Danny Goes to College

There are several possible paths to playing college tennis.  What works for one player may not work for another.  As tennis parents, we have to learn as much as possible about our player’s options and try to help them navigate the proper path for their particular situation and needs.

A big thank-you to Dennis and Danny Bruce for sharing their journey with ParentingAces . . .

In the spring of his junior year of high school, Danny started getting letters of interest from about 20 or 30 college tennis coaches.  Most looked like form letters – the coaches were fishing, looking to build their prospect list.  Coaches have their wish list of players, and players have their wish list of schools.  It’s great when the player and the coach are on the same page with that list!

Danny, with dad Dennis’ help, looked at all the letters then responded to those on his own list which included about 10 schools.  Danny also wrote to his top-choice schools that hadn’t sent him a letter, expressing his interest in their programs.  Several of the coaches wrote back, asking which upcoming tourneys Danny was playing so they could see him in action and meet him face-to-face.

One suggestion from Clayton State Coach LeTrone Mason is to create a recruiting video that you can post on YouTube, then email the link to the various coaches on your list.  The video should include a short introduction by the player (your name, where you’re from, your goals) as well as shots showing your groundstrokes, volleys, overheads, serves, and point play.  Check out this video from Pepperdine Coach Adam Steinberg.

As it turns out, Danny will be going to a school that wasn’t really on his radar.  In fact, neither Danny nor his dad had ever heard of the school, and, based on its name, figured it was a religion-based university which wasn’t what Danny wanted.  A little online research, though, proved otherwise and sparked their interest.

The head coach of Presbyterian College (a D1 program) had seen Danny play at the Georgia Qualifier tournament the summer after his junior year.  The coach really liked what he saw and showed a lot of interest in having Danny come up for an official visit in the Fall of his senior year.  After thinking it over for several weeks and doing a little more digging online, Danny decided to take the coach up on his offer, and he went for an Official Visit the following September.

Danny stayed overnight, met and hung out with the team, and toured the campus.  He really hit it off with both the team and the coach and made an on-the-spot decision to join them after the coach got creative and found a way to offer him a half-academic/half-tennis scholarship.  (Note to my son:  See, it pays to have good grades in high school!)  Meanwhile, Danny and Dennis visited a couple of other schools so they would have a better feel for how Presbyterian compared.  The formal Letter of Intent (LOI) from Presbyterian came a few weeks later, in early November.  Danny signed and now has the luxury of knowing where he’ll be spending the next four years.

I asked Dennis what Danny’s post-college plans are.  Of course, he’s still in high school, and college graduation is eons in the future when you’re 18 years old, but Danny has given some thought to what he wants to do after college.  Getting a solid education is very important to him.  Because he loves sports, he could see himself being a sports agent or maybe owning and running a tennis academy.  Depending on how his college tennis development progresses, he may try the professional tennis route and see how it goes, but he definitely has a Plan B.

Having some clear ideas of what you want from your college experience is key.  For Danny, it was important to be a contributing part of the tennis team wherever he went – he didn’t want to warm the bench for a year or more before getting to play.  He also wanted a good academic program where his degree would open doors for him after he graduates.  But, he says, the main factor in deciding to commit to Presbyterian was the fact that he knew the coach and other players really wanted him there.  He liked feeling that he was going to be able to make a difference for the team.  I think that’s one of those “intangibles” that Coach Wermer was talking about (see What Are College Coaches Really Looking For).

Oh, and in case you’re curious – and in keeping with what Patrick McEnroe shared with me – Danny is ranked well-within the top 300 in the US and is a 4-star recruit on TennisRecruiting.net with wins over five 5-stars and one Blue Chip.  Results do matter!

If you and your child have recently gone through the recruiting process, please share your story in the Comments box below.


What Are College Coaches Really Looking For?

My son has dreamed of playing college tennis since he was 9 years old.  That’s the summer he first went to tennis camp at the University of Georgia.  That’s the summer he got to be on the court with not only the head coach and assistant coach but, more importantly for him at that age, the guys who actually played on the team!  He came home from that first 5-day experience with a new-found commitment to tennis and a goal that has stuck with him ever since.

So, as any dedicated Tennis Parent would do, I started educating myself about college tennis and what it takes to get one of a very few coveted positions on the team.  I read articles.  I spoke to parents who had already been-there-done-that.  I googled NCAA and read up on the rules.  And, I started paying closer attention when I heard the words “college” and “tennis” uttered in the same conversations.

And, now, several years later, I can honestly tell you that I know very little more than I did back then.  The process is overwhelmingly confusing.  Like everything tennis-related, or so it seems, there isn’t one clear-cut path.

What are the college coaches out there thinking? Are they confused about how to find the best players for their programs?  What do the college coaches want to see from our players?

One parent wrote on ZooTennis.com:  “Personally, I have heard many college coaches repeat ‘We don’t care about the rankings and ratings, we want a player with solid skills, a hungry heart and good work ethics — a player I can develop! AND, they need to be a good student! They should go to regular high school, learn to balance normal life, play other sports growing up!’”

Erica Jasper, Senior Manager of USTA Junior & Collegiate Competition, shared that “in our experience, college coaches use USTA rankings and results as well as the ratings from TennisRecruiting.net and other ratings sites.  They also look at ITF junior results and rankings, ATP/WTA results and rankings.  If they didn’t do that, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.  Also note that I said RESULTS.  In our experience, college coaches, at least the good ones, look at results much more so than rankings.”

My question is:  How does a kid get the opportunity to show what he can do against the top players if his ranking isn’t high enough to get into the top-level national events?

Coach Manny Diaz, head men’s coach of the Division 1 University of Georgia Tennis Team, says that players shouldn’t worry about playing in the highest level of national tournaments.  He says the player’s goal should be to “win at whatever level you are at NOW. That is the only and true way to show how good you really are.”

Al Wermer, head men’s coach at Division 1 University of Toledo, suggests that alternative events – such as local pro tourneys or Futures events –  for older juniors could provide valuable match experiences and exposure to coaches.  Coach Wermer’s own player-evaluation protocol includes:  1) results on paper in real events; 2)  eye-ball test (how they play); and 3) the intangibles which include traits such as academics, competitiveness, discipline, size, athletic potential, leadership, team-compatibility, motivation, etc.

LeTrone A. Mason, women’s head coach at Clayton State University, a D2 program in the Atlanta area, says, “If I see potential in you, I’ll recruit you.”  He advises potential recruits to be realistic about where their skills will fit in, whether it’s Division 1, 2, or 3.

To find out how our kids are faring in terms of playing college ball, I decided to go to The Source, Patrick McEnroe, USTA’s General Manager of Player Development.  He told me that, of the “top 300 boys and girls ranked nationally by the USTA, an overwhelming number are getting tennis scholarships (85% of boys, 87% of girls).”  And, some of our top-ranked juniors who aren’t getting those scholarships are going to Ivy League or to top D3 schools which don’t have scholarships.  Still others are in college and playing tennis but not getting athletic scholarships because they’re getting need-based financial aid instead.

However, Coach Mason has found that American kids tend to want D1 or nothing, so D2 and D3 schools tend to recruit more internationally.  He told me, “All coaches of course want top 10 players, but they can’t always get them.  If the American players aren’t willing to consider a D2 or D3 school, then the coaches are left with no choice but to start looking outside the US to fill their rosters.”  He went on to say that several scholarships go unused, especially on the women’s side, because players would rather give up playing tennis to attend a bigger-name school than play at a lesser-known one.  So, to you parents of tennis-playing daughters, please do your homework and learn about some of these awesome D2 and D3 programs – there are spots on the teams and scholarships ripe for the picking.

A hot-button issue lately concerns the number of international players on American college tennis rosters.  I asked Patrick McEnroe about that, too.  His response:  “In the 1970’s the NCAA looked into limiting foreign players for track & field teams, and it was deemed illegal.  Neither the USTA nor ITA have any jurisdiction to limit foreign players.”    Patrick says that “99.9% of the coaches out there, when looking at 2 players – one American, one international, who are of the same tennis ability, same academics, and same character – will choose the American player.  So in essence we need more players and better players for our college coaches to recruit.”

All of this advice is very helpful, but to get the inside scoop, I spoke with a parent and player who have very recent experience with recruiting.  Check back tomorrow to read their story.


NCAA Members by Division

National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)

Active.com Guide to Tennis Scholarships

USTA Collegiate Department

USTA College Guide

USTA College Tennis Facebook page

USTA International Player FAQ

ITA Advocacy Department

What Is Sportsmanship?

Parents and coaches, please watch this short clip from Dr. Jim Loehr on the importance of sportsmanship.

Dr. Loehr is a world-renowned performance psychologist, CEO of the Human Performance Institute, and author of 15 books including his most recent, The Power of Story.

Jim Loehr’s contention is that managing energy, not time, is the key to sustained high performance. At the core of Dr. Loehr’s training system is the understanding that the stories we tell ourselves represent the single most powerful tool we have for managing energy and achieving any important mission in life. The right stories mobilize us to make tough values-based choices that lead to expanded growth and the wrong stories disengage us.

Dr. Loehr possesses a masters and doctorate in psychology, serves on several prestigious scientific boards and is a full member of the American Psychological Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology.

Another Week on the Alternate List

Another week, another local Southern Level 3 tourney, another alternate list.  But, this time there’s a possible out – DOUBLES!

Even though my son registered for both the B16 and B18 singles for this weekend’s tournament, and even though he’s on the alternate list for both, he still has an opportunity – we hope! – to play doubles.  This tournament is one of a handful that is offering both singles and doubles to the kids, and, even if you don’t get into the singles draw, there’s a very good chance that you could get into the doubles.

There’s a hierarchy for being chosen to play in the doubles draw, though, as follows:

1. Teams with both players entered in the singles

2. Teams with one player entered in singles and one alternate

3. Teams with one player entered in singles and one player not registered for singles

4. Teams with both players not registered for singles

Since my son is currently on the alternate list, his best hope for getting into the doubles is to choose a partner currently in the singles draw (#2 on the list above).  With only 32 players in each age group and several of them already partnered up for the dubs, it becomes a numbers game.

The tournament director specifically stated on the website that it’s up to the players to find their own partners – the tournament staff will NOT randomly partner players.  So, now comes the fun part.  My son is contacting the guys he knows in the singles, one by one, to try to find a partner.  Assuming he’s successful and gets to play, then showing up as an on-site alternate for the singles becomes a no-brainer.  Wish him luck!

Wayne Bryan vs. USTA

For those of you trying to follow the extensive back-and-forth between Wayne Bryan, father of doubles champions Bob and Mike Bryan, and Patrick McEnroe, Head of Player Development for the USTA, I have included links below to all of the communications I have seen to date.  If you know of additional letters and/or emails and/or articles, please post a link to them in the Comments box below.

I would like to point out that there have been some extremely well-though-out comments made to many of the original posts, so please do take the time to read through them as well.

If you are the parent or coach of an American junior tennis player, I think it is imperative that you educate yourself on what’s happening with our governing body and the criticisms which are now being launched against it.  Agree or disagree – that’s up to you.  But, please take the time to get informed!

Original email from Wayne Bryan to a USTA Exec

Tim Mayotte’s reply

Colette Lewis’ response

Wayne Bryan’s reply to Colette Lewis

Patrick McEnroe’s response

Wayne Bryan’s reply to Patrick McEnroe

Brian Parrott’s comments on the matter

Wayne Bryan’s letter to his sons

Exchange between Wayne Bryan & an unnamed high-performance coach

A Sickening Lesson

My son and I both learned a very valuable lesson this week.  Unfortunately, it involved a nasty case of food poisoning (we think), but, hey, sometimes you have to suffer in order to grow, right?

Wednesday was the first scheduled match of my son’s high school tennis season.  He didn’t know if he would get to be in the lineup as a first-year Freshman, but he was so excited at the prospect of playing for his school.  He was coming off a great tournament win the weekend before and was working hard to be ready to compete.

The Tuesday before was Valentine’s Day.  Since my hubby was out of town, I figured I’d fix a dinner for my son and myself that wasn’t one of hubby’s favs – Shepherd’s Pie.  We had a nice dinner followed by home-made chocolate chip cookies and went about our evening.

A few hours later, my son and I both woke up deathly ill.  Either we both came down with the same nasty stomach flu or something wasn’t quite right with the shepherd’s pie.  Needless to say, there was no way my son was going to school the next day OR playing his match.  He was so disappointed, and so was I.

The next day (Thursday), after recovering to about 75%, he went back to school and to after-school drills.  He talked to his coach about how bummed he was to miss the school match.  And, that’s when he learned another invaluable lesson from his amazing coach:  Treat high school matches the same way you treat a tournament!  Go through your same rituals, eat your same pre-match meals, do what you need to do to get your mind and your body ready to compete.

If he or I had thought of that on Tuesday, all this awful stomach junk could’ve been avoided because I would’ve cooked pasta for dinner like I always do the night before a tournament, even though it was Valentine’s Day.  Okay, lesson learned.

Pardon My Gushing, But . . .

When I first decided to write this blog, I made a promise to myself that I would steer clear of self-congratulatory pieces praising my kids (and myself) for their accomplishments.  However, today I’m giving myself a “pass,” so please bear with me!

The path to success is usually pretty twisty and hilly – there are good days and not-so-good days, days where you’re on top of the world and feel indestructible and days where nothing goes your way.  When your kid is on that path, and you’re just the observer and facilitator, it’s a tough place to be.  You have to watch as your child struggles with failure, struggles with losses, struggles with injuries, struggles with self-doubt – all the while, continuing to love them and encourage them toward their goals.

This past weekend, I got to witness just the opposite.  My son played in an 18s tournament, a local one, playing up for the first time (he’s still just 15).  The weather, after having been very mild all season, decided to take a turn toward full-on winter, with temps in the low 30s (20s with the wind chill factor) and high winds with a few snow flurries tossed in for good measure.  When I tell you that these conditions have never worked in my son’s favor, I’m being very understated.  He has always HATED playing in the cold and wind and, in the past, made every excuse under the sun for why he could never win in those circumstances.  I was bracing myself for more of the same, especially since there was absolutely no pressure on him as an unseeded 15 year old in the 18s draw.

His first match was at 8am on Saturday – a brutal time in the best of weather, but in the freezing cold it’s just tortuous!  Hubby and I bundled up in our warmest ski gear and stood courtside as our son quickly won 6-0, 6-0, beating another unseeded player.  The wind was whipping and the snow flurries were blowing, but somehow my son found a way to a quick win, making 100% of his 2nd serves even in those rough conditions.

His 2nd match was at 2pm that same day.  The weather took a turn for the worse (as if that were even possible!), with the winds howling.  My son had to play the #2 seed, but quickly put him (and hubby – I was playing my own match that afternoon INDOORS) out of his misery, winning 6-1, 6-1 with just one double-fault.  Somehow, he figured out a way to play quick and effective tennis so the wind and weather were taken out of the equation.  Though I wasn’t there to witness it myself, hubby gave me a full report, saying how amazed he was that our son was able to pull out the win so fast.  My son told me the tennis wasn’t pretty but it was effective!

The Final was scheduled for the next day at noon.  My son had to play the #1 seed, a kid he had never played but who had some very good wins on his record.  It wasn’t quite as windy on Finals Sunday, but it was even colder than the previous day.  Hubby and I bundled up again and braced ourselves to watch a tough match.

The players didn’t disappoint!  They each held serve for the first 6 games of the first set, but then the other boy broke to go ahead 4-3.  My son was showing some frustration, but he found a way to break back though he wound up losing that set 7-5.  In the second set, my son pulled ahead quickly with 2 breaks of serve, going up 4-1 and serving to take a 5-1 lead.  But, his opponent found his way back into the set, breaking my son’s serve then holding then breaking my son again to tie it up at 4-4.

If this match had happened 6 months ago, I would’ve said it was over at this point.  My son would’ve checked out mentally, making all kinds of excuses for why he couldn’t win.  But, he didn’t.  He stayed tough, competing even better as the match progressed.  Both boys continued to hold from that point forward, eventually reaching 6-6 and a tiebreaker.  His opponent went up 3-0 in the breaker, and hubby and I were feeling pretty stressed out watching our son struggle.  But then he found another gear, mentally, and climbed out of the hole, winning the set 7-4 in the tiebreak.  That was a huge momentum shift.

Because of the extreme weather, the boys were told to play a 10-point Super Tiebreaker instead of a full 3rd set.  My son’s tiebreak record over the past 6 months is pretty solid – he’s only lost one 7-point breaker during that time and has won 100% of the 10-point breakers he’s played – so I’m guessing he was feeling pretty confident down there.  His opponent was looking a little shaky, stretching his quads and calves after each point, taking the pace off his serve and, basically, just pushing it in to get the point started.  At one point, maybe due to the wind, the opponent hit an underhand serve a la Michael Chang, and my son unleashed an inside-out forehand return winner which put an end to that tactic!

The boys kept trading mini-breaks then holding serve, keeping the score in the tiebreaker very close.  At 10-all, hubby and I realized this match could go either way.  Both guys were playing very solid tennis, working each point, making very few errors.  Over the next few points, each of them had a chance to close out the match, but then other would come up with a winning shot to tie things back up.  My husband, who is usually a pretty cool character, was jumping around like a jackrabbit, muttering “c’mon” under his breath, trying to keep our son motivated to fight.  Finally, at 14-14, my son pulled ahead and had the chance to serve for the match.  He hit a huge body serve to his opponent who was unable to handle it, netting the return.  My son had won 5-7, 7-6, 16-14.  His first 18s tournament and his first 18s tournament championship – wow!

I know it sounds cliche’d, but it really was a shame that one of the boys had to lose that match.  They both played high-level tennis for almost 3 hours in very tough weather.  They both continued to compete, staying mentally strong and going after every ball.  They both wanted to win and were willing to stay out there all day to do it.  In the end, it came down to a big serve and an even bigger heart.  I couldn’t be prouder!