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Choosing the "RIGHT" College for Tennis

At some point in a player's life a decision will have to be made as to whether the player will either (a) quit tennis and focus on more "serious" endeavors; (b) progress to the Pro tour; (c) seek to play tennis in college; or (d) enroll in college but play tennis on the side (e.g. as an intramural activity, for fun or in open/NTRP events). Assuming that the player (and his/her parents) has decided to play tennis in college, a number of factors have to be juggled and coordinated in order to come to a decision that is the most suitable for the particular individual. Under some conditions, some of these factors may be "weighted" differently for one player as opposed to another player. Some players are all about tennis; others are all about academics; for most, however, it's a mix. It all depends on family circumstances, the player's level, long-term goals, financial condition and personality. 

If facing the decision for evaluating the "best" school for you, here are some questions that you may want to consider:

1. Does the player REQUIRE a full/partial scholarship? For a lot of players, this is a "biggie." As previously mentioned, the number of scholarships - particularly for men - are limited. Therefore, if a player requires the financial assistance provided by a scholarship his/her choices will be limited by the institutions that have available funds for the particular graduating class. 

2. Does the player desire to pursue a professional tennis career after college? The fact is that athletics are given more emphasis at some universities as opposed to others. These schools may have the best facilities, the most knowledgeable coaches and athletic staff, the toughest schedules (ensuring high-level competition) and the greatest budget (ensuring that the players have the best equipment and travel experiences). This is NOT to say that the school programs are tailored to producing professional players. But, with better players on one's team, with superior coaching and schedules it's foreseeable that these players will be in a better position to progress onto the "tour" after playing at one of these "top" schools. 

A. If playing pro is a long-term objective, it is, perhaps, important to evaluate the college coach(es). In other words, will you obtain the necessary support to get you on your way? Coaches come in various shapes and sizes and, like other instructors in your life, they may have certain skillsets or understanding of the game. For example, determine whether the coach is into: technique; tactics; training; mental; physical; match-play; doubles; motivation; mix; etc.  Invariably, some coaches will be better at some things than others. Some will be fresh and energetic; others may be looking for retirement. Just like there are specialists in non-tennis professions (law, medicine, accounting), the fact is that some coaches are better at certain components of the game than others. The key is to find the right tool for the job.

Thus, if you have decent technical foundation and are interested in some help with tactics, someone who might be deficient in this area might not be the person for you. Similarly, if you're pretty good at stroke-production and are also good at devising plays, perhaps someone who is a "drill sargeant" and good motivator may be a better fit. Again, it's a fact of life that for every player there's a coach who can be of greatest assistance. For some players, having a friendly relationship with the coach is enough. For others, it's about learning, improving and taking their game to the next level. Accordingly, as a first step, it's important to figure out your wants and needs first. As a second, step determine whether the person who will be overseeing your game for the next 4 years is the right person for the job. Ask for advice from former or current players. Although a lot of coaches believe that they are good at everything, that's not always the case. Figure out from third parties the coaches' strengths and weaknesses. In addition to a personality match, the coach's skills should also match up with the player's needs. 

In addition, try to determine whether the coach's goals are limited to "team" goals (e.g. winning the conference; qualifying for final 16; winning "the big dance") or whether the coach is also interested in improving you as a player (i.e., assisting you with reaching individual objectives). Again, in addition to a hierarchy of skills each person has a hierarchy of interests so it's important to find a mentor who is the best fit for you. 

B. As mentioned above, the school's schedule also plays a huge role. A competitive schedule will most certainly expose you to tough competition, a variety of game styles as well as a variety of environments. If you make a jump to the tour, you may in fact end up competing against some of your college peers. So it's good to become accustomed to their games early since you never know when you will run into them in a Futures or Challenger tournament. Look to the school's schedule over the past 2-3 years and maybe the following year's schedule to see against whom they're going to play - when and where. If you can, try to determine the other schools' teams and the chance that you might play against certain players.

In addition, determine if the school has a budget to send all or only part of the team to pre-season tournaments (Indoor events, All-American tournament, clay court tournaments, etc.). Some schools may only send their top-2 players; others may send the whole team. Obviously, if you want to take your tennis to the next level you want to have the option of getting as varied match experience as possible so it's important to have the opportunity to be placed in these draws. When looking at schedules, it's also good to consider some schools that might not be as highly-ranked but which have a good schedule and where you may play high on the ladder (ensuring that you'll be competing against the best players on the other teams and opening the door to getting ITA ranking points). 

C. Does the school have the best training facilities? A constant point of our discussion here at CAtennis.com is that simply playing more tennis is NOT enough to take you to the next level. You must also be fit and healthy. Certain athletically-inclined schools offer better training areas (gyms, tracks, training rooms) than others. These schools may have the best trainers to help you achieve peak performance and mental experts to assist you with the pressures of competing at the highest level while you're also focusing on academics. You might have access to ball machines, video recording devices, match analysis software, etc. Some programs may be more...Rocky IV; more basic. Some schools may be located in areas where you can do runs on the beach or cross-training by running or biking through the hills. 

D. Try to figure out the size of the team. A larger team may provide you with more opportunity to play against many players whereas on a smaller team the coach's attention may be more focused to a handful of players. Also, larger teams have more administrative burdens to deal with (so the coaches have to manage a limited reource and divide it among numerous tasks). If you're the type of player who takes charge of your own destiny, then a bigger team may be a better fit - since you can set up your own workouts and always have someone to practice against. If you like more individualized attention, a school that carries less players on the team may be more suitable. Similarly, a large team that trains a lot indooers may have more doubles practices (more players per court) than a small team practicing outdoors. Also, additional indoor court-time may be more limited unless the college team has its own indoor facility (some may; others, may be training at private clubs). 

E. Try to figure out if the coach's philosophy is to have individual practices (or "open" practices - i.e. where the player is encouraged to find outside practice) or to only rely on team hits. Try to also figure out what your teammates ultimate objectives may be. If you want to play pro but the other 7-10 players do not, the environment might not be as charged as you'd like. Conversely, if the other players (or most of them) have pro goals, the practices are going to be extremely focused, competitive and high-quality. In addition, the other players will also be looking for extra hits outside of team workouts. 

3. Where does the player see him/herself as living for 4 years? Does the player wish to be close to home/parents/current, private coach? I guess that the best way to go about it would be to go by the sectional map and figure out the best fit for the student-athlete. Although exceptions exist, the schools in certain parts of the country (i.e., the East Coast) are generally more prestigious than others. Some have been around for longer and may have more international recognition. Conversely, these schools might not have the best athletic programs at all times (depending on the particular recruiting class). On the other hand, for someone who is interested in playing a great deal of tennis, other "sections" may be more productive. Overall, sections such as Southern California and Florida (but also Texas - although distances may vary - and Georgia) offer a wide range of non-college tournaments (Opens or Futures) in which the player could participate  on the weekends or when the player is not in college competition. Similarly, if you live in Los Angeles or Miami, you may have more outside practice partners to choose from as opposed to the Midwest or Intermountain. This is not to disparage those areas of the country but it's simply a reality of life that more tennis players choose to settle in certain areas. 

Lastly, one has to consider the likelihood that the player may meet a significant other while in school. With this, there's a chance that the player may relocate permanently to that area of the country as opposed to coming "back home". This is something that may have to be explored with school's counselors - i.e., what % of students end up living within 100 miles of the school following graduation? 


4. Is the player interested in a particular climate? For example, Midwest winters might not be ideal for someone who's lived all his life in Southern California or Florida. Similarly, Pacific Northwest (with a lot of precipitation and, as a result, indoor tennis) might be a tough adjustment for someone who is used to constant sunshine (and outdoor tennis). On the other hand, if the player is interest in winter activities (e.g., skiing, snowboarding), a different climate may be exactly what the student needs. Accordingly, the player should seek the advice of current or former players from similar areas as himself or herself in order to obtain some insight as to the adjustments that have to be made. Nevertheless, since some players are more adaptable than others, the player must also understand himself or herself and his/her ability to cope with these changes. 


5. Is the player interested in a particular extracurricular environment? For example, is the player interested in a "college" atmosphere (e.g., pep rallies, Greek life, college sports, etc.), culture (e.g. museums, concerts, adult scene, etc.)? As a general rule, a lot of smaller towns are more "into" their colleges and athletics than a lot of bigger cities. For example, if you visit schools in the SEC, you may find that those schools may be the center of attention for their relevant community whereas schools that are located in larger urban centers may comprise only a small percentage of the city's center of gravity. This is not to say that the SEC schools are the only ones that offer this type of environment. One can easily find this type of environment all over the place (be it the West Coast, Midwest or places on the East Coast). For some players, these factors may not make a difference - they just want to go somewhere (big, medium or small), play some tennis and get a degree. For others, getting the "college experience" is of utmost importance. Again, when talking to a current or former player, it's important to understand whether s/he is sharing the same interest in some of these characteristics. 


6. Last but certainly not least, ACADEMICS also play an important role. It is also a reality that certain programs have a more prestigious academic curriculum than others. On the other hand, some schools may be outstanding at limited subjects (e.g. A&M programs). It really depends on what the students intends to study and whether s/he sees him/herself as continuing the pursuit of degrees after college. Degrees from certain institutions may open more post-graduate doors than degrees from other schools. This is not, however, to say that a player getting a degree from one of the latter schools is forever foreclosed from going to some Ivy League law school or medical school. But it's another factor to keep in the back of your mind that life doesn't beging or end with college - it's simply a step along the way. Furthermore, certain schools have a different approach when it comes to student athletes. At some programs, student athletes MUST take exams early (in the event the exam date falls on the day of competition); at others, the student-athletes are allowed to make up the test on a later date (or the coach is allowed to proctor the exam in the hotel room). Similarly, some programs offer more extensive tutoring services for student athletes. 

These are, certainly, not ALL the factors that a player should consider. As mentioned before, everyone is different and everyone has a different personality and peculiarities that should be taken into account. For example, some people care about the make-up of the student body, others care about the set up of the campus, the architecture of the building, the quality of the dorms, etc. If you have additional factors that you would like to add, please do so in the comments below. 

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Reader Comments (4)

one thing i wanted to add about the coaching is that kids need to realize that choosing a school solely based on who the coach is at that particular time can be tricky. coaches get hired and fired or leave to pursue other opportunities, so it's important that the school as a whole is a good fit. having teammates that you respect and enjoy, having a campus and academic program that fits your needs, being in a city or town that fits your idea of the college experience - these are all important factors to consider.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa S

Absolutely. Hopefully we'll have more reader comments and we can add to the list. Thanks again

November 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterCAtennis

i recommend the articles on tennisrecruiting.net for the purposes of choosing a college. good stuff and lots of coach interviews, too!

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa S

I like tennisrecruiting.net but found a lot of the information self-serving or "bland". I get the feeling that a lot of the contributors are wary of "tipping their hand" so it's important to elicit some direct information from the coaches themselves. After all, the recruiting process is as much of an experience for the player as it is a job interview for the coach.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIni

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