The NCAAs from the Inside Out

NCAAs
UGA Tennis Mommas

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Cliff Hayashi
Cliff Hayashi

The past 12 days at the NCAAs at the University of Georgia have been incredible! The level of tennis and sportsmanship exhibited by the student-athletes, coaches, and fans (well, mostly!) has been superb. I ran into some old friends (including Stanford Super Fan, Cliff Hayashi!) and made some new ones. I even had the opportunity to meet some long-time digital friends in person – including College10s2day’s Bobby Knight – what a treat!

During the 2nd week of the Championships, the ITA held its annual Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame induction ceremony and banquet. It was overwhelming to be in the company of so much College Tennis Royalty! I had the Nick Bollettieriunique privilege of sitting next to Nick Bollettieri throughout the evening and to be regaled by his many, many stories of his life in tennis. I was also sitting adjacent to Hall of Fame James Blake & RileyInductee James Blake and had so much fun watching him interact with his adorable little girls.

At this year’s Championships, I wanted to give y’all a glimpse at some of the people who make this event so great, so I reached out to some of the players, parents, and behind-the-scenes folks involved. The volunteers from UGA did an incredible job of keeping things running, including squeegeeing courts, manning the gates, and keeping all of us fed and hydrated. I hope those of you on Twitter and Instagram enjoyed my updates there, too!

In this week’s ParentingAces Podcast, which is a bit longer than usual (sorry!), you will hear from Taylor Davidson, a senior at Stanford; Francesca DiLorenzo, a

Elizabeth Milano

sophomore at Ohio State; Chanmeet Narang, the UGA Men’s Tennis Team Manager; Elizabeth Milano, a UGA student and volunteer at the Championships; Tammy Duncan and Olga Reinberg, parents of UGA players; and Beata Redlicki, mom to players at University of Arkansas and UCLA. Please pardon the background noise as these interviews were actually conducted on the grounds of the Championships.

As mentioned in the podcast, entries for the 2nd annual Sol Schwartz #SaveCollegeTennis All-In Tennis Tournament are now open. For the Atlanta tournament (July 17-19) go to http://events.universaltennis.com/tournaments/261/. For the Baltimore tournament (August 12-13) go to http://events.universaltennis.com/tournaments/336/.

To watch the FloTennis profile on Michael Redlicki, click here.

Also, registration for the ITA Summer Circuit is now open. Click here for information.

For more information on the 2017 NCAA Division I Tennis Championships, click here. A huge THANK YOU to the University of Georgia, the NCAA, and the ITA for working together to put on my favorite event in tennis, hands down.

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Student of the Sport

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a USTA College Information Session for high school players and their parents held during the NCAA Championships in Athens, Georgia.

The panel, led by USTA’s Senior Manager of Junior and Collegiate Competition, Erica Perkins Jasper, included the following heavy-hitters from the tennis world:

  • Bobby Bayliss – Head Men’s Coach at Notre Dame University
  • Christine Bader – Head Women’s Coach at Ball State University
  • Maria Cercone – junior coach in Florida whose daughter plays #3 doubles and #5 singles for the University of Florida
  • Rick Davison – Director of Competition at USTA Georgia
  • Steve Johnson, Sr. – Father of top-ranked D1 player, Steve Johnson, of USC and top junior coach in Southern California
  • Colette Lewis – Creator of zootennis.com and renowned junior/college tennis journalist

Here’s what I learned . . .

Before your child even starts thinking about which colleges he might be interested in, have his tennis skills evaluated by – as Steve Johnson put it – “someone you’re not writing a check to” in order to get an honest opinion of which college programs might be a good fit.  The panelists repeatedly told us that there is a program for everyone; sometimes you have to do a little more digging to find the right one(s), but it IS out there.  You and your child need to be honest about his level of play, though, and make sure you are looking at schools that have open spots in their lineups that match your child’s skill set.

During the college recruiting process – which, by the way, your player should begin thinking about as early as the summer following his freshman year of high school – it is crucial for both the player and the parents to ask a lot of questions.  Ask the coaches.  Ask the current team members.  Ask people familiar with the program.  Just ask . . . a lot!  What questions should you ask?  Well, that depends on what type of college tennis experience your child seeks.  But, all of the panelists agreed that coaches would rather you ask the tough questions up front so your player can cross off the schools that don’t have what he’s looking for and so the coaches don’t waste precious time and resources recruiting if your kid is dead set against their program.  It is important that each player find his fit, and be assured that there is a right fit for everyone out there, whether it be D1, D2, D3, or a Junior College program.

To the players, it is important to start visiting the various colleges as early as you can.  Yes, you can email the coaches, but it’s just not as personal as a face-to-face visit.  You’re allowed as many unofficial visits (i.e. visits that you arrange and pay for yourself) as you would like to take.  On those visits, meet the coaches, meet the players, ask if you can attend the team practice and workout, and get a feel for the team environment.  If possible, go look at the dorms and see where the players live and eat.  Take advantage of your junior tournament travel and visit colleges in the cities and towns where you’re playing.  Figure out if you have a preference in terms of school size (big or small) and location (urban campus or college town) – that will help you narrow down your list of target colleges once you’re ready to start the official recruiting and application process at the end of your junior year.

Familiarize yourself with the NCAA Division 1 recruiting rules as early as possible so your child doesn’t risk his eligibility.  The D1 rules are the strictest, so, even if your child is looking at D2, D3, or Junior Colleges, following the D1 rules is your safest bet.  Then, before the end of your child’s junior year, make sure he registers with the NCAA Eligibility Center so all his ducks are in a row before the official recruiting begins.

After coming up with a list of potential colleges, have your child write down the 5 most important reasons he wants to attend each school.  Some examples might be playing tennis, a high level of academics, a particular academic major, the tennis coach, or scholarship availability.  He should ask himself, “What happens if one of those things disappears?”  For instance, what if he gets injured and can no longer play tennis or what if the coach retires or goes to another school or what if he fails to earn the necessary grades to keep his scholarship – will he still be happy at that school?  If the answer is NO, then cross it off the list.

Once your child does start communicating with coaches via email, make sure he includes a link to his tennisrecruiting.net bio (which he should first make sure is up to date!), his high school graduation year, and his upcoming tournament schedule.  Your child should not be afraid to ask coaches if they’re even interested in him as a potential team member – no need to waste anyone’s time here!  Also, he should ask how many scholarships (if it’s a D1 or D2 program) and roster spots are available and if there’s an opportunity for an official visit during his senior year.

Also (please forgive me, High-Tech Tennis, but I’m just sharing what the panelists told us!), before you spend money having a fancy recruiting video made for your child, make sure your child asks the coaches if they would even like a video and what they want included on it.  In most cases, a 10-minute home-made video, uploaded to YouTube, of some match play will suffice.  The coaches are busy.  They don’t have time to sift through the fluff.  So, keep to the basics – forehands, backhands, serves, volleys, overheads, and footwork.  And, by all means, make sure you only show your child’s best behavior on the video!  [One panelist confessed that several of the coaches have compiled a Top 10 Worst Recruiting Videos list on YouTube!]

During his senior year of high school, your child will probably begin taking official (i.e. paid for by the university) visits to one or more colleges.  This is the time to ask the more pointed questions such as whether or not he can walk on the team if no scholarships are available and whether walk-ons ever get to play in the lineup.  He can also ask about the coach’s influence with the admissions department in case his academics are borderline.  In many cases, the tennis coach does have some pull and will be willing to use it if your child is a desirable candidate for the team.  And, your child should absolutely let the coach know if he doesn’t NEED scholarship money from the Athletics Department – either because he has other scholarship money coming from academic or other resources OR because you have stockpiled money to pay for his college education yourself – it’s a definite plus to coaches to know that they can use their limited funds elsewhere.

I know this is a bit long-winded, but USTA really did share a ton of great info with us!  If you have a chance to attend one of these sessions, I highly encourage you to do so.  Even though my son sort-of fought me about going (it required waking up pretty early on a Sunday morning to make the drive to Athens), I think he got a lot out of it and now has a clearer picture of the work he needs to do.  Besides which, a perk of the program was that we got to watch an incredible day of tennis at the NCAA Championships afterward!

Breaking the Streak

My son went into this past weekend’s tournament on a 7-match losing streak.  He had been “rounded” in singles in the past two tourneys plus had lost his final high school match of the season in the semis of the state playoffs, and his confidence was lower than I had seen it in a long time.

This tournament was a state level 3 tournament, located about a half hour from our house, meaning that it really wasn’t going to draw the top top players, but it was a good opportunity for my kid to play up in the 18s, build some confidence, and get more of a jump-start on his 18s ranking.  The draw was only 16 players, so, at most, he was going to play 4 matches (or 5 if he moved into the back draw) over the two days.

When the draws were posted on Friday, it turned out that my son was playing a boy he had played on 3 prior occasions – my son was 1 and 2 against him, his one win coming in their last meeting in the Fall.  Given my son’s lagging confidence – plus another mom’s helpful (NOT!) statement that this other boy had recently switched academies and was playing really well – I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling too good about my son’s chances.  I chose to sit well away from the match court – close enough to see clearly but not close enough to hear any negative mutterings that might come out of my kid’s mouth.  My son ended up playing a really strong match, beating the other boy 6-1, 6-1, putting a solid end to the losing streak.  Whew!

Next up was the top seed in the tourney, an 18-year-old who is heading to play tennis at LSU (a big D1 program) in the Fall.  My son was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to play this kid just to see how his game would stack up.  He didn’t necessarily have high hopes of winning the match though he did go into it feeling strong and ready to do battle.  Turns out my son held his own out there, forcing the other player into several errors at the net as well as on his serve.  My son lost the match 6-4, 6-2, but the other boy came off the court and proceeded to tell my husband and me how impressed he was with our son’s game – just what every tennis parent loves to hear!

And, even though he lost that second match, it turned out to be a real confidence booster for him.  He had pushed a college-bound guy – one who probably had at least 50 pounds and 4 inches on him – to play outside his comfort zone.  He had broken the guy’s massive serve twice.  He had kept the guy guessing and forced him to go for better shots than he would normally have done.

Really, that was the goal of the weekend . . . to overcome the bad juju, to play some quality tennis, and to prove to himself that he belonged out there with the Big Boys.  Mission accomplished.

Today’s the Big Day!

My son’s high school team is playing in the Georgia State Semifinals today.  If they win, they will take a short break then play the Finals.  It’s a Big Day for these boys, one they’ve been working toward since mid-January . . . but really since the time they each picked up a racquet and hit that first fuzzy yellow ball.

As I’ve talked about in previous posts (see “We” Won), the idea of TEAM is kind of a strange one in a sport that truly focuses on individual effort, individual training, individual competition.   But, I feel very strongly that the lessons my son is learning through team participation will help him become not only a better tennis player but also a better human being.  As Janis Meredith so beautifully put it in her JBMThinks blog, there are 5 characteristics of a strong team player:

1.  Recognizing and accepting differences

2.  Knowing how to play to his strengths

3.  Fighting for a common cause

4.  Laughing with his teammates

5.  Having his teammates’ backs

These are the characteristics that I love seeing in my son.  These are the characteristics that I hope he continues to develop and take into adulthood.  These are the characteristics that I hope he passes along to his own children some day.

Good luck, Raiders, and good luck to all the other team players out there!

“We” Won

I am very proud of my son.

In the Region 5AAAAA Final yesterday, my son’s team arrived at the courts ready to warm up with each other before playing their opponents.  The weather, however, had a different plan in mind, so the official asked both teams to go ahead and start their matches with a 5-minute warm-up in hopes of finishing before the thunderstorms arrived.

Our #1 singles player, Danny, had been sidelined most of the season with a neck and shoulder issue.  He had played the last couple of matches, but yesterday he had a follow-up appointment with his doctor and wasn’t yet at the courts.  So, the coach moved everyone up a spot in the lineup, putting my son in at #3 singles.

The boys went on court, began their warmup, then, before anyone played their first point, lightening struck.  Literally.

The rule in our county is that play must be suspended for 30 minutes following a lightening strike within 3 miles of the facility, so we all spent the next hour (yes, there was another strike just as they were heading back out to play!) huddled together inside one of the school buildings as we all checked the weather radar on our various smartphones, trying to predict whether the kids would actually get to play.

During the lightening delay, Danny arrived, reporting that he had been cleared by his doctor to play.  Since the matches hadn’t officially begun, our coach had the option of putting Danny back in the lineup . . . which he did.  That meant my son was going to be part of the cheering section instead of getting to play.  Disappointing, to be sure.

However, when the coach announced that Danny would be playing (and my son would not), my son just smiled and wished his teammates good luck.  He stood nearby and cheered for each and every match.  He encouraged the guys when they needed it and kept his game face on throughout the afternoon.  And, at the end of the day, when the final match was won and the championship trophy was in hand, he stood with his team, proud to share the victory (that’s him – with Danny’s hand around his shoulder – holding the trophy in the team picture above)!

My son, upon hearing he wouldn’t be playing in the championship match, could’ve argued with his coach.  He could’ve griped and sulked.  He could’ve stood alone.

But he didn’t.  He realized that it was in the best interest of the team to have their best player in the lineup at #1, even if it meant he didn’t get to play.  It was all about the “we” – there was no “I” out there.

I am very proud of my son.