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High School Tennis vs USTA Tournaments

Q. Do you have to play high school tennis to be competitive for college scholarships? My daughter, who is a 12-year-old, plays USTA tennis and is ranked locally and in her section and, hopefully, nationally in the girls' 14s. She plays very well.

She is also a gold medalist (junior olympics-aau) in track and has been told she could easily get a track scholarship with her times now (she is a sprinter). She loves tennis and also loves track and would like to play both competitively in high school. Unfortunately, both playing seasons for high school are in the spring.

Some tennis coaches think that high school tennis is a waste of time because the level of competition is lower than USTA competition. These tennis coaches have said that the time (practices, tournaments) takes away from the time that should be dedicated to USTA events. Please help! She loves them both and does both of them well."

From Ken M., Austin TX:

Although college coaches will most likely notice your results in USTA competition over those in high school, there are benefits to playing both, if time and your coaches allow. Your individual improvements and competition are typically stronger in USTA events. However, playing for your high school team gives that special experience of playing for more than just yourself.

When you win for a team, you have won twice. In my experience, I have watched many players who were great at playing for themselves but choke when they had to also represent their team. College coaches need those players who understand that special pressure and spirit experienced only on high school teams before they get to college.

Besides, you would miss out on that special feeling of doing well among your high school peers and friends. Those are the memories of life.

From Mike S.:

You need to make a checklist and determine what your tennis BIG PICTURE goals are. Am I good enough to play college tennis? At what level: Division I, II, III or NAIA? Is this even the long-range goal? Or am I an exceptional player good enough for the pro level?

What is the tennis environment at my high school? Are there good players who might push me to be better? Is the coaching good? Is the schedule competitive?

High school tennis offers teammates, friendships, a sense of community and free lessons, if the coaching is good. USTA tennis is a different experience.

Put a checklist together and determine your vision for your game and your experiences.

Coach Mike, playing experience over 50 years, coaching experience over 30 years. Tennis is the game for a lifetime!!

From Marilyn H., Madison, WI:

Hi Tina. If she wants to play high school tennis, then she should play. Let her make the decision.

I don't know how the competition is in your area, but where my daughter grew up, four of the top-10 players in our USTA section played high school tennis and usually competed every year at the state tournament.

She should have some say in this, but she should also know that if she plays high school tennis, she should be a part of the team. That means attending practice and following the rules just like everyone else.

Good luck to her. It would probably make her happier at school and a more grounded person. USTA junior tennis is very brutal at times, and this may help her put some fun back in the game.

From Kent W., Colorado:

The key is your daughter loves to play tennis and run track, and she is only 12 years old. Participating in things she loves, that should be the focus – not a college scholarship.

Too many club coaches in various sports selfishly tell parents and kids to focus on one thing or one sport. Too many kids burn out by the time they get to high school, let alone worrying about a college scholarship.

If money is an issue, you would be wiser to invest the $$ you are paying those coaches and put it in a college savings account.

From George, Cary, NC:

It sounds like your daughter is quite the athlete, who potentially has a choice to play college tennis or run college track.

The benefits of playing team sports are many: long-lasting friendships, common goals, support systems and many others. Tennis offers all those benefits, but so does track.

I do not believe your daughter must play high school tennis to get a college scholarship. However, by playing high school tennis, she will be getting daily coaching, daily practice and considerable exposure to a great tennis community. She will not get the level of competition that she gets playing in national tournaments, but unless she is in one of the tennis "academies," she will not get that level of play on a daily basis, anyway.

Tennis is a great sport that she will be able to play for many decades to come. It is a sport that brings you into contact with people from all different places and backgrounds and provides rewards that are impossible to measure.

Her choice is a difficult one, but one she should make. I sincerely hope she is able to follow her dream through college and many more years to come.

From Virginia H., Long Island, NY:

My advice is to seek your daughter's input as to what she would like to do. Is her goal to get a college scholarship? Does she like tennis more than track? If she loves tennis and wants the opportunity to represent her high school and enjoy the camaraderie of being on a tennis team, she should do so. It will be a great segue into playing on a college team and a lifetime of enjoying the sport.

Good luck to your daughter. And remember to keep it all in perspective and enjoy the experience of watching your daughter grow into a strong athlete and woman.

From John P., Wilmington, DE:

I always looked at it like, a match is a match is a match… competition is competition.

As a friend of mine who I grew up with playing always said, "I still have to get the ball back to you" whether I'm a 3.0 or a 5.0.

Many higher-ranked, better players have trouble playing a player with what they consider "lesser" strokes. I used to be guilty of the same; I was a 4.5 player through high school into college; I would walk onto a court and see someone's strokes and immediately think, "This should be quick," and more often than not, either lost or had a difficult match.

High school tennis is a great place to learn how to play all kinds of players, to hone your mental skills and, if nothing more, to just have fun.

From Julie F., Indianapolis:

My daughter has played high school tennis for two years and found that her game actually gets worse when she does and it takes her a month or two of playing to get back to where she was at the start of the season. For that reason, she has decided to forgo high school tennis this spring and just play clinics and tournaments. She has talked to a few college coaches, and they do not seem concerned at all. I might add that she also loves another sport – soccer – and typically takes 2-3 months off tennis in the fall to play for her high school team.

From Dick B., Morrisville, VT:

When you play USTA, you are playing by yourself. There is a lot to be said for playing on a "team." The experience of team play far outweighs the play-by-yourself option. The pressure is not the same, but you learn to be part of the team, support each other and see different levels and styles of play.

I would recommend that she try it for a year and see what happens. I have players that play both, and they appreciate being part of a team!!

From Joe B., Athens, WV:

Those coaches you refer to… are they the ones who are getting paid a lot of money to teach and coach your daughter????

The level of play is lower overall, but there are some really good players. In any sport, if you teach and practice skills, they will be further advanced than their peers. How many youth basketball players turn pro? Well, if you would talk with their parents, they all could. They can dribble with either hand but can't catch a football or softball. And, unfortunately, can't add or subtract. That is not what is important, basketball is.

I have coached in college for the last three decades – graduated doctors, lawyers, dentists, teachers, etc., but never a competitive professional tennis player. Over 90 percent of my scholarship monies have gone to players that have no ranking, but most are well-rounded student athletes who have varied experiences and good academic backgrounds. There are more academic scholarships available than athletic ones. The best program is to have a combination of academic monies and then add to it athletic.

From Anonymous:

I am an assistant coach for girls’ tennis at our high school. My daughter also plays on the team, and in her freshman year, she played No. 1 for the team and qualified for districts that year in No. 1 doubles.

I found her experience to be very rewarding to her and her teammates. The leadership she brought to the team has resulted in the rest of the squad to train harder to make the team better in future years. As a teaching professional, it is my job to bring new players into the sport and to keep them playing.

Not all players are cut out for team play. They are into the sport because of its individuality and self reliance, which is a very valuable trait to have for life in the real world. However, playing high school tennis is a matter of choice for an upper-level player. Yes, the level of competition is not high at the league level. But if your daughter is this talented, she will play No. 1 for the high school, and I have realized that at that position and possibly at the No. 2 position, the competition is challenging. It gets better at the district level, but state is very challenging.

It was worth it for my daughter to play high school tennis. It is for her school! Sure, her playing level suffered a bit because she practiced with her team, which was not as experienced as yet. But your daughter's coach can design her lessons and training around the six-week tennis season.

What is more important than any level of play or trophy or ranking is the value of team play your daughter will gain through the experience. She will no doubt play No. 1, and that is a given leadership experience that she will have. This experience will pay off in her later years far more than that ranking. The world needs more leaders these days than individuals who are self absorbed in their own issues.

High school team tennis gives the top juniors a chance to give back to their community in ways they cannot realize by winning a title in the USTA tournaments. The tournaments will be there when the high school season is over. She will be able to be a better team player for her college if she is a team player with her high school.

There are junior players out there who are so far superior than their high school teams could ever challenge them, and those junior players are the names we see in the junior US Open and junior Australian competitions. Those players might be beyond this experience. However, for every one of them, there are countless juniors out there who are fine players but will never see that level of play.

By the way, my daughter's high school had not won a match for three years. This year, they ended up second in their league and sent two players to districts… a finish they have not enjoyed for a long time. A deserving senior, partnered with my daughter, won a silver medal that she will cherish. You can't buy that sort of experience.

High school tennis only comes around once in the life of a child. It can reap rewards that are life lasting. She should make her decision from her heart.

From Donna J., Fullerton, CA:

I coach a high school team that has sent scholarship players to Notre Dame, USC and UC-Irvine and see great value in feeling connected to your school, learning teamwork, having fun, etc. Many players love high school tennis because there is less pressure and because they love the feeling of playing with and for teammates. Try talking with the coach about the time commitment. Perhaps your daughter can miss some of the team practices for individual training but still enjoy the benefits of high school tennis.

From Kenny S., Highland Park, IL:

Put her on the track team. She can play tennis events all year. Hopefully, she has a good coach and some good hitting partners to go out together indoors or outdoors and just have fun and play tennis. If she can win state as a freshman, I think someone wants to look back when they are older and have that trophy? Cross training is great – so is a normal social life and a well-rounded youth.

From Stephen L., Ashburn, VA:

As a high school senior who is going through the college recruitment process now, I can tell you what college coaches have been telling me... high school tennis means nothing!

While I have thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of playing for my school and developing friendships on my team, high school tennis provides no way for college coaches to measure your child's skills against others of her age. College coaches look at the USTA matches that your child has played, and these tournaments give a great representation of your child’s abilities.

Another misconception is that coaches look only at a USTA ranking to determine if your child is college tennis material. The reality is that a coach will generally look at four things:

1) academics (if your child doesn't have the grades it doesn't matter how talented she is);

2) work ethic/attitude/being coachable (a coach has to feel that your child is going to be a pleasure to work with and will continue to improve for four years);

3) strength of schedule (has your child only played easy matches to achieve a high ranking or has she challenged herself against quality opponents); and

4) ranking.

Hope this helps and good luck!

From David D., Tysons Corner, VA:

College tennis scholarships are extremely competitive. The scholarship players are often world-class, international players. To answer your question, tournament records are much more important than school team results. Many high-rated players do not even play for their high school but instead focus on tournaments. You should look to getting your daughter into ITF events.

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