Why My Kid is Playing High School Tennis

Three years ago at this time, my son was in the midst of his high school tennis season. It was his freshman year, and he had made the Varsity squad. He was so excited to have the opportunity to train with his teammates, one of whom had already committed to play college tennis the following year, and compete against the Big Boys from schools all around the state. While there were a few snags along the way, it was a great season for him and for his team. They won the Regional competition and made it to the State Tournament, losing a tough match in the semi-finals.

Despite having such a positive experience, my son decided to forego high school tennis his sophomore and junior years. He felt like the practices and matches detracted too much from his other tennis training, and he wanted to focus exclusively on developing his game to be ready for “recruiting season.” I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t play for his school, but I totally understood the reasons behind that decision and supported him 100%.

When he started his senior year this past August, my son was still a bit iffy about playing for his school. The decision would come down to whether or not he had committed to a college program by the time tryouts rolled around. Thankfully, he DID commit back in November and is now part of his school team for his final year. And the team is really good this year, filled with several high-level tournament players who have decided the State Championship is theirs for the taking. They haven’t played any matches yet, though, because of the crazy weather we’ve had so far this year (the first two matches were canceled due to snow! In Atlanta!), but the team practices are going well, and the boys are pumped up for the season.

Interestingly, high school tennis still gets a bad rap in the Junior Tennis World. I’m part of a Facebook group for High School Tennis Coaches, and one Volunteer Assistant Coach/Parent (click here for a link to his blog) recently posted that he was asked why his daughter was “wasting her time” with high school tennis. His response really hit home for me, so I’m sharing it with all of you in hopes that it will help us all remember the value of playing for something bigger than ourselves . . .

I guess first, my daughter was asked to play on the team. So she felt honored.

She knew (or, thought) she could contribute to an otherwise-mediocre performing team (their past years did not produce good records), and would be proud if she did.

She loves the social aspect of it. As y’all know, tennis can be lonely. It’s not like skateboarding where all the kids in the neighborhood grab their boards and ride around. If you spend a lot of time on the court training and at tournaments, you don’t really meet a lot of kids you hang out with. The only time you (mostly) see them is when you’re on the court. We’ve made several really good friends as families, but distance keeps the kids from just knocking on each other’s doors – “hey, does Alexis want to come out and play?” …By being on the school team, she’s hanging with kids from the community, and of course seeing them at school all day, etc.

The social circle expands as other kids in the school who are non-players become friends and then fans who sometimes come to the school matches.

She loves the “field trip” of going to visit and play at another school. After one recent away game, the team stopped at Subway for a bite. For some reason, she came home saying it was “the best field trip” (hopefully not so much for the Subway lol as for the interaction during the trip).

There’s an ego thing if she does win, she feels good.

WE love that it gives her exposure to other environments that she normally wouldn’t get. She goes to a public school of middle class working folk. Their team plays mostly very expensive private schools. So she gets to experience people and communities in their own worlds, which can teach a lot.

I like that she gets to experience going into a “hostile” environment, when they play away at another school, which adds another level of pressure to the competitive landscape. Playing in a USTA tournament, it’s pretty much neutral ground. But when you’re a visiting team – think any professional sport, where you get home advantage – there’s added stress to work through.

I think exposure to the other coaches at the other schools is a good thing, but I have no idea if I’m correct there.

And I think playing team tennis could help if and when she is considering playing college tennis. But I don’t know if it’s at all a factor college coaches look at. But being part of a team, knowing that her Win is not just an individual win but can help the whole team win….that’s both another level of pressure and a worthy goal.

Having said all that, she IS missing out on some hours with her private coach, and playing less USTA tournaments. So there is a downside, but I think a few weeks here and there (she also takes time off to play on the rec soccer league) is outweighed by the benefits of being on the team.

I would love to hear from y’all about your child’s experiences playing high school tennis. Has it been positive? If so, why? If not, please share details! Overall, for those junior players who want to play college tennis, I think playing at least one year of high school tennis can be very beneficial, if for no other reason than to expose them to the concept of playing for something bigger than themselves. For those players who do not have college tennis aspirations, it makes perfect sense to me for them to engage in their sport at the high school level, if for no other reason than to showcase their talent among school peers.

Here’s to a great season for all our high school players – GO RAIDERS!

13 Comments on “Why My Kid is Playing High School Tennis”

  1. Playing team tennis definitely develops a stronger mental game when you are now playing for something bigger than yourself. My son exhibited much more leadership, maturity and collaboration with coaches during his high school time than any other time in his junior career.

  2. We moved from Texas to NE Tennessee in my sons freshman year. Silly as it sounds, we made the decision on where to live and send our children to school based on the high school tennis team. In Texas, USTA players are not encouraged to play on a HS team, as this distracts from their training for the “real tennis.” Knowing that my child would not have a core group of friends going into high school, being on the HS tennis team was essential to his social adjustment in a new school, new city.

    That being said, I can not encourage parents enough to have their children play HS tennis. It has been by far his best experience in playing tennis. He walked on as a freshman, played line 3, went to state for singles, and their team won State, first time since 2011. Aside from the fact that their team won State, he still would have had a fantastic season. He loved the team atmosphere, loved developing those bonds with other players, eating out after away matches, traveling as a team to tournaments in the state, playing at a variety of venues, walking away with a feeling of accomplishment after, district, regional and then state matches. As far as the actual tennis itself, the fact that the coaches are able to coach players in the heat of a match was such a benefit to his game and something he was not used to in USTA tennis. It really helped him grow as a player. HS tennis has definitely given him a small taste of what college tennis will be like.

    I would highly encourage players who are on the fence about HS tennis to give it a try for a season.

  3. Even if the level of play was often lower in high school than top USTA tournaments, my son has stronger memories from high school tennis. Being part of a team was great.

  4. Well we just got back home from a Florida High School Tennis event. I’m asked all the time why I let her play High School the level is ………. Understand she plays Super National events, and has been in the Top 50 National since playing competitive tennis.

    First we used to Play Team Tennis when she was just starting. For Girls the Social aspect to keep them interested at a young age is paramount. At least until they decide if they really want to play, for fun or strive for a higher status. Match play is also important. HS Tennis provides “Match Play” under real conditions (no practice) and Jrs. need this match play. Also it is coached so any plan can be discussed again and again. A simple word or two every few games is priceless and helps them learn the game of tennis. This is Important as they learn to plan matches and adjust on their own. My daughter takes about 5 games to realize what is going right/wrong. This has improved and hopefully get it down to 2-3 games some day……

    The “Field Trip” aspect on the bus to the court, quick bite to eat with a team and back home helps with that independence they need as players. “Got all your stuff, bags packed, HW tonight, cheer your teammate etc……”

    So for 8 weeks we miss, 1 sometimes 2 Tennis academy training days. We have Spring Team National, and Easter Bowl coming up! I don’t know about the other Parent Aces, but my daughter can learn from EVERY match play event. So we boil HS Tennis down to:

    – Serve to BH side, especially on the AD side …Get this down cold DBL Fault no big deal.
    – Shoot for no Rose’s…..Return of Serve Errors. Can you get 100% back, 90%, 80%.
    – Have Fun and Support Your Team

    She plays Position 2 or 3 so her matches are pretty competitive. Played a girl last year going to Ivy League, so we do get enough positives for the 10-12 days.

  5. High school tennis was a very positive experience for my son.His first semester as a freshmen, he really did not feel a part of the school; he had been homeschooled part of 8th grade. He left before lunch for tennis drills. He only went to one football game as he played tournaments on weekends. He begged to be homeschooled again. However he decided to make time to play tennis on the varsity team (our state allows half day players to compete). The team and players were identifiable at school as they wore their uniforms to class on match days. Their wins were on the announcements. Not only did my son make friends with the upperclassmen on the team, but being on the team gave him the confidence to make additional friends at school

    My son at 2S learned a lot about poise under pressure from the 1S player and team captain who was a 4 year varsity player. He also learned how to play older and bigger players as he had to play a lot of seniors playing 2S as a freshman. With a playoff roster that included five freshmen, the team won the state championship for 5A. Players on the team gave up the chance to play an important sectional 1A/national 4 tournament to play state finals, but it was worth it to see the excitement and joy of winning the state trophy for their school. An additional benefit was my son qualified to play at the inaugural New Balance tournament at Harvard that was only open to players who had played for their high school teams. That gave him a chance as a freshman to play a U18 tournament with players from over 30 states, and have a good time during his first visit to Boston

    Last year in 5A, there were a lot of blowout matches; there were only two competitive teams in our regions, but most of the playoff matches were closer with opponents winning 1 line. The closest match was the state semifinals; our team had won both doubles and lost 1S and 3S. It was up to my son to clinch the win at 2S so the team could continue on to the finals and he did. The other players came through in the finals; he was up a set but did not get to finish when the team won state. This year in 6A many matches will be close like that semifinal with teams tied 2-2 with two (or 4) brave players battling it out for the last line. That has got to be good practice for college tennis. We are fortunate in the Atlanta area that many talented juniors play for their varsity teams. Their weekday varsity opponents may be the same guys they will meet on the weekend at a sectional, regional, or even a national tournament. Now if only the weather would improve so they could get on court!

    We are also lucky that our team coach does not require team practice. Most kids go to academy. However, every player had to try out and all have to attend each game (unless they are away at a tournament that goes through Monday). Some high level players on other teams have it worked out with their coaches that they dont show up until the end of the season-only play a few matches before playoffs. However with everyone at all the games, the teams bond better.

  6. Our daughter played 3 years of high school tennis. She home schooled her junior year. She had a positive high school experience. The coaches scheduled the season according to her level of play. (She won state as a freshman) It was great preparation for college tennis. She desired a college team experience modeled on her high school team experience. A group dedicated to their sport, respectful of one another’s abilities and talents; bounded together by commitment, loyalty to one another & the program, A community of friends who helped and supported each other inside and outside of the training/competition environment. Personal growth and valuable life lessons from a positive HS team experience make for excellent preparation for college team tennis.

  7. My kid has played all four years of HS in a highly competitive district (this being her senior year, and she’s officially co-captaining). She definitely did less USTA tournaments than most of the kids discussed above, but I would say more that was because she also played travel soccer up through her sophomore year. She loves both sports, but for her high school team, she chose HS tennis over HS soccer in part because she could be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Indeed, she has been a starter and made playoffs all the years, in a district that featured a phenom of a state champion. Although she’s finally officially a captain, she was instantly well-liked on the team, played well and has been a leader all four years. It’s a big part of her social life and gave her that special niche at her large school. She’s also continued to play soccer (gave it up junior year and missed it, so we’re back) and USTA junior team tennis (made districts with her team which was all players in top 3 of their high school teams), plus the occasional USTA tournament on her own.

    I don’t think playing HS precludes one from a D1 scholarship though. See above phenom, who played all four years of HS and is now at an Ivy League school on a tennis scholarship. #2 in the district is a junior and she’s already got her D1 scholarship as well as keeping up a heavy schedule of advanced USTA tournaments year round.

    In my kid’s case, she is interested in lots of things and activities, and so a D3 school is a perfect fit for her interest and ability level. She did a college showcase this past fall and that got the college coaches calling, and we’ve narrowed it down to a few schools we’re still choosing from. I’m glad she will continue to play and I’m glad she had such a positive experience playing high school tennis.

    As an aside, one note we’ve gotten from some of those college coaches – they like high school players who are especially good at doubles and find that players who only play USTA tournaments might not have gotten as much doubles in.

  8. Kevin – I applaud your efforts. We had a similar experience with my virtual school daughter who wanted to play for a HS team. The school she wanted to play for was supportive, and even offered to give her a scholarship. However, the Florida HSAA (High School Athletic Association) put so many hurdles in place that it became impossible. Apparently, if you don’t follow the traditional brick-and-mortar education model, you aren’t welcome in interscholastic sports.

    Out of curiosity… who wrote the petition? It reads like a mature writer crafted it, so if your child generated the text without assistance, she has a future in writing. My suspicion is that she wrote the draft, and you edited the final version.

    Regardless, it is well done, and effectively communicates the emotion and desire you wish to impart.

  9. I’ve been working on team tennis for ages 6-13 as a feeder system for years now. I see it as a feeder system for the schools because their players lack experience. We make jerseys with our name and number on the back. Game Day is every Saturday for 7 weeks. We take field trips to watch College teams play (we make souvenir jerseys for this, too). We have high school players work as Referees/linesman/DJ. And no one is really thinking about playing tournaments. It’s a balancing act when you have varying levels, so we don’t emphasize being the best player but rather the best TEAM. Kids have a very hard time finding other kids to play tennis with as it is. But when players come back to play multiple seasons, I know I’ve done something right.

  10. My 15 year old sophomore absolutely LOVES playing for his HS. Last year, he was 3rd singles and the team had a great year. This year with 4 seniors graduating from the 7 person varsity squad from last year it’ll be rough year, but he is looking forward to it nonetheless.

    The season is about 2 months long, and to be honest, even if he wanted to play only USTA events, we’d have to travel a long distance because there are 0 tournaments available for 16s and 18s anywhere nearby. We live in Cincinnati, so Ohio, KY, MI, WV, there is nothing.

    Being first or second singles this year, he will see excellent competition in probably 20 of the 22 matches scheduled. I’m not worried at all about him missing quality competition.

  11. Worst High School coach ever, and I’m glad it’s over as we now so we can now refocus on USTA tournaments, and proper training again.

  12. My son opted to play HS tennis all four years. The different atmosphere and competition found in the high school arena just adds to ‘learning from every match’. Yes, he may miss a few USTA points along the way – but he can manage a team, solve a conflict between team mates and organize a match of 50 unruly 6th graders.

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