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 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 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!

9 thoughts on “Student of the Sport

  1. Lisa, I prefer to offer two stages in such a recruit (scouting) video. (I prefer to call them scouting videos – the word recruit has somewhat of a negative connotation to my way of thinking.) The first video should consist primarily of point play from the end of court view with instant replay from the side angle of interesting points – this video should be no more than 5 minute’s duration, minus all dead time between points. The video should start with an on-camera introduction. Then, a second 3 – 5 minute video which a coach who perhaps is still interested in the player after watching the first one is then invited to view. The second one consists of side view video shot with a high speed camera – again of realistic point play – no coach fed drills! Anybody can be made to look good with feeds which are in their slot. The videos must strike a balance between showing a realistic depiction of the player’s game and character and a coach’s needs to accurately assess a player. I have produced numerous of these type of videos over the past several years and have interviewed a number of coaches about their preferences and reactions to these videos. Google YouTube recruit videos and 99% are appallingly poorly produced and only do the kid and the coach more harm than good!

  2. We’re with Karl on this one. We also have talked to many coaches and that has helped us develop our very popular recruit video which consists of no fluff and is uploaded for viewing by busy coaches. The Top 10 videos that the coaches are referring to were most likely created by recruits or parents trying to save a buck on something as important as a college scholarship! In the words of one of our customers, after all the time and money you put into tennis, you owe it to your child to get them a quality video so they can make the best possible impression on potential coaches. Remember – our goal is to help tennis players use video to their advantage!

    1. the following email addressed to the folks at High-Tech Tennis is from “I just reviewed and accepted a college video that you made, and it was really good. I am so glad that you are doing this for the players. I know that it takes a lot of work, but the quality certainly shows through!”

      please let me clarify that the information in the above post regarding using video as a recruiting tool came from the panelists themselves – i was only reporting what i heard in the session. there are, of course, many quality companies out there that know their stuff in terms of what college coaches want to see on a recruiting video. as with most things, it is on us parents to do our due diligence!

  3. I sure love to rec’d update on rule regulation
    and process of NCAA and recruiting College
    information for tennis

    1. kimberly, check out my article about navigating the USTA’s website – there is a link to USTA’s collegiate competition page that has some very good information on recruiting and NCAA rules.

  4. Lisa, I just read about your site/blog on TR. I live in Johns Creek and my son went through the juniors, and just finished his first year playing tennis at Western Kentucky (WKU). One thought I have for you for a future article might be titled College Tennis – Get Real…or maybe something a bit less dramatic! As I sat in the bleachers over the last few years of my sons junior tournaments, or HS matches at Northview it boggled my mind as to how many parents had their kids “playing in the SEC”. I would often ask a few questions as to how they thought their child might fit in at those schools and usually it was a blank stare. It struck me that these parents really had no idea on the level of tennis played at those type, Top 50 schools, and unfortunately they had their kids believing that they could play there. I saw your post on TR. I really felt it was a very useful tool for us in evaluating where our son might fit in on the college landscape. By looking at what type of players schools have signed in the past. That along with the teams web site where we could see how players succeeded once they got there. This helped lead us to create what we thought was a realistic list of 25 schools around the South. Our son was #400 on TR…Top 20 in GA, and Top 75 in the Southerns. After 25 emails to coaches, with a video link from HT Tennis…only 5 replies. He did his visits to Wofford, Presbyterian, and WKU…and some unofficial to D2 & D3 schools. It worked out great in the end as he is happy at WKU. My point is that if people would do some research, use the tools at their disposal, they will find the search much more rewarding vs disappointing. I know many of those kids that “where looking at SEC schools” never played in college, and they certainly could of if they had created realistic expectations. Best of luck with the site…have fun with it!

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