Showcases, Combines, & Camps . . .Oh, My!

If your junior has his or her sites set on playing college tennis, you’ve likely been investigating the various showcases, combines, and camps available for your child to get seen by a variety of college coaches. As summer approaches, there are quite a few of these events cropping up in the coming weeks, so let’s take a look at what’s available. Hopefully, this will help you choose the right event(s) and spend your money wisely.

USTA All-American Combine

The latest offering in the college exposure space is USTA’s All-American Combine (click here for the entry form on TennisLink). This first-time event will be held June 14-16, 2017 at the new USTA National Campus in Orlando. It is open to any American junior player age 13-18. The entry fee is $349.88 (food, lodging, and transportation not included).

Per the description from USTA, the All-American Combine is designed to give American juniors recruiting exposure and knowledge of college tennis programs around the nation. Participants will engage in a number of on- and off-court evaluations over the two days, including match play in front of college tennis coaches and presentations from industry experts such as Mark Kovacs. The players’ results will count toward each player’s Universal Tennis Rating (UTR). This event will be considered a Tennis Recruiting “National Showcase” for the purposes of ratings on Tennis Recruiting (TRN). At the conclusion of the event the overall boy’s and girl’s winner will receive a main draw wild card into a USTA Pro Circuit $15,000 event.

As of today’s date (April 14, 2017), I have not seen a list of attending colleges or coaches. Stephen Amritraj told me that as they get a finalized list of coaches in conjunction with the ITA, they will be posting it – I’m assuming it will be posted on both the USTA website as well as on the combine’s TennisLink page. I will update this article as more information becomes available. In the meantime, be sure to listen to my podcast with Stephen here.

Collegiate Exposure Camps

These privately-offered 3-, 4- or 5-day camps immerse prospective student-athletes into a simulated atmosphere of what it means to be a college tennis player, including on- and off-court training plus classroom time. They are geared toward players entering grades 8-12 and are held on college campuses staffed with variety of college coaches who work with the players in groups and individually. Participants can either come each day or stay overnight. The cost ranges from $850 to $1400 (plus an additional $100 for overnight campers) depending on the length of the camp. Enrollment is limited to a maximum of 5 players per court and is done on a first-come first-served basis. The 2017 dates are as follows:

  • June 16-19,  June 23-25, June 23-27 University of Pennsylvania
  • July 10-12 Yale University

Coaches attend from almost every level of college tennis who are not only there to help the campers but who are also looking to recruit players.  Since the recruiting process now starts as early as 9th grade, the opportunity to begin exploring and thinking about the college process and college tennis is invaluable for both older and younger players. The camp is a great tool for coaches to get to know your player’s personality, see how he/she interacts with peers, and how he/she trains and competes.

For more information, click here to go to the website and click here to listen to my podcast with the founder, Tarek Merchant – be sure to listen all the way to the end for a special discount offer on Collegiate Exposure Camps for the ParentingAces community!

Ed Krass Collegiate Exposure Camps

Another highly-recommended exposure camp is the series offered by Ed Krass (click here), now in its 29th year. These camps are open to players age 14-18 and are held at UVA, Lehigh, and Brandeis universities for 2017. If you register before April 30, the cost ranges from $645 to $3300 depending on the length of the camp. If you register after April 30, the price increases $50.

The Krass camps helps players:

  • Improve matchplay strategy, shot selection and shot placement
  • Achieve better results against higher ranked players
  • Improve footwork, speed and level of fitness
  • Learn about the college recruiting process and how it works
  • Learn how to conduct a college tennis search
  • Understand the various levels of college tennis
  • Identify the profiles of specific college tennis programs
  • Network with head college coaches from across the U.S.
Showcases

There are many options for college showcases around the US and abroad. The following is a list of showcases that parents have recommended along with links to their websites. Be sure to compare the dates, cost, and list of attending coaches/colleges when choosing the right showcase for your child.

  • Donovan Showcase: This year’s showcases are being held at Yale and Harvard with a showcase coming in January 2018 at the Claremont Colleges in Southern California. The cost ranges from $395 to $550 with a substantial discount for Donovan Recruiting clients. Click here to go to the website.
  • I’m Recruitable: This showcase is held between the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl tournaments in December in South Florida. For information on the 2017 showcase, click here.
  • ITA College Showcase: TennisRecruiting.net sponsored a showcase during the ITA Coaches Convention in Naples, Florida, in December 2016 (click here to read about it). Entry was limited to 32 boys and 32 girls currently in grades 9-12. According to TRN’s Julie Wrege, they are still in discussions with the ITA about doing another showcase in 2017, and I will post an update once I get more information. In the meantime, TRN is sponsoring a College Coaches Forum in conjunction with the Georgia Junior Open — the largest junior tournament in the state of Georgia – on Saturday, July 15th, at 7:30pm. This will be their 7th year conducting this forum.
  • TennisSmart: Former top British player, Sarah Borwell, offers a college showcase to her UK clients free of charge. If you live and train in the UK, you can get more information on TennisSmart by clicking here. You can also hear more from Sarah about her services in our podcast here.

If your child has already attended a camp or showcase, please share your experience in the Comments below.

Q&A with Georgia Gwinnett College’s Chase Hodges

Here is my third piece for the ITA website. It was very interesting to learn more about the NAIA and how it compares to the other college sports divisions.

In 2012, Chase Hodges was offered a unique opportunity: move to a small 4-year NAIA school in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and start both a men’s and a women’s tennis program from scratch. At that point in his career, Hodges was working as the head men’s coach at Georgia State University (Division I) where he had just been named Co-Coach of the Year for the Colonial Athletic Association. Prior to his stint at Georgia State, he had coached at Drake University, where he was named Missouri Valley Coach of the Year three times.

The Georgia Gwinnett College position would prove challenging, but Hodges wasn’t fazed. In the almost-five years since he started the program, he has led the Grizzlies to two women’s national championships and three men’s national championships, and expects to add many more to the team resumé.

Question: What is your overall coaching philosophy?

Answer: It’s pretty much been the same since day one, since I started coaching: recruiting the best possible student-athletes from around the world who fit the high academic profile of the college where I’m coaching. With each recruiting class, you want to find the best possible fit athletically and academically so players can jump right in and be a contributor. I think a lot of schools and coaches are looking for players who can be good two or three years down the road. I’m looking for contributors as freshman, players who can come in and be ready to go.

Q: Why did you decide to make the coaching move from Division I Georgia State to NAIA school Georgia Gwinnett College?

A: That was the toughest thing about taking the Georgia Gwinnett job: going from Division I to NAIA. Initially, what really swayed me was being able to start something from the ground up and put my own stamp on it. It’s very rare that you get to start a program at a school that has never had athletics. The opportunity to build something has given, and continues to give, me such a sense of accomplishment. We started from nothing – no players, no tennis balls, no clothes. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have that type of opportunity again so I took full advantage of it.

Q: What are some of the challenges of recruiting at an NAIA school?

A: The biggest challenge is that most of the kids I’m communicating with don’t really have much knowledge about NAIA. I’m constantly having to explain NAIA to recruits, teaching them as much as I can about the division. At our program, we can compete with anybody, and I just have to provide a little more background to recruits than I ever had to do at the DI level.

Q: What’s the main difference between Division I and NAIA that you have to explain to potential recruits?

A: From a competitive standpoint, at the top of the NAIA the teams are really just as good as any. Realistically, the depth is nowhere near where it is at DI. That’s the biggest difference, the depth at the DI level. The top teams in NAIA can compete with anybody. Being in Atlanta, we’re able to schedule a lot of high level teams on our calendar. Only about 20% of our schedule is actually against other NAIA teams. We schedule everybody, regardless of division.

Q: How do you balance coaching both the men’s and women’s teams?

A: It’s difficult. Before I came here, I was primarily a men’s coach though I did have the opportunity to coach both men and women at earlier jobs in my career. There are only so many hours in the day, and when you have two teams you have to manage your time extremely well. You have to provide a quality team practice where everyone can get what they need. You also have to have a quality assistant. My assistant, Courtney Rutherford, and I balance each other well.

Q: Speaking of Courtney Rutherford, how important to you is he? What unique attributes does he bring to your coaching team?

A: We complement each other. I pretty much handle the majority of the recruiting. Courtney loves being on court – he’d love to be on court 50-60 hours a week! – so he handles that aspect. That really helps our athletes continue to develop and get better. He has a passion for the game and is enthusiastic and energetic about making the players better. His strength is developing players. My strength is recruiting. When you combine both our strengths, we make a pretty good team.

Q: How do you manage the challenge of fundraising and promoting your program?

A: This past Fall, we did our first-ever tennis fundraiser: a pro-am event where area players had the chance to play doubles with our team members. Our national championships – we’ve won five (two women, three men) – have helped make the community aware of us and make our fundraisers successful. We’re in a unique situation because a lot of people don’t really know much about GGC, but we have 13,000 students and are the only 4-year college in our county and are continuing to grow. As the school becomes more recognizable in the county and state and even around the country, the fundraising will be easier, too. Our city mayor comes to all our home matches – she’s a great supporter! Our facility is fantastic – we host a lot of USTA tournaments which helps raise awareness of our school and our program as people come in and out of the facility. Our on-court results help, too. Our athletic director, Dr. Darin Wilson, has been a huge supporter. Our president, Stas Preczewski, is phenomenal as well and has been incredibly supportive of our athletic department and our tennis program. We only have six sports at our school. We’ve gotten great support from all areas of our campus. The Grizzlies, our name, is something that everyone gets excited about, too. Our program is continuing to grow and to get bigger and better.

Q: What advice would you give to a young coach just starting out at the college level?

A: Make sure you have a good relationship with your athletic director and/or the assistant athletic director, whoever is in charge of tennis. That’s key and will shape your success. You have to cultivate those relationships because they determine how successful you’ll be. They will be crucial to your growth, not only as a coach but also as a person.

Q: Who do you turn to for career guidance?

A: My 73-year-old dad is my mentor. He just retired as a collegiate basketball coach, head coach at a Division II school in North Carolina where I grew up, but also had a career as a high school athletic director and high school coach. I’ve been in the tennis profession since 1998, and my dad and I have communicated daily since the beginning. Like all coaches, we both have a competitive nature. My dad helps me balance to make sure my student athletes have the best possible experience. I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to trust him. It’s been great for me.

Q: How important is having a mentor in your life?

A: You can’t be successful on your own. A lot of people nowadays don’t realize that in order to be successful you have to have a team of people around you that you can talk to, communicate with. Mentors in general – they don’t even have to be tennis-specific – are very valuable because they allow you to maximize your potential. They are necessary, for sure. There’s no way I could have had the success I’ve had without the good people I’ve had around me to help me along the way.

Q&A with College Coaches

Auburn Women's Tennis Coach Lauren Spencer-2016-12-01
Photo courtesy of ITATennis.com

As those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter already know, I have been writing some really fun pieces for the ITA website. These pieces are question-and-answer articles with coaches outside of the “power” schools, coaches whose programs are maybe a little less well-known. The goal of these pieces is not only to share these coaches’ philosophies with their peers but also to bring more exposure to those college tennis teams that aren’t written about as much, teams that are strong and competitive and that offer amazing opportunities to their players both on and off the court.

Here’s my first piece, an interview with Auburn Women’s Coach Lauren Spencer. I hope you’ll take the time to read the various interviews and maybe add some of these schools to your child’s list as they begin to look at colleges.

Lauren Spencer, Auburn University Women’s Tennis head coach, grew up in a small Texas town 30 minutes east of Waco. When it was time for her to look at colleges, she wanted to stay in state, close to home, but her father had other ideas.

Spencer discusses her own recruiting process as well as how she uses that experience now that she’s in the position to recruit players herself for one of the top women’s programs in the SEC.

Question: What was your recruiting process like when you started looking at colleges?

Answer: Back then, recruiting looked quite a bit different than it does now. Everywhere I went for junior tournaments, my parents and I would go look at the colleges in the area. We had email (I don’t want to make it seem like I’m that old!), but regular mail was the main way coaches and players communicated with each other. Also, most people didn’t decide where they were going to go to college until their senior year, either in the Fall or, for many of my friends, not until that Spring.

Because almost everyone went to regular school as opposed to homeschooling or doing school online, we didn’t play that many national tournaments – you just didn’t have the freedom to travel and miss school plus there weren’t as many national events at that time. So how you performed in your state was drastically more important than it is now. The recruiting rules were more lax back then, too, which meant we had more interaction at tournaments with college coaches. They would come watch you play at tournaments, then you’d go on official visits.

I was very tennis oriented during my recruiting process and didn’t really look at the academics of the schools – my focus was on the tennis and whether or not I liked the school. I realize now that there has to be a checklist of priorities – recruits have to make sure their desired colleges at least have a strong education component. If I could’ve done things differently, I would have a different perspective on what to look for in terms of coaching because a coach’s personality is magnified for players. If you don’t like the coach, you can’t just switch to a new coach like in the juniors. The coach is the number one resource for players at the university.

Q: You chose Louisiana Tech for college. How did you wind up there?

A: Most of my high school classmates ended up at Texas A&M. Because my father insisted that I look at options beyond Texas so I could spread my wings, I decided to look for a medium-sized school outside of Texas but still within driving distance of home. I knew a big state school wasn’t for me. I didn’t feel like I would fit into a big city – it wasn’t what I was used to, and I didn’t really know how to function in that type of environment. Louisiana Tech was a great starting point for my life away from my parents. It’s in a college town, and it’s in the South, six hours from where I grew up, just far enough to keep me from being tempted to go home every weekend.

Q: How do you approach recruiting at Auburn?

A: Because we have a lot of players coming from out of state – or even out of the U.S. – I view my role with the parents as very important. I have to reassure these parents that their daughters will be safe at my school. Because I’m a mother myself (Lauren is expecting her second son any day now!) I understand how concerned the parents are when they send their child to a school far from home. It’s my job to make sure the parents understand that I will be taking care of their daughters, that I will help them learn time management skills, that I will do my best to keep them safe, and that I will do my best to keep them healthy both physically and emotionally.

With the players, I try to prepare them as best I can for what they will face as an Auburn student-athlete. I ask them to consider whether our school and our coaches fit in with what they want personality-wise, tennis-wise, and academically. I also look at a recruit’s birth order in their family to help me understand their personality and actions. First-born daughters have very different traits than middle- and youngest children, and I consider that when forming my recruiting class and my team as a whole.

Q: How does your role as Head Coach impact your overall coaching success?

A: When you come to play for me, you are family; you don’t get out of it. Auburn is very family-oriented. Once you come into our program, you are my child, my baby. My goal with each of my players is to raise an adult. When I send these young women out into the world, they are better tennis players, and they are prepared to go out and be self-sufficient, not return to mom and dad. We have to continue what their parents are doing and raise adults.

My personal life and my work life are very much blended. We call our team dinners “Family dinners” because we always eat our meals together. That’s very important to me. When you go to battle or war with another team, having a close bond and trust with the players helps propel the team to being confident in themselves as well as what the team is doing on and off the court. At Auburn, the coaches care as much about our players as individuals as we do about how they hit tennis balls. I believe that approach is especially important when coaching females.

Q: What advice would you give to other college tennis coaches?

A: Number one, we’re all here because of the student-athletes. There are certain times they will test us just like our own kids do. We have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect them, especially in the world we live in right now. We have to make sure the student-athlete’s welfare is protected, whether that means resting them, making sure they’re mentally and physically healthy, making sure you teach them proper life lessons. Sometimes you have to use tough love, but as long as you do it to provide the ability for the student-athlete to grow as a tennis player and a person, making sure the student-athlete comes first, that’s a big deal. Coaches in major conferences have a lot of stress around winning and losing, but you don’t want to put that in front of student-athlete welfare.

Number two, enjoy the job. When I get stressed out, I look down at my feet and see I’m wearing tennis shoes. I get to wear sweats and tennis shoes to work! I get to work outside!

My SID (Sports Information Director), Josh (Wetzel), is a military veteran and lost both of his legs in battle. One day he came into my office, took a look at my face, sat down, and asked, “What’s wrong?” I started complaining about all the stuff that was going badly at work. Josh started giggling, put his titanium leg up on my desk and said “Yeah, one day I had a really bad day at work, too.”

We have really great careers, this is really fun, we get to mentor these really awesome kids – we coaches need to keep things in perspective. Don’t let the stress of winning and losing be your only focus and priority and just enjoy this experience we have.

I learned very early: always surround yourself with good people because they’re going to make you better. My Associate Coach, Chris Hooshyar, played at SMU when I coached there. I’ve known him since he was just a kid! Chris’s wife is the head recruiting coordinator for Auburn. My dad is our volunteer assistant. It’s just a big family thing for me at Auburn. But I haven’t surrounded myself with “yes” people – these folks tell me when I’m wrong and keep me grounded and humble. And that’s what has led to our team’s success.