Recruiting X Factor Athletes


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By Bo Hanson, 4x Olympian and International Coaching Consultant 

factors11Coaches often think about recruiting X Factor athletes. But what is the X Factor? Is it a great technical ability, unwavering motivation or single moments of brilliance? If you were to define the X-Factor what would you write? Take a moment and jot some ideas down: What is the X-Factor in sport?

I can guarantee that the answer to that question will vary significantly from person to person, athlete to athlete and coach to coach. The point of that exercise was to illustrate the unknown nature of the X Factor in sport. The X Factor is more accurately written as the x Factor, as ‘x’ is a mathematical unknown. You can’t recruit for something that you define one way, and your scouts define another.

Watch Bo Hanson speak about Recruiting x Factor Athletes in Sport

So, what do you recruit for?

So if you are not recruiting for the ‘x factor’, what should you be looking for when recruiting athletes to your sports team? One of the most effective ways to recruit is with keeping in mind your team dynamic and the behavioral styles in your team.

run4Recruiting should be focused on filling the gaps in your team – to do this – you need to know what your team is missing. This goes beyond what technical position you need to recruit for. What non-technical roles do you need to recruit for? Do you need someone to be the lead communicator during competition, do you need someone who will bring energy to the team environment? What does your team need? A communicator, leader, director, relationship builder, planner or organizer?  There are generally three categories of non-technical roles, discussed in our article on Team Roles in Sport:

  • Thinking and Planning Roles
  • Action and Doing Roles
  • Relationship and People Focused Roles

In our work with DISC in Sport we have worked with over 22,000 coaches, athletes and administrators on team roles. In this time, the elements that all teams need to be successful have become clear. One element is the team needs to have a strong understanding of the role each athlete will play, beyond their technical position.

So when you are recruiting look not only for the position you require, but the non-technical aspects you want an athlete to bring to your team. This is where DISC is such a valuable resource to our clients.

In sport, equipment is equal among competitors, physical conditioning programs are indistinguishable and game or race strategies are often duplicated. The only true competitive advantages are gained by investing in the mental and emotional skills of your people, and their relationships with each other.

When athletes arrive at your program, they are unlikely to be “finished products”. Often they will not have developed the communication skills, mental toughness, or ability to work in a team that athletes of older generations would have by this age. What are you doing to develop your athletes not only in their technical role, but in their non-technical role which will make the critical difference to success?

Football teamEarlier we talked about how everyone’s idea of what makes an x Factor athlete is different. When I am asked what makes an athlete stand out for me, what I would recruit for, it is entirely about an athlete’s ability to adapt. I look for athletes who are coachable – they have an open mind for new experiences and technical input. They also have a growth mindset- they want to improve and learn other positions and skills. These athletes also believe in the philosophy of being the best player for the team, instead of just the best player on the team. This makes them able to fill gaps in the team as a result of injuries or illness. Finally these athletes ‘evolve’ with the program and by the time they have been on the team or program for a period of time, they are able to make a contribution which is bigger and better than they could when they first joined the team. However, this is just what I look for in athletes, other coaches will look for other elements in recruiting athletes.

So, before allocating funds to the scouting and recruitment process searching for the x factor, think about what you are doing to develop the athletes currently on your team. And when recruiting, think about what your team needs beyond the technical position the athlete will play. It will ensure your team is more successful in the long-term, and will make your coaching experience more enjoyable.

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