and learning new ways to develop relationships,” Ryan said.
Nonetheless, many teams are looking forward to returning to in-person recruiting—if not for the face-to-face conversations, then for the ability of students to actually experience Bowdoin, not just through a computer screen.
“Hopefully that’ll be something that the NESCAC is looking at, especially kids from areas where their families can’t just get a ticket and come out on their own,” Hammer said.
Que echoed the sentiment on the importance of getting to know campus in-person. .
“The on-campus experience is kind of the ribbon on the present of the offer of the Bowdoin experience to a recruit,” Que said. “So, not being able to take them for a meal or walk with them and their parents and their family around campus and having those like non verbal [interactions], that’s really hard.”
However, through all the difficulty and technical mishaps of adapting virtual recruiting, many coaches have learned more about themselves and their teams’ priorities.
“Although this has been a really challenging year for both recruiting and keeping the team connected, in a weird way, it has also strengthened and fortified our recruiting goals as well as our team goals,” Que said. “Sometimes a little bit of adversity or something that’s not your ‘normal’ can actually produce some really great results down the road.”