Connecting with the alumni of a basketball program should be one of the top priorities of the athletic administration and head coach. Naturally, over the years, there are athletes that come and go through a program, that in one era or another, has captured the true essence of that school’s culture. With this culture sometimes being lost throughout the years, being connected with past student-athletes can help give perspective of the history that the program once had.
Being a former collegiate student-athlete, there is no better feeling than getting a letter from your former collegiate basketball team keeping you up to speed with what is going on in the program. However, when you get a box, with a few team items such as t-shirts, shorts, sweats etc, that even feels better. Whether an email, letter, phone call or gear, these things have a way of making a former athlete feel as though they are still a part of the program. Even at a low level of sending an email or letter, this is something that every program that exists should do.
The alumni/program connection is not only rewarding for the former athlete but for the coaches as well. As a college basketball coach, connecting with alumni was particularly one of my favorite parts of growing the program. I had the opportunity to meet some great people, form relationships, as well as train former players that were at the time playing pro ball, frequenting campus during their offseason.
The first step in starting your alumni program is to begin a database. This information, if already existing, can be found by checking your athletic office, or even the alumni office of the university. If those resources do not provide complete details, this is where you may have to begin a search on your own. You can start this search by going to your team website, and go back to the oldest roster possible. That is where you can begin to translate those names into an excel spreadsheet document by year. For additional years that you cannot get online, you can access old media guides or even use Google to pull up past rosters. Once you have a decent amount of rosters from multiple years, you can get started on filling in information for each player.
One of the first things that I did to find information was to look up some of the most recent players (the last decade) on social media. I was able to get in contact with many players on Instagram primarily, just by typing in their names. Once you do that, then you can gather information such as a phone number, email and home address. Many times, I was able to get information about other players from players that I was able to connect with. These are the first bits of information you would want to collect so that you can keep in contact with these former players, and get the information about everything that is happening with the team. The best thing to do once this process is started is to continue to search for information until your alumni database is as complete as possible. The hopes here would be to complete it to the point where all that would have to be done are updates, and additions when your student-athletes graduate.
You will probably find that sending emails will be the best and easiest way that you can stay in contact with your alumni. This is a helpful way to keep them up to speed about games, homecoming activities, and other team events that happen throughout the school year and season. Alumni particularly love this because it helps them to feel a part of what is going on, which is the first part of building your relationship with them. As you build this relationship, it is important to remember to get important information from them such as their birth dates, so that you can send them a note, card, or email when those calendar dates draw near.
As you continue to build relationships with alumni, there will be a few things that you can look to employ that will help you strengthen your program. The first thing that you can do is to have some of the past players stop by to speak to the players, in a motivational setting such as a team meeting, or for a pre-game talk. Another thing that you can begin to work on is the current player/alum relationships. When you allow alumni around the program, the current players begin to look up to them as big brothers/sisters. There is an unspoken admiration that you will recognize where the current players respect the former players for having already gone where they are trying to go.
One of the last things that will naturally happen as you build these relationships and show the alumni love is that they will naturally begin to want to give back and help out the program in any way that they can. I am a firm believer that if you build an alumni program where the former student-athletes feel like they are embraced, feel special and acknowledged as a part of the program, these former athletes will naturally want to give back to the program in monetary donations, favor, in-person support and resources.
In the process of recruiting, planning year around workouts, and developing your playbook…from grade school to the NBA, EVERY BASKETBALL TEAM must build an alumni program. This is an essential piece of a team’s success that will prove to be a blessing to your organization in endless ways. It will come back to you in money, friendships, recruits, mentorship for your current players and more. Begin your alumni database today, and step into a realm of strengthening your program like you have never seen it strengthened before!