Playing at the Collegiate Level

Q. I am a high school player and I am coming up on my junior year of high school where I will be 1st singles, but I am worried that if I do not do good this year that I will not get noticed or have a strong resume to present to a college coach. Therefore, I would have to have a strong senior season, but I am worried that before that season ends it will be too late to be thinking about a college scholarship. Please assist me with a possible scenario.

A. I would urge you to enter some sanctioned USTA tournaments. Ideally, work toward attaining a ranking. College coaches generally give greater consideration to players who compete year-round in tournaments, as opposed to those who play in a few dozen high school matches. Competing in sanctioned tournaments, even if you do not enjoy great success immediately, will give coaches a fair assessment of how you compare with other prospects. In scholastic tennis, too often the best players do not play and some of the results can be spotty- especially in climates where the weather is a major factor. A strong high school record does not mean as much to a college coach unless you have beaten some other good players.

By the way, playing in tournaments throughout the year will eliminate some pressure as well. If you put all of your efforts toward doing well during the short high school season and you happen to get injured or play a few bad matches, then you are even less likely to draw the attention of college coaches.

To find some appropriate tournaments to enter, visit your USTA Section’s web site.

Q. My 14 year old son's coach suggested that when he ages up, he should play in the 18's because that is where he will have more potential for scholarship opportunities. He is currently playing in the 14 Champs division. 1) What is the best way to obtain a scholarship to a top-notch school? And… 2) Do you suggest this approach?

A. “Playing up” has always been a slippery slope. If he is physically and mentally ready for the challenges that older players will provide, then go ahead. Some 14-year-olds are more mature than others.

My best advice would be that your son ought to be playing in an environment where he is winning about 2/3 of the time. If he is winning more than that, he needs stiffer competition. If he is losing more than 1/3 of the time, then he might be in over his head. It is important that young players learn how to win, not just to play, if they want to become high-level players.

College coaches at “top-notch” programs will recruit the best players available. If your son has strong results that will catch the eyes of these coaches and he will be recruited.

Best of luck!

Q. Our daughter has played since she was 7 and is currently competing at the Super Championship 18's level in Texas and holds both state and national rankings. She has had college tennis as a goal since she was in middle school and has received a number of offers (mainly from Division II schools) to play college tennis next Fall. It seems that most Division I schools are primarily populated with foreign players. It seems unfair that publicly supported schools have the ability to offer scholarships to kids whose parents never have and never will pay a dime in taxes in the U.S. Why does the NCAA allow this to go on? There should at least be a maximum number of foreign players that taxpayer-supported schools should be allowed to recruit. I know it's true that many of the foreign players are more talented than a lot of the kids in the U.S. but tennis does not turn a profit for most universities in this country, as opposed to football and basketball so what is the motivation to recruit foreign players? I know that with Title IX, many more scholarship opportunities opened up for girls but it is hard for me to believe that colleges in this country cannot find enough qualified U.S. players to fill their rosters. It is ok if you do not answer this in your column but I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on this. Thanks for your time.

A. This is a tricky dilemma. It is natural for coaches at the NCAA level to want to win. In many cases, success in conference tournaments determines job security. Recruiting accomplished players from overseas certainly increases the likelihood of winning for most coaches.

Now, why do many coaches opt for foreign players? The two reasons that I hear the most from coaches are that these players are more mature than their American counterparts and, not insignificantly, intrusive parents (who are thousands of miles away and may not speak English) are rarely a distracting concern.

There is a matter of fairness that I have issues about however. Many international players arrive to play NCAA tennis after having already tried their hand at professional tennis. They have competed extensively on the Futures Circuit level and determined that “making it” in the pro game is unlikely. Sometimes these players arrive lacking the sense of urgency of young, hungry players. More often, they arrive with hardened games and a self-sufficiency that American teenagers may lack. It does not exactly create even terms for competition. I hope that the NCAA establishes more stringent guidelines for policing foreign players.

Perhaps you can become an advocate for American players. Write letters to Athletic Directors and College Presidents regarding this situation. Your point that tennis is rarely (if ever) a revenue producing sport at the collegiate level is a good one. State Universities, in particular, might be encouraged to support American players.

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