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Recruiting Lessons from Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o

So right now you’re thinking “this oughta be good” or “where’s he going with this?”

Hear me out.

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The lies of Lance Armstrong and the bizarre fictional girlfriend of Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o have captivated the nation’s attention. Debates have raged with both incredible stories. How could Lance continuously lie like that? Why is he coming clean now? How could a young man fall in love with someone he has never met?  How could he not be in on the hoax?  Is he somehow starved for more attention?

From these tangled questions come clear lessons which every young student-athlete can learn from.

Case Study #1 - Lance Armstrong

After years of denials and steadfast rebukes, Lance finally admitted to what many accused him of being - a cheater and a liar.  As a former friend of mine once told me, “liars begin to believe their own lies.”

Without getting into the details of my story, that statement rings very true.  It turned out my former friend knew of this because he was living a lie himself, and it certainly seems Lance would find some truth in that statement as well.

What’s the lesson for student-athletes? A reminder that all lies eventually unravel. Always be honest with yourself and coaches during the recruiting process. Be truthful about your physical abilities, academic record and athletic accolades. If you are 5’10’’, tell the recruiter you are 5’10’’, not 6’1’’ (hoping for a growth spurt).  If you run a 4.90 forty, tell the recruiter you run a 4.90 forty, not a 4.50. And, if you are a “C” student, tell the recruiter you are a “C” student, not a “B” student (hoping you ace your final exams). Eventually, no matter how long it takes (and in Lance’s case it took a while), the truth will come out. And, any recruiting opportunities based on false premises will immediately disappear.

Case Study #2 - Manti Te’o

This story is a sign of the times. A time when keystrokes, tweets, posts and text messages often create a false reality. It’s very easy to create a fake or anonymous identity online, and Manti took the cyber bait hook, line and sinker.

What’s the lesson here? The internet is a powerful tool which helps connect the world, but it’s not a substitute for real human interaction. True relationships can only be formed through face-to-face contact. So, yes, use the internet to initiate contact with college coaches. With plenty of free online college search tools (such as bigfuture), free video hosting sites (such as YouTube and Vimeo) and readily available coach contact information on college websites, it has never been easier for student-athletes to self-promote their skills. But, ultimately, you still need to get in the car and visit the campus and meet the coaches in person. There is no substitute for that tangible experience. Just as viewing pictures of a campus is not the same as walking on it, emails and phone calls aren’t the same as a handshake. Plus, unlike official visits, there are no limitations to how many “unofficial visits” a student-athlete can take or when they can be taken (just avoid a "dead period" if seeking to meet the coach). So, don’t forget to put down the smartphone, back away from the keyboard, and enjoy some authentic human interaction.

Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o. Two troubling stories, but two valuable lessons.

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