Young American tennis players grow up with college sports running concurrently with professional sports at the forefront of the US athletic landscape. College football and basketball are hugely successful and compete with the NFL and NBA for top viewership ratings. Because of this large audience and the undeniable popularity of these two sports, football and basketball teams usually have high level management and coaching in their programming at the youth, high school and college levels. Tennis mentorship at these levels is often a different story.
Tennis players grow up expecting high school and college tennis programs to be similar to what they know about their favorite football and basketball programs. These popular team sport programs are run professionally as paying audiences and money generated from television contracts allows them to afford well-paid coaches and staffs as well as management teams that facilitate the production of their games. In most cases, however, tennis operates on a paltry budget, which typically only covers compensation for a head coach and often a volunteer assistant. This unfortunate reality is played out not only at the high school level but also at the collegiate level. A part-time coach on a flimsy budget has to put together a program for his university that in theory should look like his school’s football and basketball programs. The goal to have equitable resources for all sports including tennis is simply not possible. These coaches, restricted by the limits of time and the bottom line usually are forced to work other part-time jobs in the sport; given the circumstances, they nevertheless often do a commendable job keeping the programs afloat.
So, the message here is to do your homework! As the college search begins, is it crucial that you research tennis programs so that you know that you will be attending a good one. Most college recruiters cannot do this homework for you. And don’t be fooled by the belief that a Division 1 program is necessarily a strong program. The bottom D-1 programs are inferior to the top D-2 and D-3 schools. They are run less professionally with lower-level coaching and management than these smaller schools. To be sure, many players are enamored with “the D-1 dream”, and as a result, they often ignore some obvious signs of neglect and dysfunction just so they can say they played D-1 tennis.
Junior players looking to play at the collegiate level need to donate hours of diligent research into their college choices. The coach and culture are of utmost importance as are the majors offered, the costs, the location, the size of the college/university and the level of play/conference. Put the hours in on learning about the coach and the team. Message players on the current roster and befriend them. Find out if they are happy and listen to what they recommend as a possible pathway. They are often more than willing to share their feelings on their current programs, especially if they are unhappy. So, prospective college players, it is up to you to look beyond the school colors, the mascots, and the name on the front of the hoody you plan on purchasing. Dive deep into the process of educating yourselves; it is called due diligence. Hundreds of dysfunctional programs in college tennis exist, so try your best to choose a university where your academics and your tennis can thrive.
Bridge the Gap Tennis