Player Profile: JD Dickens
Tennis is life for JD Dickens. And he was thrilled to participate in early December’s exclusive UTR Tennis Showcase, hosted by Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center in Dorchester, MA. The combine provided a rare opportunity for diverse high schoolers to showcase skill and potential to 15 college coaches from Greater Boston and beyond.
The event also exposed 28 young players, from five New England states, to next steps in the sport. In addition to singles and doubles play, participants engaged with coaches and educational leaders about elite programs, financial aid and more.
The showcase targeted players from USTA National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) programs, alongside other local players aspiring to play college tennis at DII or DIII levels.
Dickens discovered tennis at age five, and early on adopted Sportsmen’s as a second home.
“I remember trying a lot of different sports, and really didn't like baseball or lacrosse or soccer. But I really liked going to Sportsmen’s,” Dickens said. “Every Saturday, I remember that was like the only thing I wanted to get out of the car to do.”
And over the past 11 years, the Milton teen’s love for both the center and sport have only grown.
“It's really cool that I've been at Sportsmen’s for so long, and I know almost everyone there. I spend most of my life with them. The coaches have shown that they really care about my progress, and they've stuck with me for more than 10 years,” he said.
Now in his Sophomore year at Milton High, JD’s had to find balance between school and other activities - but he’s very clear about his priorities.
“I‘m at Sportsmen’s three days a week, for at least two hours each day,” Dickens said. “I mostly play in the academy program and in clinics. And then on the weekends, I’ll go and hit with someone.”
He maintains a full practice and competition schedule throughout the year, and is focused on developing his tennis game as much as possible. Though the majority of his friends aren’t as focused on any one sport, it’s easy for him to find common ground.
“Most of my friends play sports during their seasons, and they have the same kind of intensity I do. But I don't know that many people who are committed to a single sport year round. Sometimes my friends wonder how I keep it up for the entire year. But I think if you find the right amount of rest, the schedule can become normal and routine.”
Accustomed to serious matchplay, JD found the December combine a welcome change.
“It was a different experience than regular tournaments because college coaches are looking for specific traits, like, your energy levels and if you're willing to try new things,” he added. “Everyone was there for the same reason, and it wasn't the same kind of pressure to win. There was pressure to put on our best tennis, but no one was really pressured to win at all costs. I think that made us play better, because we were more relaxed.”
Dickens was more than satisfied with the Showcase experience.
“I usually only play with kids from Massachusetts, and sometimes maybe Connecticut. But not many others from across New England. Playing in the Combine helped me experience the mentalities of more players, and also helped me learn different kinds of strategy.”
While playing throughout the weekend, he was able to both make an impression, and also discover roads he never knew existed before.
“Some coaches have reached out and followed up, letting me know about other events that I can play. It was nice to get noticed, and it put a lot of colleges that I wasn’t previously aware of on my radar.”
Marton Balla, Sportsmen’s Director of Tennis, and JD’s longtime coach, and marveled at Dickens’ leadership.
“JD was one of the first highly rated kids who registered for the showcase, and then other competitive players followed. In many ways, he got the ball rolling on the event for us. JD is an exceptional student athlete; he competed well, and with great sportsmanship,” said Balla.
JD is also an accomplished orator. In November, he addressed a crowd of over 700 attendees at Sportsmen’s 2022 Tennis Ball, one of the largest Boston galas of the year. Along with a handful of other young players, he paid tribute to luminaries who paved the way for both the landmark tennis center and the sport at large.
“I really enjoyed participating in the Gala. It was a great public speaking experience, and helped me continue to build my confidence. And it was nice to be able to present awards to people who have helped my club. I'm grateful for them,” he said.
So what’s next for Dickens?
“I would love to play college tennis for a school close to home. I've gone to college tennis
pathway camps, and I really like the idea of playing for a team. “I'm not sure if I would like to go pro, but I would like to keep playing competitively. Tennis is a lifelong sport; I’ll play it for as long as I live.”
Sportsmen’s Combine was made possible by financial assistance from the US Tennis Association (USTA) Foundation and USTA Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.