COLLEGE NIGHT <2016>

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COLLEGE NIGHT @ SOUTHERN CLOSED
MOBILE, AL ON 6/13/16

Once again, HIGH-TECH TENNIS was honored to be included & we spoke for a brief period re: College Recruit Videos. Next, we distributed an article we wrote for our friends @ Tennis Recruiting Network: “Three Things We Wish You Knew About College Recruit Videos.”

And then the fun began!

In our opinion, this distinguished panel + excellent questions from the players/parents in attendance made this the best College Night we have EVER experienced. If you could NOT attend, have no fear. We recorded the audio & we’re sharing that information here.

{Any errors in transcribed minutes are unintentional.}

COLLEGE COACHES

  • DAVE FISH, Head Men’s Tennis Coach, Harvard University (Ivy League-Division I)
  • KIM GIDLEY, Head Women’s Tennis Coach, U.S. Air Force Academy (Division I)
  • KEITH PURYEAR, Head Women’s Tennis Coach, U.S. Naval Academy (Division I)
  • JOHN MORELAND, Associate Head Men’s Tennis Coach, U.S. Naval Academy (Division I)
  • JORDAN SMITH, Assistant Men’s Tennis Coach, Kansas State (Division I)
  • DEREK SCHWANDT, Assistant Men’s Tennis Coach, Georgia Institute of Technology (Division I)
  • WILL DAVIS, Assistant Men’s Tennis Coach, Washington & Lee University (Division III)

1. WHAT SHOULD RECRUITS DO? Start the process as early as possible. Take your SATs / ACTs as soon as you’re a junior & don’t wait until your senior year..THAT IS TOO LATE. The timetable has moved up on college admissions, for better or for worse. Applicants should have everything completed by the end of their junior year & getting stuff done early can never be wrong. On the other hand, there is no rush. Don’t feel pressured to commit during your junior year & if possible, take your time, do the research, find the best fit for you as a person & a player so you can make the best decision. Make every effort to get to know the coaches through unofficial visits. Finally, Division III schools don’t have as many rules about recruiting timelines but academics are HUGELY important because that’s what you’re going to college for in the first place!!

2. HOW DO COACHES FEEL ABOUT INTERNATIONAL vs. AMERICAN PLAYERS: The loaded question did not apply to Naval Academy or Air Force Academy so those coaches took a pass :) but great coaches look for a mix of international/American players to get the right level so they can compete with other great schools. This topic is much more nuanced than 95% of the articles that are written about it & if players only compete against other Americans, it would be insufficient. American pros need to be able to beat international players & college coaches are hired based on their ability to produce a winning program. It would be nice to have a less polarized discussion about this but it’s very hard for a coach who can’t get Americans – or certainly not the top 10 – to visit certain campuses & they produce tremendous programs by bringing players in who want to come to the USA & play. Keep in mind that playing college tennis after junior tennis is like falling out of the frying pan into a jacuzzi: IT’S JUST GREAT & IT’S SO MUCH FUN!

3. HOW WILL THE UNIVERSAL TENNIS RATING IMPACT THE RECRUITING PROCESS: UTR is a new initiative that will shape & change American tennis for the better. This global rating rates 240,000 players worldwide, including ATP, WTA, USTA juniors, ITA college, Tennis Europe…and gives a uniform metric against which players can compare their progress. So instead of just collecting loyalty points with ITF or USTA, the new normal is to play multiple pathways, whether high school, ITA summer circuit, ITF, USTA, College Matches, Futures… College coaches love UTR because it enables them to compare ability levels & it is a great tool for players and parents to compare progress. Membership in UTR.com will always be FREE & players/parents are encouraged to spend some time to learn & understand UTR. Tennis has the 2nd highest transfer rate of all sports in NCAA because people don’t really know whether they can play or not but UTR is a great tool that you can use to judge whether you can play for a certain school.

If you are a female who wants to play college tennis, YOU CAN PLAY COLLEGE TENNIS & there are soo many scholarships that go unused. Take advantage of UTR & don’t go to a program where you will not be able to play. The difference with international players is that they are grateful to play anywhere but this is not always true for American players. However, keep in mind that UTR is a new system & has the potential to be excellent but recruits should not limit themselves & it should be taken with a grain of salt.

4. WHAT ARE THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS THAT COACHES ARE LOOKING FOR? Unsurprisingly, our Division III coach answered this way: Academics are #1, Character is #2 & Tennis is #3. But what exactly is meant by character? Coaches are watching how players handle situations with diversity. If they’re losing, what kind of attitude do they have? Coaches look for players who are hungry to get better & if players are looking at GA Tech, they better be at least interested in school :)

Another coach stressed that Student comes before Student-Athlete so one coach looks for discipline. Juggling schoolwork, tutoring, exams, practice, travel – this is really hard so it takes a lot of discipline. Yet another coach shared that he brings every recruit in to meet with the team & try to determine how well will that player might fit in. This is a big adjustment for a lot of junior players who have always played an individual sport & now all of a sudden they need to deal with the team dynamic.

Coaches from the service academies stressed that character is absolutely critical. The people that choose to come to the academy will be representing the United States of America as Navy & Marine Corps officers. They must have good character & coaches are watching everything – how you treat your opponent, how you handle line calls, can you disagree without being disagreeable. They don’t look for the best tennis player – they look for the right tennis player & the right tennis player who will fit with their institution & with their coaching philosophy. Little things make a big difference – saying please, thank you, i love you. Coaches mark people off & add people to their lists based on the interactions they observe because character matters & your college tennis team is your family away from your family.

Finally, coaches look at your family – how you & your siblings disagree with your parents. It’s tough to be a parent but here’s some advice: DON’T CARRY THEIR BAGS! DON’T MIX THEIR GATORADE FOR THEM! They need to learn how to handle age-appropriate challenges & for the most part, parents are doing too much for them already. It makes the college coach’s job easier if parents free them up to do things for themselves before they get to college.

5. WHAT IS THE WALK-ON EXPERIENCE LIKE? Our service academy coach indicated that they have a big team – 16 players – but if you are not in or close to the starting lineup when you start out, you’ll probably never make it to the starting lineup. In 27 years of coaching, it only took ONE HAND to count the number of males or females who have walked on to a team & gotten a college scholarship. Our other service academy coach had a completely different philosophy. The US Air Force does not take walk-ons. Every player has to be recruited by the coach because she’s very interested in group cohesion due to the team environment. Again, she stressed: If you’re a female, GO WHERE YOU CAN PLAY. It is POSSIBLE but very difficult to walk on. To get the most out of your game & to improve the most, you gotta be in the lineup so be realistic!

6. HOW ARE COLLEGE PRACTICES SCHEDULED & HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM JUNIORS? It’s a whole lot easier! Instead of schlepping across the city in traffic, rush hour, going from one club to another trying to find a junior who will actually practice with you without his coach saying don’t practice with that person (!!!), you have 10-12 buddies who are committed to each other’s improvement because you have a common goal. College tennis is special! Another coach indicated their practice schedule is very structured so every second is precious & there is no wasted time. This is very different than junior tennis because college tennis has a 20-hour week. Clearly, Division III is different than Division I because classes always come first. When it comes to practice during off-season, players @ Division III schools are not allowed to hit with their coaches at all – zero hours per week & players @ Division I are allowed 8 hours per week.

7. WHAT CAN JUNIORS EXPECT THEIR BIGGEST IMPROVEMENT TO BE IN COLLEGE? According to TD Scott Novak, you have about 30 errors that are hidden: serve returns, double faults & easy approach shots. If the college coach is able to help you cut those 30 errors down to just 15, that’s good! Here’s how one of the service academy coaches responded: PASSION & ENERGY! Tennis is the best part of our day so when we compete against someone, we know that playing tennis is EASY & when you love what you do, you’ll be soo much better at it :) Your coaches teach you how to do a better job of making your opponent beat you instead of beating yourself. We try to help players understand that you don’t have to be good at everything so sharpen your strengths & minimize your weaknesses. The toughest job for a college coach is to put an older head on young shoulders & remember that your brains are still developing – particularly on the guy’s side(!!) 

8. IF WE’VE EMAILED THE COACH REPEATEDLY & THERE’S BEEN NO RESPONSE, WHEN SHOULD WE TAKE “THE HINT”? The service academy coach said that he responds to every single email or voice mail that he receives because that’s his job & his question to the parent who posed this question: What you’ve seen will probably continue through the process so do you really want your player to be a part of that? Another coach stressed that “WE” should never email the coach… RECRUITS should be the ones who email the coach. Another coach indicated that they’ll be coaching those players & they want to see how much initiative they take. If juniors are intimidated to talk to someone who’s been coaching tennis for 40 years, imagine how they’ll be when they walk in to ask their boss for a raise! Coaches are busy people, often hearing from hundreds of recruits each week & they should respond but they don’t always do so.

Another coach asked parents if 10-15 years from now, they wanted their kids to still be living under their roofs. If not, this is the first step in that process: Let them do the work, let them write to the coaches, let them make the phone calls & definitely let them run the show, while you guide them, support them & maybe even push them. Players, you need to realize that your parents are not going to school – YOU ARE! Empower yourself with as much knowledge as possible & be sure you have a list of questions to ask coaches so you can make the right decision. If it’s uncomfortable for you, you should be comfortable being uncomfortable.

9. HOW DOES HOME SCHOOL FIT INTO THE RECRUITING EQUATION? The Division III coach said straight away that his school does not like home school very much because it’s a big question mark. Academics are so important that even if you go to regular school, they look at the school itself & how well you’re doing there. It is very tough for admissions to gauge one home school compared to another school.

One of the service academy coaches indicated that home school students need to take the right courses & get the right grades. They ask themselves: Is the curriculum at your home school going to mesh with what we need? 65% of our academic program focuses on STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics in order to meet the current & future highly technical future needs of the Navy. So when we’re looking at a home school student, we’re wondering if you’re getting As & Bs? Basically, what are you taking & how well are you doing at what you’re taking?

Another service academy coach shared her experience with only 3 players who were home schooled over 18 years at the Air Force Academy: one who failed her first set of exams & left the academy. The reaction from the team? “What do you expect? She’d never taken a test without music & things like that.” Her second experience: the player was ineligible because the chemistry class she took during her freshman year was not accredited. Her third experience: they had to work with a lot of NCAA accreditation issues. Bottom line: If you’re home schooled, make sure all classes are accredited, don’t find out that your whole freshman year does not count & be careful.

The world of online school goes from terrible to exceptionally good & it would be silly to say that you can’t get a good education but how rigorous has your interaction been with other people? Are you just turning in papers? On the other hand, one student had gone to home school because he couldn’t get the quality education in the area where he lived & he finished two years in one year & got 4.0 in his freshman year so it’s not a one size fits all answer. But after talking with coaches who’ve recruited the premier athletes who have taken home school as a way to get out of rigor – the coaches say the athletes have to be put in remedial courses because they’re just not responsible. As parents, you only get to do this one time so just pay attention to this & look for quality.

10. IS IT NECESSARY TO KILL OURSELVES TO GET TO NATIONAL TOURNAMENTS IN CALIFORNIA? Answer: NO! Coaches are looking for diamonds in the rough who, for one reason or another, didn’t make it to nationals. You don’t need to break the bank to make sure they find the right school but you might have be a little more proactive in terms of getting her name out there. If your goal is to play college tennis for a school on the West Coast but you live in Georgia & you just don’t cross paths with each other, this is the perfect reason to contact HIGH-TECH TENNIS for help & be sure that your video includes live match play instead of spoon-fed balls.

11. HOW IMPORTANT IS CONDITIONING-PARTICULARLY FOR FEMALES? It is very important to prevent injuries & players need to be physically prepared to compete. Playing every weekend from January through April & hopefully until May is the way it works in college. Also, a 17yo college freshman might be playing a 22 or 23yo adult so be aware that you need to be prepared physically & mentally because it’s a much difference grind that what you’re used to in junior tennis. The biggest difference between a freshman & a senior in college is STRENGTH & collegiately, you need to be in 3-times as good a shape: first to play the match, second for recovery <you can play a 3 hr match & all you want to do is lay down & sleep but hey—you’ve got to study!!> & third to come back the next day & be prepared for practice…not a low-intensity practice.

If you’re a junior right now, be very careful about what you’re doing in the gym because if you don’t have the right person advising you, you can get injured in the weight room–particularly females. There’s even certain times of the month that are ideal for training because females are iron-deficient so please pay attention to this & look for someone who has tennis-specific knowledge. FYI: 30 years ago they found that top players needed 4 times their body weight in strength to stop, to decelerate, to turn around & to go back. Now players need 12 times their body weight so it’s not your ability to run fast, it’s your ability to stop fast – on a dime! Find good people to help you with tennis-specific exercises & if you don’t have a trainer, don’t go it alone because you can easily hurt yourself.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

You can be the best tennis player in the world but if you don’t have good character, WE DON’T WANT YOU ON OUR TEAM & when you come to practice, be prepared because there’s no hit & giggle! Don’t be a t-shirt player – a kid who chooses a school because they want the t-shirt that says the name of the school. If you’re going to be part of the program, invest yourself because you will be closer to your teammates & your coaches than anyone else in college.

As coaches, we’re just happy to be here to impart some knowledge that will, hopefully, help you find the school that’s right for you. This is a stressful time for families & a major decision for you. It’s the first decision you’re going to make that will impact your future. It’s not that you’ll make the right decision or the wrong decision but have enough information to make an informed decision. Finally, thanks to the parents because the sacrifices you all have made for your children to play tennis are extraordinary.

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