Dr. John Eatman, professor at UNC-Greensboro, was my first number
one tennis player. Through the years,Dr. Eatman has continued playing and promoting tennis. We talked at length about how one should select the right college to play for. John summarize some major points in this handout for prospective student-tennis athletes. The following comments were prepared with input from college coaches.They reflect a general view of the ideas of the coaches rather than the views of any particular coach. They are offered as aid to NCTA junior players and their parents in the difficult process of finding the right college for junior players to further their education and advance their tennis.
What does playing college tennis offer me?College tennis offers the participant a number of things besides just the
ability to continue to advance as a tennis player. College tennis is a team
sport. Junior competition is clearly focused on individual achievement
while college tennis has definite team goals. You will make a number of
contacts that are useful in later life and demonstrate you can contribute
to a team effort in a competitive environment. College tennis also can add
a lot to your social life and help you establish yourself as a member of the college community. Many of the people you meet as a member of a col- lege team will become lifelong friends.
What are the opportunities for playing college tennis?
Most colleges have men’s and women’s tennis teams and most of these
teams will have between 8 and 12 team members. Thus, while there are
many opportunities for playing college tennis, there are also many junior
players who want to play. Because the United States is the only nation with
well-established collegiate competition, U.S. college tennis is attractive
to foreign players. Consequently, there are many persons interested in
playing college tennis and the competition for a spot on college teams is
What should I take into consideration when selecting a school?
Selecting a college is one of the more difficult choices that a young
person has to make. There are many factors to consider. Ideally, a person
should have a career goal that can help with the decision. Realistically, most students do not have a definite career goal to which they are committed. Assuming that you are interested in selecting a school that offers you the academic and tennis opportunities that you desire, the following factors (listed in order of importance) should be considered.
Academic Environment of the School
Your primary purpose in attending college should be to get an education.
The odds of any player making a living as a tennis player are quite small.
Therefore, it is important to select a school that is compatible with your
academic goals and abilities. In order to do this, an honest self-assessment
is essential in making a good choice.
Social Environment of the School
This is difficult to consider and many times is given too much weight by
a young person. Using the social environment as the sole criteria often
leads to making an unsatisfactory choice in terms of other criteria. One
good way to assess this aspect of a school is to visit the institution while
it is in session and talk with some typical students. Visits in the summer
or holidays can convey a mistaken impression of the real environment.
Most colleges will arrange visits if you do not know anyone attending the
school. Do not be afraid to visit and find out about the school. This is also a
big help in assessing the academic environment.
Cost of Attending the School
The cost of attending college continues to increase and is a financial
burden for most families. The base cost of attending college should not
discourage you from considering the college because there are many
opportunities for financial aid. Basically, a college may offer scholarships
(aid not requiring work or pay back) for academic merit, athletic ability,
and financial need. Often a student will receive some combination of
these. It is important for you to explore all three avenues because they will
not be the same for all colleges. Athletic scholarships are quite limited. The
NCAA, for example, allows for eight scholarships for women’s tennis. Men’s
teams: four and a half. Many, probably most, colleges offer fewer than
the maximum. Thus, in any one year, a college may have limited athletic
scholarship monies available. This will generally translate into the
awarding of partial scholarships. Typically, scholarships are awarded on
an annual basis so they are not guaranteed. A lot of players attend college based on a “promise” of future scholarship aid. Because a situation can
change in a year, there is usually no real guarantee that a promise can or
will be fulfilled.
The Tennis Coach
The tennis coach will have a major impact on your college tennis. In
essence, you are “stuck” with the coach who is at the school you attend.
Thus, it becomes important to find out about the coach and his or her
mode of operation and ways of dealing with the team. This is difficult to
assess. Visiting the school and watching a match or practice session helps.
It is also useful to talk with the players on the team. In dealing with a
college coach before attending the school, a player should be open and
direct with the coach and expect the same from the coach. Coaches do not
like to be misled by prospective players any more than a player wants to
be misled by a prospective coach. A coach should be willing to give you
an honest appraisal of your chances of making the team and getting to
actually play. Some coaches are guilty of inaccurately representing
chances of playing and some players are guilty of misrepresenting their
abilities and interest in attending a particular school. The main guide here
is to ask a question if you have one and answer questions asked you
honestly. Related to this are the recruiting rules. The rules for collegiate
recruiting limit the opportunities for a player to visit a school and talk with
a coach. The NCAA has extensive regulations. For example, a coach has
to be careful in talking with a potential recruit at a tournament. A formal
campus visit is usually a key part of the recruiting process. Often it is better
for the player or the player’s parents to call a coach if they have questions
when the player is being recruited by a college than it is for the coach to
call the player. Remember that a coach’s recruiting priorities are subject
to change and that his/her interest in a player can increase or decrease
during the year as other recruits and current players make their plans
known. At any point in time, a coach probably has a priority assigned to
his potential recruits. While the coach may not always want to tell you
about how you are really rated, you should not be afraid to ask for a clean
statement of your status on the coach’s recruiting list.
The Players on the Team
Obviously, you will spend a considerable amount of time with players
on the team if you are a member of a college tennis team. It is also
obvious that the team members will change over time as current
players move on and new players arrive. Thus, it is helpful to meet the
players when you visit a college to assess your general compatibility. The
quality of the players on the team should be a guide as to whether you can
play on a team and at what position. If playing college tennis is important
to you, then you should honestly evaluate whether you have a realistic chance of making the starting lineup. A lot of players find that they cannot
play for a team after they arrive at a school.
The schedule that a team plays can tell you a lot about what is expected.
Some schedules involve a great deal of travel and this can impact your
academic pursuits. The schedule can also show you what the competitive
aspirations for the team are because most colleges try to develop a team
that will be competitive given their schedule. You should look at the team’s
recent schedule and their record to see how well they are meeting their
goals. It has been said that the typical college team should expect to finish with a record of 50 percent wins and 50 percent losses. A team that is consistently under this is probably overmatched and perhaps putting too few resources into its team, while the reverse might be true for a team with few losses.
The Tennis Facilities
The tennis facilities can be broadly defined as the courts and the training
facilities. Ideally, a college should have enough quality courts to provide
practice facilities for both men’s and women’s teams simultaneously. The
courts should be in good shape and many will have viewing areas. While
many schools do not have their own indoor courts, a number of schools
will have at least some access to indoor courts. This is obviously a more
important consideration in colder climates. In addition to courts, it is useful
to look at the dressing rooms that the teams use and what type of other
facilities (weight rooms, sports medicine facilities, etc.) they have. In some
cases, the facilities may be available only on a limited basis because of
their use by other teams and the general student population.
The Operational Budget
The operational budget for a college team is what the school allocates
for travel, equipment, and other such items. The operational budget for
colleges can vary widely. It is a mistake not to understand what the
college is going to provide for the team and what players are required
to provide for themselves. The coach should give you details of the
operational budget. For example, one team might provide a player with
two pairs of shoes. Another team will provide no shoes and a third team
might provide four pairs of shoes. The families of most junior players have
spent a substantial amount supporting the player in junior competition
and now that family is facing the financial burden of college. Given this,
it is best to not have any surprises by expecting an operational budget
that is different from what actually exists.
What are coaches looking for in junior players?
This is a difficult question because coaches do have different perspectives and their needs are not always the same. In general, a coach would like a
player who would be a good student, capable of competing in singles and
doubles, have good practice habits, have a good on-court attitude, and be
dependable and fit.
The academic expectations of the school and the coach will need to
match. A coach generally will not want to recruit a player who cannot (or
will not) be able to make the grade academically. Most coaches want to
recruit players who they know can graduate, stay eligible for competition,
and will not require constant supervision.
While junior rankings are important, most coaches are interested in how
a player will compete at the college level. Thus, a junior ranking is not a
guarantee that a coach will assume that you will be a good player on
the collegiate level. Some very good junior players have not competed
successfully at the collegiate level and other players have done better at
the collegiate level than in the juniors. In addition, junior rankings often do
not measure a player’s capability in doubles because many junior players
do not play doubles regularly. Doubles at the collegiate level is important
because doubles decides many collegiate matches. Being able to play
successful doubles (or not being very good at doubles) can be a real
deciding factor in a school’s level of interest in a player.
College tennis is a tough, competitive arena. Players need to work hard
each day and come to each match to play. The season can be a burden
when you are balancing academics and tennis. Consequently, a coach
will value highly players who will work hard in practice, stay focused in
matches, and manage academic burdens themselves. Increasingly,
coaches are concerned about players who do not have a lot of composure
in matches. No coach wants to deal with a prima donna and many think
the presence of such a player on a team is a detriment to the team.
Most junior players have a physical adjustment to make in moving to
college tennis. At the college level, most of your matches (in challenges
and against other teams) will be against a player who is perfectly capable
of defeating you. This makes physical conditioning important. A lot of
junior players are not as fit as college coaches require. Thus, getting in
excellent condition and staying there is a prerequisite for college tennis
success. A lot of players have lost an opportunity to make a college team
by not showing up for fall or spring practice in good shape. A coach is also
less likely to recruit a player whose fitness the coach has cause to question.
Other Suggestions for Potential College Players
Check the website for the school’s rosters.
These are common now and reflect the number of internationals, the number of seniors, people you may know, and their ability levels.
If possible, find out where people you know play in the lineup. Then
compare your ability to theirs.
My golfing pro buddy said: “There are two kinds of people at a golf
course, the workers and the players, and all the players are looking for a
job.” Tim Wilkison is the only person in the entire history of North Carolina
to earn a real living playing tennis. The odds are slim to nothing. Don’t
put playing ahead of a degree. That said, if you really want to play college
tennis don’t be talked out of it. It’s great for those who are suited to it.
Go where you can play.
It’s your responsibility to find the right fit. The “perfect fit” is school,
scholarship, coach, teammates, and starting position. Sometimes you may
have to give on one or two of these variables.
I heard a coach say “most kids gravitate to programs that are one level
too high. Then they don’t play.” There has never been a happy substitute.
My experience tells me if you can’t start your first year you probably
Go to a school where you will be happy if injured, etc., and can’t play.
Most good kids are happy at most good schools of their choice. But if you
make an initial mistake, nobody (kid, coach, parents) will be happy, and it
can get messy.
The United States Tennis Association produces a document on the same
subject. I’d like to emphasize a few points:
I’d like to reemphasize, if you really want to play, go where
you can play.
It’s been said that many athletes gravitate to one level beyond their ability.
There’s never been “happy substitute.”
In college tennis if you don’t get to play your first year, you probably
won’t get to play. This is not always true but do you want to gamble?
When tryouts were allowed, I’d have my number four player play a set
with the prospect. If the prospect played closely with number four, he had
a chance at our school. It was amazing to me how many times a prospect,
having just lost 6–1, would tell a parent, “I’m better than that guy.”
Transferring, if you make a mistake, is not always easy to do.