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Preparing For Collegiate Tennis

Q. “I have a true passion for tennis and have played for as long as I can remember. Whether it was taking lessons or hitting balls with my dad, there has not been a single moment on the court that I have not enjoyed myself. Being an extremely hard worker, I push myself immensely in order to achieve my goals.

Now 14 years old, I have been playing competitive tennis for about four years and am the No.1 singles player on my varsity team. I am currently a sophomore in high school and am fearful that I will not be able to continue my passion and play college tennis in the next two years due to my own ignorance. Does anyone have any suggestions as to what I need to do in order to play college tennis?”

From Tom B., Pittsburgh, PA

College tennis has multiple talent levels, ranging from the big-time, full-scholarship Division I programs that compete yearly for the NCAA championship, to the smallest of the small college Division III programs that welcome just about anyone with above-average ability. If you have a USTA ranking in the top 200 nationally, you might interest some of the full-scholarship schools. If not, pick a small college that has a good, but not great, tennis program. College tennis, even at the Division III level, is a significant step up from most high school programs.

If you want to play varsity tennis in college, it will be up to you to be realistic about your ability and match it with a college you want to attend. The Intercollegiate Tennis Association has an excellent website that ranks all the top tennis programs in the country, by division and by region. I’m sure every college you are thinking of attending has a website that will give complete information on the tennis program, and check out the athletic conference website of the schools you are interested in. Also, beware that a number of colleges throughout the country have dropped varsity tennis in recent years, particularly men’s tennis. One other possibility is tennis as a club sport, offered at many large universities. It’s not as intense or demanding as varsity tennis, but it can be a lot of fun. Good Luck.

From Dana C., Kamuela, Hawaii

My advice is to play USTA events. College coaches watch your USTA ranking and player record. Try to play in as many nationals and super nationals as you can – the college coaches come to those events and watch the 16s and 18s there. If you cannot do that, then keep a good win-loss record of who and when you had wins over in high school so that you can pass that on to the coaches. You would need to make a DVD, too, if you can’t play where the coaches can see you. Hope this helps. Good luck.

From Dan Moster, Fort Wayne, IN, USPTA, Head Men and Women’s Tennis Coach, Indiana Tech

1) Know the athletic requirements – GPA, SAT/AP scores and class rank for NCAA, NAIA, etc.

2) Decide what career(s) you are interested in and look at colleges that offer your degree(s) of interest – academics first then athletics. Will you meet all the academic and athletic requirements? Know the requirements, and make it your goal to accomplish them.

3) Look into the tennis program at the schools you are interested in and then decide if you think you can or will be able to compete at that level – go watch them play if you can.

4) Contact coaches of the teams you are interested in during your junior year. In fact, start doing all of this work during your junior year at the latest. Don’t wait. Do your academic and athletic homework – high school, colleges of interest and NCAA, NAIA, etc. The bottom line is there is a college for almost every high school tennis player; most won’t have any chance of being recruited until they contact the coach of the team(s) of the colleges they are interested in. Scholarships go unused, and teams are not at full capacity because the average, and sometimes the above average, high school tennis player isn’t aggressive enough in finding the colleges where they can further their education and tennis careers. Good luck. You can and will play college tennis… just do your homework!

From Mary M.

Be honest with how you feel about tennis and your commitment to the game as you mature and start to look toward life after high school. Many teenagers lose some interest in their chosen sport as they start to think about areas of study, careers, etc. This is very normal and healthy. It is very possible you will continue to make tennis a priority in your life. If this is the case, work on your mental skills, as well as your strokes. Many college players are successful because they wear their opponents down with patience and determination, as well as good fundamentals.

During your junior year, look and see if your local USTA section offers a college tennis seminar. Usually that is attended by future players and their parents and a panel of experts, college administrators, coaches and parents of kids who have played college tennis. They explain a lot of the basic stuff, such as the differences between Division I, II and III, and how your tennis will affect your college life. I attended one of these seminars and found it very informative.

Try to explore colleges that would fit your academic and social life with and without tennis. If you got hurt and couldn’t play for a year, you should still be at a school you like. When you apply, many coaches will ask for a short video (5 minutes) that show your strokes. Some clubs will do this for a fee, many times you can do it on your own. Finally, keep in mind that most colleges have several ways for students to play a sport such as tennis, varsity team, intercollegiate club team, intramural, etc. Many Division I schools require approximately 20 hours on court, which is a lot if you are a full-time student. If you find your perfect school and you don’t think you can commit to their varsity team, there will be other ways to play tennis. Good luck in your high school career and whatever the future holds for you.

From Dave S.

My advice is to play USTA tennis to improve your game. The high school level is not representative of what it takes to play at the collegiate level, especially the Division I level. College coaches are also interested in doubles, so I advise you to become the best doubles player you can be. Maintain being a good sport, and you will get a reputation among coaches, USTA, officials, etc. Work to be in top, top, top condition! E-mail me with any questions. I am a USPTA pro and have a daughter playing in college now. Good luck!

From Peter K., Chester Springs, PA

Having achieved being No. 1 on your high school team, you have taken the first step. Your fear of ignorance becoming an obstacle has an obvious solution. Get a good coach or mentor who has played the game at the level you plan to achieve. I hear that Brad Gilbert is available due to the ignorance of someone who didn’t fully appreciate Brad’s skills, knowledge of the game and cerebral approach to a winning strategy. OK, Brad may not take you on, but he has published advice. Read it and use it.

Develop your weapons. Don’t lose matches because the other guy is stronger and in better shape. Start now to beat him in that respect. As you progress, your drive to keep progressing will keep your passion growing. Good luck!

From Don S., Princeton Junction, NJ

Tennis is a game of levels. As a sophomore, you need to determine your level of dedication and how far you wish to progress in local, regional and national USTA sanctioned tournaments. Then investigate the colleges by rankings of the tennis teams and the players on the teams. You want to select colleges where you will to be able to compete for a spot on the team. The top college tennis teams often have top-10 junior players or even world-ranked players. These colleges accept many excellent players who are not on their team. By the time you are a senior, your USTA ranking should help you select where you can make the team as a college freshman. Then you can play and progress to the best of your dedication and ability.

From Alice H., Hilton Head, SC

I am the mother of two sons who played Division I and Division III college tennis. First, immediately find the tournament schedule for your section and get involved. Most sections have a beginner level and you can progress upward as you win. Also, most college coaches look first at rankings rather than positions on high school teams. If they do recruit, they usually attend big regional or national tournaments.

Second, I would consider all levels of college tennis. Just because a team is not Division I doesn’t mean that you cannot have a very rewarding college tennis experience. Many of the best academic schools are Division III. Pick a school where you have a high probability of playing, at least a little, from the beginning. There is no more frustrating experience than being part of a team where you never get to travel or play a match. Also look for a school where the team members are supportive and friends with one another. You will spend most of your time with these people. Likewise, seek a team where the players improve once they get there. Some coaches are better at recruiting and motivating but cannot teach or help you improve.

Third, college tennis is a big step-up from high school tennis. The grim reality is most high school players do not play college tennis. If you can’t find a team, look at bigger schools that have club tennis. These teams travel and go to national championships. It can still be a fun experience. Lastly, don’t give up your dream. If you continue to improve, there will be a spot somewhere for you. College tennis is one of the most exciting parts of tennis.

From Bernie M.

Playing competitive in high school is good preparation for college. To get noticed by the college coaches, you need to be where they are. If you hear of a tournament being hosted at a college campus, particularly the 16 and 18 divisions, enter the tournament. A lot of coaches do their recruiting at these tournaments. If you have a particular college in mind, look at their schedule (usually online at the university website) and stop by and watch some of their home matches. Unless you are ranked in the top 10 or so, look at some of the smaller colleges. Some even offer partial scholarships. Division III schools continue to be tough competition. Division I often offer many of their scholarships to foreign students that have been participating at a high level for several years and are recommended by nationally known trainers.

Also have your coach write a letter to any of the schools you are considering. Although nothing really replaces winning, attitude is also very important to a coach. Most coaches don’t want to have to put up with someone who doesn’t have a positive attitude on the court. They can improve your tennis, but it’s much harder to change your attitude. Good luck.

From Tom F., PTR certified

As an ex-Division I college coach, I can tell you that full scholarships are rare in men’s tennis because there are only 4.5 available at the Division I level and almost unheard of in Division II. The best thing for you to do is to get high grades and try to get an academic scholarship. Play tournaments and try to get a national ranking. Tennis schools will not even talk to you if you are not nationally ranked. Make sure you are working with a pro who studies modern tennis strokes and strategy. Good luck.

From Caryn S.

Try to make tapes of your matches and send them out. Also enter as many tourneys as possible, visit campuses and talk with coaches. Just get your name out there. Continue to do well, and invite coaches to watch you play. According to NCAA rules, you cannot practice with the college teams, but the coach can watch you hit with someone you know. (That is how it used to be, at least.)

From Yasmin H., Danbury, CT

In order to play college tennis, you’ll need to do the following:

1) Play USTA tournaments to get ranked.

2) Play, if possible, ITF tournaments.

3) Send a tape of you playing to colleges, along with a tennis resume and your ranking. I definitely encourage you to play college tennis. I played for Sacramento, CA, Division I and I really enjoyed it so much. You may get the opportunity to get a full scholarship. I’ll be happy to call you to explain more. Good luck!

From Edward W., Rowland Heights, CA

I am not sure what you mean by ignorance. I assume that you are concerned that you may not be good enough to play college tennis. Since you are the No. 1 singles player on your high school varsity team, you cannot be too bad. Keep working on your game with your coach; take some private lessons and practice, practice, practice. Play junior tournaments to help your rankings. When you apply to colleges, make a DVD of you playing tennis, write a biography of your tennis accomplishments, include a recommendation from your coach, and send them to the colleges that you apply to. There are many college tennis teams in the country. If you cannot go to a Division I school, there are many Division II and III schools that offer great competition and education. Keep your passion of tennis alive! Good luck.

From Ryan L., LA

I am a high school tennis coach and 4.5-rated player in Louisiana. Being No. 1 on your high school tennis team may or may not be an accomplishment. Most high school players only pick up a racquet during tennis season. The only way to ensure a college tennis future is to play junior tournaments and prove your skill against ranked players in and above your age group. Your rankings should be sufficient proof to college tennis coaches of your skills.

Q. I have a 16-year-old cousin who lives in New York and plays tennis for her high school team. Does anyone have recommendations for how she can develop her game even more? Also, what should she be doing to make herself an attractive candidate for college teams?

From Phil M. of Houston, TX

Competition is the best way to develop your game (aside from good coaching and drill classes). The best competition is to play in USTA sanctioned events. In Texas, there are three types of junior levels to play in: Unranked players (i.e. ZAT tournaments -- in NY they may be called UPS, but I'm not sure of the acronyms), Champs and Super Champs. Any tournament is good, but colleges look for players who are ranked in the Super Champ division. High school records don't really count for much because the season is limited to a short period of time. Colleges are looking for year-round successful Super Champ players. While high school is a bit late to be starting this process, your cousin may be able to be a "walk on" or backup player for a college.

From Bernie Mills of Manassas, VA

Attitude: If there happens to be a scout who is observing you play, your attitude on the court becomes important, especially when overcoming a loss. You cannot change your attitude at will, it is something that needs to be developed every match. Bad calls, or questioning calls, is a hard habit to break. This usually results in your thinking about the calls and not the game. If you happen to have this problem, now is the time to fix it.

USTA tournaments: Enter as many as you can. If you are winning tournaments at your current age level, enter at the next higher age bracket. It is usually not advisable to enter in both age brackets at the same tournament, as it’s difficult to do your best in either bracket. Pick the one that you want to enter in your current age bracket, such as challengers or championships, and enter the next higher level at the L5 or L6 tournaments.

Consider smaller colleges for scholarships: There will be less competition to make the team and get scholarships, and perhaps with a couple of years experience you can see about transferring to a larger school. Many of the larger schools give a lot of their scholarships to non-American players, which makes the probability of getting in smaller.

Diversify her activity: A good balance of activity helps the tennis game. Particularly sports like basketball really help with the footwork and lateral movement at the net.

Primarily: Enjoy what you are doing. That enjoyment comes across not only in your play, but to your opponents and those that are looking to recommend you for that college.

From Eric Doan of San Diego, CA

I think if your cousin wants to play for a good college, she should start with getting good grades in high school. The best thing she can do for her tennis game is to get in great shape. Take note from Mary Pierce's recent improvement in her rankings. It is all about fitness.

From Ivo B. of Atlanta, GA

Carlos, your cousin should play every day and, depending on her level of play, learn to develop some "patterns," such as becoming part of a tennis academy and/or taking some private lessons with a "good" coach (someone who understands how she can achieve her goals). It’s also very important to play in tournaments at least once or twice a month. She has to be very patient and try to stay motivated at all times to improve her game. Usually at this level, players tend to reflect the coach or parents' attitude, so they need to be motivated, as well. I recommend she works on developing a strong serve, return of serve and a fairly consistent baseline game. Good luck.

From Judy A. of Allen, TX; Tennis teacher for 26 years at High Point Tennis Center, Plano

I would suggest the young lady play in as many tournaments -- junior and adult -- as possible. I think playing adults is also a great way to develop and better one's game, as the adults play a more mature game. It's not just hitting the ball hard and hoping for a winner. The junior will also learn to be more respectful of her opponent and more sportsmanlike.

From Ken M. of Austin, TX

Without a doubt, she should begin playing in USTA Eastern events as soon as possible to get any attention from college coaches. However, do not do that at the expense of the high school team experience. I have seen that as invaluable to the overall growth experience for young people.

From Steve Ginsberg, CA: Hercules High Varsity Girls Coach & DeAnza High Boys Varsity Coach

I coach high school tennis in Northern California. The student-athletes who get college scholarships to the best programs are the elite players who play USTA tournaments both locally and regionally. I have seen solid but not great high school players get rides to smaller four-year programs and JUCOs. The key is playing year-round and getting coaching in the off-season, so when the high school season starts they are in shape and ready to compete. Colleges are recruiting internationally, and many programs are filled with foreign players. Get your player international experience if you have the dough. It looks good on a resume. Being team captain doesn't hurt, either.

Hans Laub, USA Tennis High Performance Coach, PTR Professional, USPTA Professional 1

If she wants to be attractive to colleges, she should be playing tournament tennis by now. Not only would that keep her sharp and match-tough for all her high school matches, but it will help her to obtain a ranking and a match record for college coaches to look at and compare. A sectional or national ranking would be preferred over a state ranking, depending on the strength of your section and the college that she will be looking at to play. If she doesn't already do it, then she should also start practicing tennis outside the high school season. Good luck to your cousin’s further development.

From Bob K. of Minneapolis

The most important thing is that she should enjoy whatever she does. Learn as much as she can, while she can. Her practice/play ratio might be on the order of 3:1. Moderate strengthening along with aerobics should be incorporated into her weekly routine. Ask her what she would like to do, and respect her wishes.

From John Frausto, USPTA Professional, Wisconsin USA Team Tennis Coordinator, Director of Tennis, Center Court Tennis Club

My suggestion is to get a hold of Oscar Wegner's DVDs. He is a world renowned tennis coach currently living in Clearwater, Fla. We flew him to Wisconsin for our club's grand opening, and he was a hit. His book "Play Better Tennis in 2 Hours" breaks all traditional thoughts on the game of tennis. His teaching techniques are easy, simple and straight forward. My other suggestion is to get her hitting against adults. Juniors seem to be more disciplined when playing adults. They also tend to step their games up against better competition. Just a few thoughts. Let me know if you need anything else.

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