Should I Play College Tennis?

by Dominic Tinodi

Over and over again, we are faced with the same questions and concerns of good players who are not sure whether college tennis really is the right decision for them. Today's Friday Scholarship Guide is a collection of these typical questions, based on a phone call with a potential future recruit.

A Typical Skype Call With a Potential Recruit

Last week, I had a Skype call with a young athlete. Another talk centered around the same questions and concerns that so many players have asked before.
Reason enough to be sharing some of the questions raised as part of our Smarthlete Blog today:

Let me give you some context to start with. I was speaking to a male junior player who has had some success on the ATP doubles tour, finding himself ranked within the ATP Top 1,000. The player is from an Asian country and has some time left before graduating from high school.
The option of playing college tennis in the US is not the most obvious career path to consider in the daily environment of the player.
Here's a selection of the main questions he asked me, which could have equally much been asked by any other junior player in Europe, South America, Australia, or Africa. Given players and families in the US and Canada know a lot more about college tennis for obvious reasons, some of the questions might not be the most typical ones for kids from North America, but some might just be of equal relevance:

"I'm not even sure yet if I want to study!"

Well, let's put it out there right away. That's a deal breaker.
Nobody should be forced to study and we don't recommend anyone to start their studies if they are not intrinsically motivated to earn a degree over time. Studying at college is a lot of work, requiring the drive and discipline to balance academics and athletics. A player who might not take school work seriously and thus shows a higher likelihood of failing classes, is quite a liability to coaches, putting the entire team at risk.

"I am considering to go pro."

After I hear that players are not sure whether they would want to study, that's a typical response to my question, "What's the alternative?" That's where I'm thinking: "To what extent have you thought this through?"
Having a 3-digit ranking on the ATP doubles tour as a junior player is great, even more so if you've been able to show that you can win a professional title, but it is by no means an indicator that you are going to be able to break through in the years to come. But then, what does it mean to break through on the tour? Economically speaking, I'd argue that most people would like to make some money and that doesn't really take off before you start hitting the Top 300 ... Are junior players fully aware of this fact? I'm not sure. Let alone how much money it costs to get to that point with all the costs for traveling, coaching staff, and material.
Here's our take on the prize money situation on the ITF Pro Tour: "Effect on College Tennis Due to Increased Prize Money on the ITF Pro Circuit".

"I could probably work as a tennis coach."

Yes, that is a great perspective - been there, done that. :) But with your level of play you will also find a job as a tennis coach 2, 3, 4 years from now if you still want that then.
Keep in mind that you would be investing valuable time in your knowledge of tennis, would you choose college tennis; playing yourself, developing tactically, playing on a different surface, maybe even engage with people in the local tennis communities. All of that making you a better tennis coach at the same time. (And who knows, maybe even an assistant coach for a college team after your 4 years as student athlete?)

"But studying in English - I'm not sure I can pull that off?"

Have we or have we not been communicating for the last 10 minutes without any problems? Sure, I haven't seen you compose an academic essay about English literature or Economics yet, but based on what I've seen I'm pretty confident you could succeed just like so many other non-natives before you have done.
I do have to inform you right here that there are at least 2 English tests that you need to take. Both will test your level of English, but in a slightly different way:

  1. In order to compete in NCAA D-I, NCAA D-II or NAIA schools, you will need to deliver an acceptable test result on the SAT or ACT.
  2. Colleges will require you take the TOEFL as well, which includes a speaking section. Most foreigners are more comfortable with the TOEFL and consider it easier.

The bottom line is, if you achieve a SAT, ACT and TOEFL score which meet the requirements of NCAA, NAIA, and the admissions offices of universities, let it be them deciding for you that you can "pull it off in English".

"How is the level of tennis, actually?"

I love that question. How should you know if you have never been in touch with college tennis more than from hearsay?
Well, it depends: Do you know how many former college players usually compete on the Grand Slam level? No? Have a guess!
It's a fair assumption that most will come up with John Isner and the Bryans maybe; Europeans might be able to add Benjamin Becker if they're real followers of the sport. Shall we have a look at the Australian Open 2016 draws?

46 players in total including singles and doubles qualifying events and main draws have a past in college tennis! You can read all about them in our last article here. I'm sure you'll be surprised about some of the names you find there ... Remarkable participation in doubles, isn't it? Didn't you say you were pretty strong in doubles yourself? When you take a look at the schools and programs these players competed for, you get a pretty good idea of how strong the level of tennis is in the best divisions and conferences. But you could also join much weaker teams, which are not a stepping stone for professional tennis, really.

"How much does it cost to study in the US?"

Again, it depends on a number of things:

  • How much is the school in total?
  • Would you be one of the stronger/weaker players on the team?

It also depends on if you're a girl or a boy. A full-ride scholarship (100% of all costs covered) is rare in men's, but common in women's tennis. If coaches want to get you on their team, they will try everything within their power to make you sign with them, putting together a competitive and attractive offer!
But one thing's for sure: it will cost you a minimum of your flight ticket(s) from your home town to the college you enrolled in. And most likely, you'll want to have some pocket money to enjoy your evenings, weekends, and holidays with new-found friends and team mates throughout the year. However, these are costs you would also have living at home.

How much of tuition and housing you need to pay for depends on the scholarship offer you receive. All the expenses related to your activities as part of the tennis team are covered by the athletic department: flights to tournaments and dual matches, training, material, equipment. Any expenses you would be left with certainly pale in comparison with the price tag you would face of going professional - and don't forget you receive an excellent education at the same time!

"Do I need to stay for 4 years?"

No, you don't have to, but most people do for obvious reasons.

  1. They love it :)
  2. They want to complete their undergraduate degree

Coaches typically recruit you because they want to develop you as a player and keep you on the roster for as long as they can (4 years). But you are free to leave just like the coach is free to not extend the scholarship agreement after an academic year. People drop out for various reasons and so do athletes who want to go pro earlier than after having played college tennis for 4 years - Noah Rubin (the guy playing Roger Federer at the Australian Open) did so for example!

Get Recruited for College Tennis

Do you find yourself in some of the concerns and questions above? Excellent - hopefully, I was able to give you a slightly different angle on college tennis and sparked some ideas on your future decisions.
Here's how you can find out if you are strong enough to play college tennis: "3 Tips How to Find Out if You Could Play College Tennis" And why not get started with a free recruiting profile here on Smarthlete right away? Sign up, add your recruiting video, pictures, tournament results, as well as academic/personal information, and get in touch with coaches right away!

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