Why You Should Consider D3 College Tennis

D3 college tennis
Image courtesy of MI Prep Zone
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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.

If you have questions about choosing a D3 tennis program, you can reach Adam on Twitter @d3centraltennis or via email at acvanzee@gmail.com

For more information on Division 3 from the NCAA, click here and here.

If you enjoy the podcast, please leave us a rating and review on iTunes (click here for how-to’s). It helps a lot!

My apologies for the ad-lib from Sully mid-episode!


Checking in and catching up!

hhir-ketchup-catch-upI feel like it’s been MONTHS since I’ve posted anything of substance here, so I’m going to attempt to do a little catching up.  It’s been a crazy few weeks with the end of school, my Big Trip (see TravelPod.com for my trip report and photos), our state qualifier, and our sectional closed.

First of all, I need to give a huge shout-out to Mark at Grand Slam Tennis Tours for getting us absolutely phenomenal tickets for the French Open!  If you are planning to go to any of the big pro tennis events, these folks are very reliable and very fun to work with – my first experience with them was at last year’s Indian Wells tournament, and I wound up sitting in the same row as Larry Ellison (just 2 sections over from him)!  Our seats at Roland Garros in the Chatrier stadium were great – we were in the 2nd row of the upper level at about the service line on the same side as the chair umpire.  We had a perfect view of the entire court plus some really fun folks sitting nearby.

Now, let me talk about the end of my kid’s school year – oy!  I think I’ve mentioned that my son views school as a necessary evil and simply tolerates being there each day.  I have come to accept the fact that he is a very different type of student than his sisters – they were always pretty self-motivated to perform at the highest level in school and continued to do so even in college.  My son, on the other hand, requires some “gentle” prodding as well as some external motivation to get the job done in terms of his grades.  After a lot of frustration on my part, I’ve come to accept that he will not be taking 4 AP classes each semester or striving to be part of the National Honor Society, and I’m okay with that.  He reached his goal of a 3.0 for this past semester but not without a ton of last-minute final exam stress, and I’m proud of him for meeting his goal.  Now, it’s summer vacation, so we all get a bit of a break from the daily worrying about school, thank goodness.

As soon as school finished, my husband and I left for Europe, so my son was home (with house-sitters) and training hard for our state qualifier in Macon.  I had arranged for his coach, Julius, to take him to the tournament, and I knew he was in great hands!  After a quality first-round victory in the main draw, my son lost an almost 3-hour 3-setter to a tough opponent and moved into the backdraw where he then faced his doubles partner.  They played the first set, which my son lost 6-4, then rain ended play for the remainder of the day.  The next morning in his warm-up, my son tweaked his shoulder and wound up having to serve underhanded for the 2nd set.  Despite that limitation (his serve is typically a big weapon), he managed to win 4 games but still lost the match 4 and 4.  Not the outcome he had expected or hoped for in this event.  Since the coaches had to stay at the tournament with the other players, my son snagged a ride home with a buddy and got to work preparing for our sectional closed in Mobile.

That’s where we’ve been for the past several days.  Down in Mobile in the extreme heat and humidity.  But, my son was prepared, physically and mentally, to do battle down there.  He had a tough but winnable first round match against a boy who will be playing for UNC-Asheville in the Fall.  They both fought hard, but my son went down 3 and 4 after about 2 hours.  His first backdraw match was tricky.  He had beaten the kid pretty handily earlier in the year and felt he could do the same this time.  My son won the first set quickly 6-0 but then went on what Darren Cahill calls a “walkabout” in the 2nd, barely holding on to take it 7-6 (7-2 in the tiebreaker).  That was it for Day 1, and we went back to the hotel for a shower and then grabbed dinner nearby.

The start of Day 2 went well with my son winning his next backdraw match 6-1, 6-1 pretty quickly against an opponent who is fairly inexperienced in sectional tournament play.  There was only one round of singles scheduled, but doubles started in the afternoon.  My son and his partner made quick work of their 2nd round opponents (they had a bye in the first round), winning 8-1.  Then, they faced a strong seeded pair from Atlanta and put up quite a fight before losing 8-4.  Since there is no backdraw in doubles, they were done.

Day 3 was Round 3 of the backdraw, and my son’s opponent was a friend from Atlanta who he hasn’t played since the 14s.  He knew he was in for a tough one, especially since his opponent had been playing so well going into this tournament.  They both started out pretty rough, breaking each other for most of the first set until the opponent held then broke my son’s serve to close it out 6-3.  The second set started the same way, with numerous breaks of serve.  My son got down 5-2 but found a way to get back to 5-4 before being broken in the final game.  It was a tough loss for him, for sure, and the ride home from Mobile was very quiet.

Now we’re back home and trying to figure out how my son will spend the rest of his summer, tennis-wise.  There have been some major changes at the academy where he trains and lots of rumors flying around the tournament scene about exactly what happened.  All I know is that his coach, Julius, is still there and still committed to working with him, so, for that, I am very grateful!


When College Coaches Are Watching



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 . . .

Life as a Tiger

lsuI have heard from several parents, coaches, and college recruiters that – now that my son is a high school sophomore – we should be combining tournament travel with college campus visits, either official or unofficial, so my son can start to get a feel for what he likes and doesn’t like about various types of schools.  This past weekend, we finally did just that.

We were in Baton Rouge for our Designated (Bullfrog) tournament.  A couple of days before the tournament, my son emailed the LSU coach, Jeff Brown, to let him know we’d be in town in case he was available to meet or come watch my son play.  And, it just so happens that a friend of my son’s, Harrison Kennedy, is a freshman on the LSU men’s tennis team, and it just so happens that the team was scheduled to play at home, so we took the opportunity to spend some time with Harrison picking his brain about life as an LSU Tiger.

Harrison graciously spent about 2 hours with us, showing us his apartment in the athletes’ housing quad and walking us all over the campus.  We saw the dining hall, various athletic facilities, the student union, and the very cool building where Harrison takes his business classes.  Harrison talked to us about a typical day and a typical week, stressing repeatedly how full his schedule is and how much tougher his training is as a college player versus during his junior tennis days.  He also talked about how great it is being part of a team and the challenges of working his way into the lineup as a Freshman player.  When he got to the part about the team’s track training – doing sprints and running the stadium – I could see the expression of horror on my son’s face!  I don’t think he realized how intensely these athletes train day in and day out, even though he had certainly read about it on the Twitter feeds of the college players he follows there.  There’s something about standing at the track, seeing how big it truly is, then looking up at the stadium and seeing its massive size, too, then hearing from a guy who’s doing it, to make you realize how tough it can be.

Harrison also talked about the academic requirements of being a student-athlete.  He showed my son a couple of lecture halls and a couple of smaller classrooms and told him how the professors don’t care whether or not you show up for class.  But, he added, the Athletic Director DOES care and has “classroom checkers” monitoring the athletes’ attendance.  Harrison then explained the mandatory study hours and about the tutors available to help.  He emphasized that the coaches WANT their athletes to be successful academically and will do their best to provide whatever assistance is necessary to achieve that goal.

Shortly after returning to our hotel, I saw a quote on the JBMThinks Twitter feed: “Obstacles are put in your way to see if what you want is really worth fighting for.”  How timely!  I couldn’t help but think that hearing about how tough college tennis life can be would give my son pause, would make him really stop and think about whether or not this is truly what he wants.  My husband and I have always told our son that where he takes his tennis is 100% up to him.  If he wants to play in college, great!  If he doesn’t want to play in college, great!  If he wants to try playing professionally, we’ll support that choice, too.  But, we want him to make his decisions having as much knowledge and information as possible then committing completely to the path.  Of course, if he changes his mind and chooses another path after giving it a fair shot, then we’re okay with that.  We just want him to go into it with his eyes wide open.

The next day, I spent some time chatting with a junior coach at the tournament site about the training he does with his players.  He invited my son to join them for some track and stadium training back in Atlanta.  When I mentioned it to my son later that night, I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I would get – would he take the coach up on his offer and see how he handles the challenge or would he say no thanks and leave it at that?  I was relieved and happy to hear my son say, “Cool!  Sure, I’d love to go!”  Looks like he’s up for the fight!