Junior Tennis News
The Official Tennis Newswire

Getting Your Head in the Game
By Ross Greenstein

Editor's Note: Ross Greenstein is President and CEO of Scholarship for Athletes, an independent organization that represents high school athletes and their families in the scholarship search and negotiation process. He is a graduate of the University of Florida where he played NCAA division one tennis and made the SEC all-academic team as well as a former Minnesota State Tennis Champion in High School. He can be contacted at ross@scholarshipforathletes.com.

In tennis, how well you think on the court is of equal, if not greater, importance than your physical capabilities. Young athletes will learn this lesson the hard way on the circuit. What they fail to realize, however, is that the same kind of smart decision making and mental stamina that wins matches will be crucial in navigating the recruiting process towards finding the right scholarship opportunity.

What does all of that mean? Landing the right scholarship at the right school with the right opportunity to excel and showcase your game is more of a mental feat of endurance than ever. And the rules are more complex than anyone might think.

Weighing the Competition
With fierce competition from international athletes and heightened skill levels domestically, the recruiting process is becoming increasingly competitive. There is a very good chance that a high-ranking athlete can spend their freshman year on the bench. If they picked the wrong school, that is.

Take the class of 2007, for instance. Our research shows that even the top players in the country need to understand the depth of the competitive pool at their prospective school, or they can end up on the bench. Five out of the top 50, and ten of the top 100 girls from the class of 2007 were benched for the majority of their first season. Although they were highly ranked, and accordingly highly recruited, they did not select a school where they would have the opportunity to play immediately.

Of the top 50 ranked boys in the 2007 class, only three were not active in the starting lineup, #20, #40, and #41. While the #9 player went on to play first singles at Hawaii , ten players in the top 50 were playing 6th singles. None of the boys ranked #10-#50 were playing first singles for their team.

Student athletes need to conduct detailed research when considering schools. How good is the athlete compared to the players in their recruiting class? How good is the athlete compared to the players on the collegiate teams that they are pursuing? Without having the discipline to do find these answers, there is a good chance that an athlete can make the wrong decision and end up on the bench. And as they sit there, the players who are competing will continue to improve, making the gap between bench and starting lineup grow larger. Accordingly, it will be increasingly difficult for that athlete to have his or her shot in the lineup. In short, athletes should look at schools where they have strong chances of starting during their freshman year.

Broadening the Search
Just as critical as understanding the competitive field, is the notion of casting a wider net. Many student athletes create a list of the most well-known tennis programs without considering if that school would be a good fit for them academically or environmentally. In the process, they are neglecting schools that could be a great fit both on and off the court. There are more than 1,200 NCAA colleges at the D1, D2, and D3 level, and more than 500 Junior College and NAIA schools, all of which means more available scholarships for athletes who broaden their searches.

Student athletes who choose a school strictly on their athletic program will find that the tennis court is the ONLY place where that school is a good fit. On the same note, many student athletes will commit to a school because they “like the coach”, failing to recognize that coaching changes occur often in college sports. Choosing a college based strictly on the tennis team could be a fast track to a short and unsatisfying college experience.

Making a Game Plan
Tennis scholarships are like sports training. You have to have a plan with defined goals and stick to it. And it needs to start early. By senior year slots on college teams are already filled or filling. Athletes should start in their freshman year by short listing schools and sending a well-written letter of interest to each coach. The goal is to get on the radar of coaches and schools so that by their senior year, when a student is aggressively visiting schools, they’re already a known entity to many coaches. That all takes planning and commitment. It can be difficult, but non-biased expert help can be found: companies like Scholarship for Athletes help in letter preparation and in individually representing an athlete’s needs to coaches and their programs.

Importance of Location
By far, the most neglected element of school selection is location. More than other criteria, this can negatively affect a student’s collegiate experience. There’s a lot to consider. Where is the school located? Is it an easy commute from the athlete’s hometown? Is it important for the athlete’s family to come and watch their son or daughter compete? Is it easy to get to road matches or will that require extended driving or multiple flights? In terms of the competition schedule, where will an athlete be traveling and how often? Missed days due to competition travel will surely impact academic success.

When it’s time to consider a sports career at the collegiate level, all of these issues come into play. But with preparation, a network of informed sources, family support and the right mental attitude, an athlete can create a well informed, smart game plan that has an excellent chance of succeeding.