Advice on Picking a College

Andy Brandi college

The following was written by Coach Andy Brandi and originally posted on the USTA’s Player Development website here and here. Coach Brandi served as a partner of the Harold Solomon Tennis Institute since 2007 before joining the USTA staff in August 2010. From 2001-06, Brandi was Director of Tennis for IMG at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, and from 1984-2001, he was the head coach of the University of Florida women’s team. During his career, Brandi has worked with top professionals, including Elena Dementieva, Shahar Peer, Maria Kirilenko, Lisa Raymond, Ryan Sweeting and Jesse Levine. While at the University of Florida, he led the Gators to three NCAA Division I Team titles and coached four NCAA women’s singles champions and four NCAA doubles champions. Brandi is writing a blog for PlayerDevelopment.USTA.com for the next several weeks. In his latest entry, he offers insight and advice to young players as they decide what college to attend.

PART 1

As a former collegiate coach, I would like to give you some insight into making the decision as to which university you will attend. I was at the University of Florida as the women’s coach for 17 years. My pathway there came after traveling as a coach on the pro tour for many years. The thoughts and facts I am passing on to you are what I have learned over those 17 years.

Although most junior players dream of becoming professionals, 99 percent of them will go to college. Even the one percent should have a school in place in case they fall short of the benchmarks that are required to make the decision to turn pro. Such was the case for Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul, who had chosen schools but decided to turn pro after they won Grand Slam junior titles. Shaun Stafford, who came to Florida, won the US Open juniors while in school and stayed for the year. She also won the NCAA singles title as a freshman. She turned pro that summer and became a Top 30 WTA player.

Here are some general guidelines:

During your freshman year in high school, you should make a list of 15 schools that you feel interest you. They can be from dream schools to schools that you would consider as backups. You can receive brochures for camps and questionnaires. Start following the results and rankings of the schools that you have chosen.

Sophomore year, you should go down to 10-12 schools. At this point, you can receive brochures for camps and questionnaires from the schools you are interested in. You can call the coach at your own expense, but they cannot call you. You are able to visit the campus at your own expense as many times as you like. Continue to follow the schools’ results and rankings and compare to the year before.

Junior year, things begin to change. You need to go down to 5-7 schools. You can begin to receive recruiting material and information from the coach as of Sept. 1. You can call the coach at your own expense, and as of July 1, you can receive one call from the coach a week. Texts and emails are allowed from the school as of Sept. 1. You are able to visit the campus at your own expense as many times as you like, and as of July 1, after the completion of your junior year, off-campus contact with the coach is allowed. Continue to follow the schools’ results and rankings and compare to the previous two years.

Senior year, the list goes down to five schools. You can continue to receive materials and information from the school. Calls are still as they were your junior year. Texts and emails are the same, and off-campus contacts are capped at three. Contacts at tournaments are allowed before it starts or after the player completes the tournament. Unofficial visits are unlimited, and now you can take five official visits for D1 and unlimited to D2 and D3 schools. The on-campus visit is for 48 hours and begins when you arrive on campus.

PART 2

Some of the things you need to consider in making your decision are: the coach, the school, location in relation to your home, weather, facilities, the town the school is located in, academic support, the conference it is in, the overall athletic program, how good is the school in your intended major, the team, scholarships, tournament and dual-match schedules and transfer rules.

This is the first important decision that this young person is going to make as they begin their pathway into adulthood. They have to make the decision! They are going to spend 4-5 years of their life there. Parents should provide guidance but should not make the decision. Parents cannot be selfish! They have to go where they feel comfortable, like the school, like the coach and have a connection with the players on the team. You can make the commitment in either November or April and sign the letter of intent on either date.

So let’s begin with some questions about the details that need to be answered in the process:

Coach – What is his background in tennis as a coach and player? How long has he been at the school? What’s his record? NCAA appearances? Individual NCAA tournament appearances? What’s his coaching style? His staff? Tennis knowledge? Developmental skills? Work ethic? What are practices like? Do the players get private lessons? Do underclassmen get the same playing chances as others? Have they participated in the National Team Indoor? Does the team play pro events? How are the lineups determined?

School – What is the reputation of the school? What is its ranking in your area of studies? What kind of academic support do they give athletes? Do they accommodate athletes in advance registration? What are the admissions standards? Do they have online courses, in case you want to take a semester away and travel? How are the academic advisers? Campus security?

Location – Is it far from home? What are winters like? What’s the year-round weather? What is the town like where the university is located? How much local support towards athletics is there? Are there booster groups for tennis? Is it in a small town? Big town? College town? Is there an airport there or nearby?

Athletic program – What is the overall athletic program like? Success in other sports? Facilities in tennis and other sports? Support staff for tennis? How is the conference strength in tennis? Travel budget for tennis? Scholarships for tennis (men 4.5-women 8)? Athletics dorms? Cafeteria for athletes? How do they accommodate athletes who want to transfer? Do they release you? Do they allow 5 years to graduate? Will they guarantee a scholarship if I leave early? Do they cover summer school? Academic counselors and center? Mandatory study hall for freshman?

Team – How do you see yourself getting along with the team and fitting in? Do you see yourself in the lineup? Where? Do they allow you to play pro tournaments in the fall? How many players travel? How many players are on the team? What is the schedule of fall tournaments and dual matches? Away? Home? Equipment allowances? Stringing included? How do they determine the lineup? Are the players I like and connect with seniors? Do they have the same goals? Do they have the same commitment?

Recruiting visit – Tour of the campus? Dorm? Of the town? Who will be my host? Will I meet people in the athletic department? Athletic directors? Medical and training staff? Strength and conditioning? Will I watch a practice? Will I stay in the dorm or hotel? Will I spend time with the team more than the coaches? Will I attend any athletic events? Tennis match? Will I attend any classes? Meet with some faculty from my intended major? Will I eat at the athlete cafeteria? Will I meet with the academic adviser? Will the coach follow up with a home visit?

These are some of the issues that need to be clarified before making the decision. Leave no stone unturned. The decision has to be crystal clear. You have to be thorough. While I was the women’s coach at the University of Florida, I had a student during a recruiting trip ask me how many books there were in the library! I can tell you that I did find out! Why? Because it was important to her! She came to Florida!

Once you have sorted all this out, make your verbal commitment. Be sure you call the other coaches to let them know of your decision and to thank them for the opportunity to visit the school and for their consideration. You want to leave all options open in case you change your mind or the coach leaves before you sign the letter of intent. Do not burn any bridges. Be sure you are 100 percent sure of the decision.

Good luck!

Note from Lisa: Thank you to USTA PD for giving me permission to reprint Coach Brandi’s articles for y’all. I’m happy to see USTA supporting college tennis and supporting Tennis Parents with this series of articles. Please take a look at the Player Development site for more useful articles.

Regarding USTA PD

Earlier this week, I received the following letter from a coach based in California. He stated in his intro to me that he was sending the letter to several people in hopes that it would help all of us formulate our thoughts on where USTA Player Development should go from here. The letter has already appeared on ZooTennis as well.

4 September 2014

An open letter from a private tennis coach regarding USTA Player Development

Yesterday, it was announced that Patrick McEnroe will leave his position as General Manager of USTA Player Development. While there has been much discussion over the past years about what role USTA player development should have in the tennis world in the US, I thought it timely to share my thoughts with regard to this matter.

I only address the issue of player development from my own perspective as a junior coach for the last 25 years.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have some very talented juniors that I’ve been able to work with over the years.  I’ve dealt with every age group from ten year old boys to 18 year old girls. Some good sectional USTA players, to top Junior ITF players and everything in between.  Since I’ve always worked as a private coach, never in an academy setting, and usually with only one player at a time, I’ve always had to partner with other coaches, academies, and other organizations that could provide practice environments.

Perfection is an elusive goal and I’m not perfect, I’ve made my share of mistakes in my coaching as does every coach and every organization.  But the USTA PD has been an organization that has never welcomed me and my players no matter which door I’ve knocked on.  So at some point, I simply gave up. And I know a lot of coaches who have experienced exactly the same thing.  So I didn’t feel as though I was the only one.  It is interesting that, as a private coach from the US, with talented players, I have had better access to training with other countries PD federations than with our own.  Over the past year, the young man I coach and I have been invited to train with the Canadian, Danish, French, Spanish and Columbian Tennis Federations, some of which we were able to take advantage of, some invitations just couldn’t be coordinated with our schedule.  On the occassions when I asked the USTA for such access, we received emails saying,

“yes absolutely”,

then,

“well, we are very full around that time, but we will work something out”,

to

“we are court constrained, there will be some time, but limited”,

then when the time came

radio silence.

And this to a player who is a top 20 US Player based on ITF ranking, a Blue Chip (top 25) based on tennis recruiting ranking, but a player who has not played significantly in the USTA juniors over the past year, but has been as high as top 15 in USTA National Rankings.  What on earth happens to those up and coming kids who want to take the next step and do not have a high ranking?

What could I envision as a supportive PD environment? And it’s worth repeating that I’m only talking about developing the skills of relatively elite players—not what do we do to get more kids to play.  I’ll leave that to people who know more than I about getting parents to see the benefits of tennis over other sports options they may have available to them.

My PD wish list is relatively straightforward.

  • Support the coaches in the private sector, don’t compete with them.
  • Create an open environment for players at various levels to come practice with each other.
  • Provide more financial assistance for players at a certain level to travel to

tournaments around the world and play and practice with the best. This is now a global sport.

  • Provide support for ancilary services such as physical training, nutrition education, sports psychology, etc.
  • Provide a better junior tournament environment that encourages more players and encourages the best players to play. But be reasonable, unless they are from a section/region where there is appropriate competion, it’s not reasonable to expect a player that is pursuing ITF level competition to compete in a sectional tournament in order to obtain a ranking to play in National level events.
  • A coordination service run by the USTA that tracks where players are at any given time and tries to put players of similar levels in touch with each other so that they might practice together.
  • Provide help in a consulting fashion from specialized coaches.  A great example is some court time with Jose Higueres (one of the best clay court coaches) before the clay season.  (Todd Martin, Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, etc. all sought out that kind of help from him.)
  • Facilitate a mentoring environment among our junior players.

Just these basic services, were they available to all who meet some defined, established criteria would be very useful.  One might see private coaches seeking out these services and as a result one might see private coaches broadening their views and making use of these various tools provided by our PD federation.

While I do NOT hold Patrick McEnroe responsible for all the shortcomings of USTA PD and while I don’t believe his departure will remedy or change everything, it is a good time to throw the various views of what our federation could do into the mix.  Maybe we can come up with some new answers, or make use of some tried and true solutions, or maybe just examine things from the perspective of “the way it is now” and not try to apply old rules that worked in the past, but don’t really apply to our sport today.

I will throw this letter out to various people who might want to raise these types of possibilities as the dialogue develops as to who will take over player development for the USTA.  Perhaps some of these ideas may become discussion points.

Sincerely,

Thom Billadeau

TennisAdvisor, llc

Palm Springs, CA

Patrick McEnroe Leaves USTA PD

press conference

I was sitting in Arthur Ashe stadium yesterday afternoon when I saw the tweet from the NY Times: Patrick McEnroe Out As USTA Player Development Head. A little while later, I received an email from USTA’s communications department alerting all media on site of the press conference to explain in more detail exactly what was going on. Of course, I was there amid some very powerful media representatives, including the author of the original NY Times piece as well as folks from ESPN, Inside Tennis, and others.

Colette Lewis of ZooTennis.com has written a detailed account of what went on yesterday – click here to read it along with links to several other related resources. Rather than restate what Colette has already presented so well, instead I’ve included below the audio from the press conference. I’m sure I will be writing more about this latest USTA development once I’ve had time to process it fully (and get some sleep – it was a very late night at the Open last night!), so please check back over the next few days. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on who should succeed Patrick and why you feel that person is qualified for the job – please share your ideas in the Comments section below.

 

 

USTA Is Trying

Earlier this month, several higher-ups from USTA met in Atlanta along with many proven junior development coaches from around the US to discuss how USTA can do a better job of utilizing and supporting the talent of local coaches. The specific context of the meeting as stated in the post-meeting notes from USTA was “to create a culture of inclusiveness where personal coaches, USTA Sections, and USTA Player Development work together to be part of a national movement to create the next wave of world-class American players. This structure could include adjustments in the allocation of resources to be aligned with the top personal coaches, top junior developmental programs, and provide more training and developmental opportunities for the top players who are currently hitting benchmarks that are in line with the top 100 pathway. We want to work together with the private sector in an even more systematic, inclusive way and continue to look for ways to do it even better.”

The Stakeholder Groups as defined by USTA were as follows:

 Developmental Coaches
o Mark Bey
o Sly Black
o Sue Burke
o Lawrence Kleger
o Chuck Kriese
o Jack Sharpe
o Brad Stine
o Joe Gilbert
o Facilitator: Fred Allemann

 USTA Section Leadership
o John Callen
o Michael Cooke
o Angela Emery
o Bruce Hunt
o Facilitator: Elizabeth Diaz

 Section Organizers and RTC Coaches
o Steve Cobb
o Robert Gomez
o Dave Licker
o Vesa Ponkka
o Facilitator: Kent Kinnear

 USTA National Leadership (Board)
o Katrina Adams
o Dave Haggerty
o Chanda Rubin
o Brian Vahaly
o Facilitator: Tom Jacobs

 USTA National Leadership (Staff)
o Jose Higueras
o Paul Lubbers
o Patrick McEnroe
o Gordon Smith
o Bill Mountford
o Geoff Russell
o Scott Schultz
o Facilitator: Andrea Hirsch

The group worked to identify the challenges tennis faces in this country, ranging from competition from other youth sports to lack of a clear career path for tennis to the structure of USTA itself. They divided into sub-groups to discuss the various issues and to brainstorm some possible solutions to overcoming them.

The developmental coaches expressed their desire to work with the national coaches in order to provide the best training modalities to juniors, modalities that might not be available at the local level. These local coaches want the chance to network with other coaches around the country and to share best practices. They want access to resources such as tennis-specific strength and conditioning methods that may not be available locally. They want to see the sense of honor among coaches and players that seems to have disappeared in recent years.

Section leaders would like to set clearer outcomes and goals. They want better education, training, and communication (that’s a Big One for me!). And they, too, want to share best practices so everyone can do a better job.

Section organizers and Regional Training Center leaders shared in the desire for collaboration but also pointed out the need to do a better job PR-wise. They would like to have more support from USTA leadership to grow the game.

The Board and National Leadership feel there is currently an “us vs. them” mentality in the tennis community. I think that’s a very accurate assessment and am happy to hear they recognize it as a problem. They would like to see a more cohesive effort in building the USTA brand and building Team USA through increased collaboration, increased transparency, and increased fun in the game. Amen!

Those in attendance do recognize that they will be giving up some control by collaborating with developmental coaches, but they seem to feel it’s worth loosening the reins a bit in order to help grow the sport.

After reading through the meeting notes, I received an email from Wayne Bryan directed to USTA President Dave Haggerty expressing his thoughts and ideas on what was discussed in Atlanta. Those of you who follow tennis have likely read many of Coach Bryan’s “essays” on how to improve tennis in the US, so I won’t repeat all of what he said in this latest iteration. However, a couple of things jumped out at me, and I’d like to get your input on them.

First, Coach Bryan addressed the issue of the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff tournament, an event I’ve enjoyed attending each of the last few years. His point was, if Australia is giving the US a wildcard into the main draw, why shouldn’t it automatically go to the highest-ranked American player who missed the cut off for direct entry? Why should USTA spend presumably tens of thousands of dollars putting on this event when that money could go directly to the players to help fund their travel Down Under?

He also says that USTA should let coaches and parents and players do things their way. USTA should be in the business of vibrant programming and fair and accurate rankings, not coaching. Maybe USTA can take a closer look at junior golf (see my earlier article) and use that as a model?

The final idea that hit home for me was that local developmental coaches should receive financial rewards/stipends from USTA once they have proven their success with young players. Quoting Coach Bryan: “And hey, coach, we see you have 85 kids in your program and you have produced 15 national caliber players and 10 D1 college players and you have two players that are #1 in their age group.  Here’s $10,000: please add 5 deserving little 6 year-olds to your program and take them to the top.  We’ll check back in a few years and see how it’s going.”

What do you think of all this? I’d love your input in the Comments below. To me, this meeting shows that USTA recognizes it needs to make some fundamental changes in order to stay relevant. There is still a long way to go to get US tennis back on track, but we have to start somewhere, and admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?