Click on the player below to listen to the podcast:
Adam Van Zee played his college tennis at D3 Wabash College then coached both the men’s and women’s teams at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. He now works in development at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis while also writing and hosting his own podcast for Division3Tennis.com.
In this episode of the ParentingAces podcast, Adam and I discuss the ins and outs of playing a Division 3 sport. We talk about how to finance a D3 education when the NCAA does not allow for athletic scholarships, how the D3 recruiting and application process works, and how PSAs can use the D3 Recruiting Hub to narrow down their list of potential schools.
NOTE: According to the information I was able to find online, PSAs are allowed unlimited official visits to D3 colleges starting the first day of their senior year of high school. However, they are only allowed one official visit per college. In Divisions 1 and 2, PSAs are limited to 5 total unofficial visits.
I’ve recently added and shared several articles and podcasts related to the college recruiting process and figured it might be easier for my readers if I put all the new stuff into one post. In the following bulleted lists, you will find links to the latest information on choosing a college tennis program, collegiate exposure camps, college recruitment camps, and what to look for in a college coach.
While most of the links are for original ParentingAces content, some lead to outside sources as well. Please read and listen and educate yourself as best you can. The college recruiting process is complicated and can be riddled with potholes, so be sure you are well-armed before you jump in!
USTA Midwest College Showcase and Information Session (click here and here)
What is the point of college exposure camps? With Ed Krass – includes discount offer! (click here)
Getting prepared for college recruiting with consultant Tarek Merchant – includes discount offer! (click here)
How a recruiting consultant can help before – and during – college with TennisSmart’s Sarah Borwell (click here)
What the USTA is doing to help American juniors get scholarships & succeed in college with Stephen Amritraj (click here)
Why you should consider D3 college tennis with Adam Van Zee (click here)
Please let me know if there are any other areas of the college recruiting process that you’d like me to address. I love talking about college tennis and am happy to answer any questions you might have via phone, email, or the Comments area below.
My husband, my son, and I are sitting on the plane heading toward home. It’s been a great few days in Scottsdale, and now it’s time to get back to life as we know it in Atlanta.
When I heard that my son had been selected to play in Winter Nationals, I was excited for him and hoped he would get the chance to compete against some of the players I had been reading about onZooTennisand other junior tennis media outlets. I figured it would be a great experience for him to see what it feels like to play at that level, but, truth be told, I wasn’t sure he was of the caliber to hang with those boys. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
This tournament experience definitely felt different . . . for a lot of reasons. It’s rare for my husband to join us for tennis travel, so that was really nice. We got to spend some quality time together watching our son compete.
And, this was my son’s first tournament since committing to play at Santa Clara University next year. There’s something pretty special about seeing your child wearing his college gear on the tennis court. I found myself getting even more emotional than usual as I started thinking about what the next few years have in store for him.
On top of that, we all got to spend time with 3 other incoming Bronco families, which was amazing. The 4 boys
quickly, and we parents did, too. As we said our goodbyes to each other, the parents all agreed that our sons are in for such a great experience and that we’re lucky to have each other as a support network in the coming years.
And, for me, it was fun to get to see so many of the college coaches and chat with them about the upcoming season. Every time I get the chance to be around these men and women, I am reminded why playing college tennis is such an admirable goal for our kids. These coaches understand what tennis has to offer a young player, and they are passionately committed to helping these kids grow from the experience.
Also, I got the chance to see some old tennis buddies likeRoss Greenstein, meet some PA readers in person like Cindy Good and Mike Gealer and Richard Schick, and chat with one of my tennis idols Tracy Austin whose son was also competing in this tournament.
Another real treat was seeing one of my husband’s childhood friends and his family who were visiting their family in Phoenix. They came out to watch my son play, and the guys got to catch up on decades of missed time!
And, despite what others had told me, the Boys 18s was run incredibly efficiently. Tournament Director Sally Grabham did an amazing job at communicating via email with the players and parents prior to the start of the event. She kept the tournament website updated and made sure we all had the information we needed. During our time at Scottsdale Ranch Park, matches ran pretty close to on-time, the tournament desk volunteers accommodated player requests to delay subsequent matches when their earlier matches ran long, the on-site medical trainer was very knowledgeable and effective (he was kept very busy!), and the on-site stringers worked quickly to keep up with all the broken strings. The officials at my son’s site were quick to respond to any problems but kept their distance when not needed, a testament to Tournament Referee John Bramlett. There were plenty of practice courts available at no charge for the boys to warm-up though I did hear from another parent that one of the girls’ sites was charging a fee. We wound up staying at one of the suggested hotels, the Hampton Inn & Suites Scottsdale/Riverwalk, and it was quiet, comfortable, and convenient.
Before the tournament started,Universal Tennis Ratingsdid a pre-event analysis of the competitor list for each age group, ordering the players based on their UTR (click hereto see the list). As expected, my son fell in the bottom half of the list though pretty close to the middle of the pack. His first-round singles match was against the player ranked #19 on the list, a boy who was not seeded but probably should’ve been. It was a very close match, but my son pulled out the win. In his next match, he played the boy ranked #14 on the list who was seeded. My son won the first set, lost a close second set, then, sadly, had to retire the match early in the 3rdset with an injury. But, he was competitive with this boy. For maybe the first time, I was realizing my son is definitely at the level of these other players and has earned his way into these tournaments through his hard work. Had I been underestimating my son’s ability on the tennis court? Maybe. But, if I had, this tournament definitely put an end to that mistake. In his final match of the tournament, my son played the #39 player. My son won the first set 6-3, stayed on serve until the end of the 2ndwhen his opponent broke then held for the set then took the 10-point match tiebreaker 10-8. It was a tough loss, but, once again, I was reminded of my son’s ability on the tennis court and that he belonged at that level.
I think I mentioned before that my son was playing doubles in Scottsdale with one of his future Bronco teammates. Well, seeing the two of them in their SCU shirts giving hand-signals and high-fives between points was just a glimpse into the future for me. I can’t wait to be at the matches cheering for them as they compete for their school. All of these kids have worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to reach this goal of playing college tennis, and now their dreams are becoming a reality. Amazing!
At one point during the tournament, I received a Facebook Message from the parent of a 12-year-old player asking me what is the benefit of playing these national events. I had to think for a minute before responding. For the younger players, it truly is about gaining national ranking points and having the chance to compete against kids from around the country – both valuable but not absolutely necessary in the scheme of things. Honestly, I’m not sure I would’ve spent the time and money to travel across the country for this tournament when my son was younger because (1) he wasn’t at that level yet, and (2) he had plenty of opportunities to play competitive matches within our section. But, for someone who lives in a less-competitive area or for someone who has the financial resources, why not? There are worse places to be in December! That said, for the 16s and 18s, especially for those who are in college recruiting mode, Winter Nationals is a great way to get exposure to so many college coaches. Many of the ones I spoke with are still looking to fill roster spots for Fall 2015 while also looking ahead to future years. They were splitting their time between the 16s and 18s sites, hoping to find those players who would be the right fit for their various programs.
After my son lost his final match of the tournament, I texted my new friend, Cindy (the one who brought us the coolers and goodies),
to let her know we’d be leaving the next day. She replied, suggesting that I go back and read the interview Colette Lewis had done with me for TennisRecruiting.net back in 2012 (click here). Cindy wrote, “I know you are proud but re-reading that article now it is amazing what he has done.” So, I took her advice and read it. Cindy was right. I had forgotten where my son was tennis-wise when we first started this ParentingAces journey. He has definitely come a long way in a short time. And, if nothing else comes of this website, I hope it will at least give other parents and junior players a glimpse of what can happen when a child stays committed to a goal and his/her family stays committed to supporting that goal. I’m here to tell you it is definitely worth the sacrifice!
It’s Senior Year. The last year of high school. The year where many decisions will be made. What college will my child attend? Will he play tennis there? Division 1 or 2 or 3 or something else altogether? A school where he is likely to play high up in the lineup or one in which he’ll have to work hard to prove himself before having a shot to be an impact player on the team? So many decisions . . .
Those of you who have been following my journey with my son know that he is now focusing his efforts on colleges in Florida and California. We spent a busy 2 weeks in each of those states over the summer, visiting campuses, meeting coaches, talking with players, getting a feel for the surroundings, trying to pinpoint the minute – and not so minute – differences that separate one school from another.
Today is Friday, the beginning of my son’s Fall Break. Early, yes, but not when you consider that his Senior Year began August 4th. We are once again on an airplane. We are traveling back to California to take another look at the schools on his list there, to spend more time on the campuses, to dig deeper into each program in hopes of finding the right fit.
For players like my son, ones who aren’t at the top of the Wish List but who have the work ethic, desire, and motivation to give their all to whichever school they end up attending, this process can be long and complicated, especially when travel is involved. We are fortunate in that we have both the opportunity and the resources to take these trips – I realize that others may not be so fortunate – but even if my child were looking at schools closer to home, the process would still be more intense than I ever realized.
Is it any wonder that so many young players decide to forego college tennis altogether, choosing instead to just be a normal student for maybe the first time in their life? Maybe they suffer from tennis burnout, having spent pretty much every afternoon, every weekend, hitting balls across a net. Maybe they suffer from Senioritis, feeling the pull of independence that going to college will provide them.
Last year, my son saw several of his tennis friends decide to take the non-tennis route to college. From my perspective, it was disturbing to say the least. How would I handle it if my son chose that route, too? Was there anything I could do to prevent it?
My son and I discussed his friends’ choices and what may have driven them. We talked about the never-ending pressure these kids are under to perform in school while also performing on the tennis court. We talked about what my husband and I could do to help our son manage that pressure and stay excited about playing college tennis, something he had dreamed about since he was 9 years old. It has been a group effort, for sure, to help our son stay focused while balancing school and a social life away from the court. Going on these trips to visit the schools and having a chance to talk to several current college players has certainly helped. If your child is on the fence about playing college tennis or suffering from burnout/Senioritis, maybe you can find some time to go to some college matches this Fall – there are tournaments happening all over the country starting this weekend – to relight the flame.
One dad commented on another ParentingAces article that he’s dealing with a serious case of burnout in his house right now. Are any others of you dealing with it, too? How are you handling it? What comes up in the conversations with your child? I’d love for you to share your experiences here – we Tennis Parents can be a great support to each other as we navigate the ups and downs of the Junior Tennis Journey. Regardless of what’s going on with USTA Player Development and the college tennis format changes, we still have to make sure to keep the focus on what’s really important . . .our kids and their development and their readiness to take the next steps in the process.
Right now, though, we’re on the plane. My son is sitting in the row in front of me, watching Godzilla on the tiny screen on the seatback. I looked up from my typing just as he stood to get something out of the overhead bin and was suddenly overcome with emotion. My baby boy is no longer that. He has grown into this amazing young man who has this wide open road ahead of him. Neither of us knows what’s in store, but what we both do know is that all the hard work, all the missed parties and weekend football games, all the sore muscles and blisters and fatigue have led to this moment, this opportunity to see things all the way through to the goal he set at age 9, to play college tennis.
As if competing in a tennis tournament weren’t tough enough, how does a junior player handle the added pressure of playing when he/she knows a college coach is watching?
Now that my son is finishing his sophomore year of high school, he’s going to be facing these situations the remainder of his junior tennis career. Even if the coach is there to watch his opponent and not necessarily him, my son still needs to be prepared to handle that extra piece of the puzzle. In hopes of giving him the tools he needs, I spoke with Ross Greenstein of Scholarship for Athletes and asked him to share his wisdom and knowledge about what coaches look for out there. I also spoke with University of Maryland Baltimore County Head Tennis Coach, Rob Hubbard, to get information straight from the source (if you haven’t yet, be sure to listen to my radio show featuring Coach Hubbard – click here for the link to the podcast).
Ross and Coach Rob both told me that it’s about more than just forehands and backhands. If a player has been accepted into a tournament where a coach is watching, then the coach already knows that player has the requisite tennis skills to compete at the collegiate level in some way, shape, or form. Coaches are looking for more than simply whether your child uses a Continental or Semi-Western grip or whether he/she wins or loses a particular junior match.
It all starts before the match is even played. Is your kid respectful of tournament officials, refs, and desk people? Is he friendly with the other parents and players? What is she doing to get ready for her match? Is she jumping rope and getting focused or is she simply socializing and just hanging out but not really getting physically and mentally ready to compete?
And, parents, coaches are also watching us! They want to see how involved we are in our kid’s pre- and post-match activities. Do we get them ice, water, and energy bars or do we instruct our kid to take care of his/her own needs? Do we carry their bag or water jug for them? I have heard on several occasions that college coaches do NOT look favorably on these hovering-type behaviors. Coaches want to see a self-sufficient kid, not one whose parents do everything for him.
Once your child is on the court, the coaches’ focus changes. They are looking to see presence on the court – is the player having fun, smiling, fighting for every point OR moping, being negative, using negative self-talk, questioning every line call? Coaches don’t want to see negative behavior or kids who look miserable. And, according to Ross, kids just don’t seem to get that – that their non-tennis behavior on and off court are so important to coaches.
Coach Rob concurs. “First and foremost I am watching to make sure the player has a passion for the game. Win or lose are they willing to compete? If they are not playing well or struggling with their match are they willing to fight to try and figure out a way to win? Basically are they a competitor no matter the conditions? Most coaches are aware that their appearance at a match may create a bit of nerves and look to see how the prospective student athlete responds.”
Other tennis-related things a coach might look for include the upside of the junior’s game and the potential his/her game may or may not have. Does she have more than one dimension to her game? That might include playing aggressive tennis, serving and volleying, attacking short balls, and fighting for every point. Does he have experience in doubles? If not, can his game transition to doubles? Is she or he physically fit?
Ross goes on to say that kids need to look and act professional. They need to “get a sweat on” before each match, stretch before & after the match, stay focused on the task before them. Then, after a match, the player needs to thank the coach for watching and introduce him/herself – most kids don’t do that. Either they’re scared or intimidated or their parents do it for them – but, it’s really important for the player to do it. Kids, introduce yourself, shake the coach’s hand, and, for goodness sake, look them in the eye!
The reality is that the first official signing date is in November of a player’s senior year of high school, 14 months before they will ever play their first college dual match! College coaches have no idea how hard these kids work, they typically don’t know these kids other than via phone calls and emails, so it’s crucial for juniors to keep playing, keep improving, keep working on their game.
Coach Rob shares these words of wisdom: “The prospective student-athlete has recorded a significant number of results leading up to the competition the coach is there to observe. Those results usually bring the coach out, and the result that day most times does not affect any decisions. Coaches are there to get a little better feel for the athlete, his personality, his passion for the game, and other competitive intangibles that can only come from a face to face exposure.”
Ross told me a story about one prospective college player – let’s call her Sarah just for the sake of ease! – he worked with last year. There was a college coach watching Sarah play at a big event. During her match, Sarah called her opponent’s ball out and was then immediately asked if she was sure. Sarah confirmed her call but went on to tell her opponent, “If you think it was good and you’re absolutely sure about it, then take the point.” The opponent said she was sure and did take the point. Sarah then moved on, continued to play aggressively, but wound up losing the match. The college coach who was there told Ross that Sarah had been his #5 recruit but just moved up to #1 on the list after that on-court performance. The coach said he loved seeing that Sarah was out there for the love of the game, that she didn’t put too much importance on one single point, and that she was able to brush off the set-back and continue competing at a high level until the very last point. It’s a great lesson for all our juniors to learn.
ADDENDUM (posted May 1, 2013 7:47pm)
Here is some additional information shared by other coaches, parents, and observers . . .
In terms of the player’s on- and off-court behavior at tournaments, this should be part of what the player is learning from the junior coach. If the coach is not with the player at a tournament, the player should still know exactly what to do before, during, and after a match; and if the player doesn’t know, then she is not ready for match play. It is the junior coach’s job to get the players ready for tournaments and make sure they know how to behave and prepare for each match. As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children how to behave in general. For junior coaches, the expectation is that they will be responsible for teaching our children how to behave tennis-wise.
Another point I neglected to include in the original article is that many of the coaches pay particular attention to the back draw and how a player performs there, sometimes even more than the main draw. It shows the player’s resolve, determination, and fight. How do they handle adversity? How do they bounce back from a defeat and disappointment? Even though back draw matches don’t award as many ranking points, the message a player sends to a coach by sticking with the back draw and performing well there is invaluable. Ross Greenstein confirmed for me that coaches hate kids defaulting back draws – another match is another opportunity to get better. Kids who do well in back draws show they are tough and want to get better. As UGA Head Men’s Coach Manny Diaz told me, “It doesn’t make the main draw results any less important, but it certainly doesn’t give a good impression when you see so many kids walking out of the back draw. I can tell you for sure the kids that see it all the way through, giving it their all, earn some definite points.” Ross goes on to say that the perception among coaches is that it also shows a complete lack of respect to the parents who pay all that money to go to the event and then the player is a little injured or tired or sore so they go home. Perception isn’t always reality, but still . . .
One of my son’s over-reaching tennis goals is to play at a Division 1 school where he can continue to develop his game. He realizes that he is a stereotypical “late-bloomer” and that he’ll probably keep growing for at least the first couple of years of college, and he wants to play for a coach who can help him keep growing tennis-wise, too. So, Type A Tennis Parent that I am, I have been doing some research into programs and coaches, both those that are realistic schools for him and those that would be considered “reach” schools, to see what I could learn about player development at the collegiate level. Luckily for me, I came across the spreadsheet in the link at the top of this article, which has been a great jumping-off point for my research.
It is the Men’s Collegiate Development Report, and it attempts to track how top US junior tennis players develop at the college level. The purpose is to give new recruits an objective tool to see how previous top US recruits have or haven’t developed at schools they are considering and to provide college athletic departments another tool for evaluating their tennis programs. The report is by necessity overly simplistic. First, the report tracks the top recruits based on Tennis Recruiting and includes any finishers in Kalamazoo’s quarterfinals should they not be included in the Tennis Recruiting list. It includes information over 5 years beginning in 2004. The report identifies the schools at which each player began their collegiate careers. Then, it tracks their final collegiate rank at graduation time. If the player ranked anywhere in the top 30 final ITF ranking in their last year of eligibility, then they are deemed to have continued developing their tennis skills during college. If they transfer to another school, that results in a No Ranking score. The transferred player is again scored at the school they finally graduate from. Should a player turn pro prior to graduation, that is separately marked but considered a success since the player developed enough to allow that player to believe they should turn pro. Results were only considered sufficiently meaningful for ranking a school’s results if the school attracted 4 or more top US recruits during 2004 through 2008. Obviously, the results are less meaningful to the extent a coaching change has occurred during this period. Also, foreign players were not considered, which eliminates a large percentage of collegiate tennis players. The results also ignore injuries in a player’s final year of eligibility. I’m hoping the creators of the report will eventually expand it to include 4- and 5-star players as well as the Blue Chippers already evaluated. If they do, I will be sure to post the updated information for you.
If your junior player is planning to play at the collegiate level, I urge you to take a look at this report and to start doing your own research into the programs and coaches that might be best-suited for your child. There are so many programs out there, and each one will have its own pluses and minuses depending on your child’s academic, social, and tennis goals (notice I put tennis last!). I have been talking with Coach Chuck Kriese, who coached the Clemson Men’s Tennis Team for years, about creating a step-by-step list for parents to help their kids through the college recruiting process. He and coach Kyle Bailey came up with the College Recruiting Timeline (click here to go to the page and download the pdf file), a To-Do list for parents and players through their high school years. Tennis Recruiting also has a great guide on the Recruiting 101 area of its website – click here for the link. Take a look and let me know what you think!
Our state qualifier for the Southern Closed was this past week. For the first time ever, my son knew when he applied for entry to the tournament that he would get in – he had worked hard all year to move his state ranking into a proper position. Now the challenge was getting far enough in the Qualifier to secure a spot in the Closed.
The Tennis Gods smiled upon him with his draw, but it was still up to him to capitalize on some great opportunities to get to the Round of 16 (or further) and get that guaranteed entry into the sectional tourney. It was going to be a challenge, for sure. His track record with “gifts” in the draw wasn’t all that great – in the past, he had often lost to players with much lower rankings than his own, so he was going to have to draw on all the training he had been doing with his coach to stay focused and get the job done.
After winning his first match in less-than-ideal weather conditions, he got to play his second round on center court at the main tournament site with several of his friends and other coaches standing around and periodically watching him. He won the first set 6-0 in about 12 minutes, absolutely crushing his opponent at every opportunity. But, old habits die hard, and he wound up falling behind 0-4 in the 2nd set before fighting back a bit then losing it 4-6. Thank goodness for the 10-minute break after splitting sets! I have no idea what my son’s coach told him on the phone, but he came into that 3rd set swinging away, jumping to a 5-0 lead before finally closing out the set and the match 6-0, 4-6, 6-2. He had made it to the Round of 16 and had his spot in the Closed!
The next morning, he was slated to play the 2 seed, a boy who he had never played before, a boy who is a 5-star rated player, a boy who wins big tournaments on a regular basis. This was my son’s chance to test his game against the Big Boys, to see how he held up and where he needed work. What an opportunity! He went on court ready to do battle. He pushed the 2 seed hard in the first set, making him work for every point and every game. My son lost that set 4-6, but he proved to himself that he could compete at this level, that he has what it takes to keep moving forward with his development. The next set didn’t go quite as well, but, still, my son walked off the court with his head held high, knowing he had left everything he had out there.
Day 3 brought the Back Draw and another opportunity to play a 5-star player in the day’s second match. By this point, my son was exhausted – mentally and physically – and the match ended quickly though not in my son’s favor. The tournament was now over for him, and it was time to reflect:
He reached his goal of qualifying for the Southern Closed.
One of his favorite college coaches saw him play and crush his opponent then congratulated him afterward on the great win.
His former coach saw him play the 2 seed and commented on how far he’s come in the last year.
After playing the 2 seed, he immediately got a text from another player asking him to play doubles in the Southern Closed – his Tennis Clout jumped about 100 places as a result of his effort in that match.
His current coach watched his first back draw match and got the opportunity to coach him during a rain delay following a sloppy first set. My son went back on court and did exactly what his coach told him, winning the match at his first opportunity. His coach was beaming!
His tennis peers told him repeatedly over the course of the tournament how well he was playing – that does a teenage ego good!
He used his mental toughness training and stayed calm throughout each match – you have no idea how huge that is!!!!
He saw what he needs to work on between now and the Closed and is ready to put in the hard yards. The next level is finally within his reach.