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The Athletic Pathway – Tennis

It’s too early to start planning for my child’s future, let alone consider the U.S. College Tennis pathway.” This is one of the most common comments that I receive when sharing my experience in getting recruited to become college athlete – I had begun my recruitment process at the age of 17, whilst my peers in the U.S. were already exploring the path at a tender young age of 12-13 years of age, and had secured spots for themselves in the top tennis and academic universities in the U.S. by the time they turned 16 and 17 years old.

I definitely understand the trepidations expressed – after all, I was brought up in a “come-as-you-may” manner – grasping opportunities as they presented themselves. However, when it come to U.S. college sports recruitment, waiting for college coaches to reach out, was not the strategy to success. Had I not actively pursued a conversation with UC Berkeley (my eventual alma mater), I would have ended up with only scholarship offers from the mid-tier Division 1 universities, which were academically not as reputable as the universities in Singapore. Had I started my recruitment process earlier – at 15 instead of 17 years of age, I am certain that I would’ve received more offers, and at the very least, have managed to explore many more opportunities and evaluate them to determine my “best-fit”.

How does a 15 year old decide with 100% commitment that the U.S. college tennis path is the right path for him/her? It begins by taking steps to gain exposure to the pathway, and taking opportunities to learn more about the lifestyle of a college tennis player, and immersing oneself in a similar environment to understand if it is the right fit. This means participating in college tennis camps run by college coaches, and college tennis showcase tournaments – either in the U.S. or in within Asia. Parents and players needn’t be concerned that college coaches will make a binary decision as to whether they will recruit a player based on their first impression of a player’s capability on the court.

It is important to understand that U.S. college coaches resemble professional sports team managers more closely than they do technical instructors – as such, college coaches more keen to take the time (2-3 years) to build a relationship with players that they believe have the potential to eventually reach the level that their team requires. Given most college coaches distribute verbal offers to 17 year olds, it is imperative to take the steps towards getting recruited by the time a player turns 14. College coaches usually take note of the 13-14 year olds that catch their interest (in either tennis level, academic ability, and personality) – after the coach begins recall their name multiple times and have received regular updates from the player, he/she will insert said player into their recruiting pipeline. As a general rule of thumb, the farther you are from the benchmarks of your aspirational universities, the earlier you’ll have to begin the recruitment process in order to stand a fighting chance against the other players in the world vying for the same few spots. Whilst participating in college camps and tournament showcases, it imperative that the player competes in as many UTR rated tournaments as possible.

The UTR Rating system is the leading rating tool/software in the U.S., which college coaches use to determine conduct a pre-screening – and determine if the recruits they are evaluating are academically eligible for the university. Even if professional tennis is not in the cards, every competitive junior tennis player should keep their sights on U.S. college tennis, as it provides a supportive and competitive tennis tournament schedule, whilst ensuring that the player graduates with a reputable degree.

The last benefit of the tennis leverage provided by the tennis team in the admissions process, is getting a pre-read conducted. The pre-read process is one in which the college tennis coach (assuming he/she is interested in recruiting said player) submits the players transcripts and SAT/ACT scores and gives a report for why they want the player to the admissions department. The admissions department typically takes several days to decide if the recruit will be able to gain admission into the university – such type of inside access to the decision makers of the university, is only available for student-athletes – a for of access that will only make other families envious of the additional data points one receives to better inform the university application strategy.

Ultimately, college recruiting is a challenging game to play – there are no formulas, no strict rules or process guideline – yet it is also the most rewarding opportunity for families and players who are hustlers. It takes hustle to build a strong relationship with a college coach, and determination to become a student-athlete. Very few 13 year olds have the conviction to pursue one path. However, take a leap of faith – participate in some exposure camps and showcase tournaments to get a feel of the college tennis coaching style and environment – as the years wear on, the fruits of your labour will reveal itself, and with most players, your confidence and commitment to the college tennis pathway will continue to grow larger. After helping over 30 student-athletes into university via the college sports pathway, I’ve realised the key to gaining success in the recruitment process is starting early. University admission rates are getting more competitive as every application season comes to an end. More families will be in urgent search for an “edge”. If you are an athlete, that “edge” is something that can be harnessed to get ahead of the curve. Every year, the pool of parents telling me that they want to start evaluating the U.S. college tennis opportunity keeps increasing – everyone is getting smarter and willing to start their day earlier in order to reap the rewards of a near guaranteed university acceptance through sport. What are you waiting for?

When should junior tennis players begin exploring the U.S. College Tennis Pathway?

  • Around the age of 11 years old and above – for players who are very driven and serious about the pathway – they are knowledgeable about the topic, and their parents are very supportive or even pushing the chid
  • Around the age of 13-14 years old if the parents are realizing that college tennis can give their child an advantage in the application process, and for players who are starting to be more curious about colleges and their future
  • Around the age of 15-16 years old – if they are just starting to achieve their potential or show their potential
  • Around the age of 17-18 years old – if you are already within the academic and tennis benchmarks of the colleges
  • Overall – anyone can begin exploring the U.S. college tennis pathway at any time. The only thing preventing/limiting a player’s success in getting recruited to their dream college, is the amount of time they spend on their recruitment process (ideally 2-2.5 hours before getting admitted). In order to avoid any delays, parents should encourage their child to compete in more college camps to better understand if U.S. college tennis is the right “fit” for their child when they reach college age.

Every year as a junior tennis player develops, they should have a goal setting session at the start of their school year, and a review of their season at the end of their school year:

  • Grade 6 – start participating in college tennis camps to gain exposure to the college tennis training style and get a glimpse of what college tennis entails – start a pathway planning exercise (e.g. AddedSport’s Talent Identification Program) to start mapping out the various pathways to explore from junior tennis, and the requirements each year in order to be competitive in the recruitment process for the U.S. college tennis pathway
  • Grade 7 – start competing in more UTR tournaments and participating in college tennis camps
  • Grade 8 – embark on a summer of college discovery – make a trip to the U.S. to compete in several tournaments and visit universities
  • Grade 9 – embark on another summer of college discovery – make a trip to the U.S. to compete in showcase tournaments and visit universities – exposing themselves to the different regions in the U.S., and the types of universities
  • Grade 10 – begin the college tennis recruitment process – determine your priorities, which will help shape the college list. If the player is 100% committed to the college tennis pathway, engage the services of a recruitment company to facilitate your relationship building with college coaches – AddedSport’s Premium Package. If the player is not 100% committed to the pathway, they should still attempt it nonetheless, and join the AddedSport college-prep (Athlete Management) program to ease them into the college tennis recruitment process
  • Grade 11 – actively engaged in the college tennis recruitment process. If the player and his/her family begin having second thoughts on the college tennis pathway (due to unforseen circumstances – lack of inclination, poor performance etc.), the player has the option to reduce the load of tennis, and divert their focus towards academics and AddedSport can still support the player’s application due to its in-house team of essay specialists
  • Grade 12 – finalization of the player’s college options, negotiations, and eventual commitment to a college. Final preparations for the official application process
  • Grade 6 – how many college tennis camps can I participate in? How many tournaments can I play locally? What did I learn from the college coaches?
  • Grade 7 – which are the UTR events that I can play? I need to play in 2-3 tournaments overseas within the region to get some competitive experience. Need to play in all the available local tournaments. Based on the camps – do I still want to play competitive tennis and practice 3-4 times a week? Do I like the training style of the U.S. college coaches?
  • Grade 8 – attempt some ATF tournaments and local ITF tournaments. Play all the local tournaments, aim to get into the development squad of your national team. Attend a college tennis discovery tour with DreamBig Events (west coast) to learn more about the U.S. college tennis lifestyle and benchmarks. Which campuses did I like? What did the college coaches tell us? What can I do to improve my chances of getting recruited? What can I do to make it easier for a college coach to assess my level and evaluate my potential?
  • Grade 9 – aim to play in 5-6 UTR tournaments in the year. Attend a college tennis discovery tour with DreamBig Events (east coast) and compete in 1-2 tennis showcases and USTA tournaments to build a track record. Start asking – do I want to play college tennis?
  • Grade 10 – if 100% committed to the college tennis pathway, recruitment begins, However, if the commitment level isn’t quite there yet, the player should ask himself/herself – will tennis be able to help me get a pre-read / some offers before I even apply? Will it help get me some “safety” offers confirmed before taking a risk in applying to universities above my league? If tennis will help, it would be best for the player to ease into the recruitment process by engaging in AddedSport’s college pre (Athlete Management) package

If a junior tennis player doesn’t follow this path, or chooses to start this path at a delayed timeline, they would risk:

  • not being able to identify the “best-fit” college due to limited research – online and on the ground
  • identifying that they want to pursue U.S. college tennis a little late, thus losing the opportunity to be the leader of the pack when it comes to building relationships with the college coaches – the ideal time to begin networking with college coaches to maximize your opportunities for recruitment is 2-2.5 years before receiving admission from a university – i.e. the beginning of Grade 10
  • not being able to build up a competitive UTR rating, which would lead college coaches to misjudge the player’s tennis level, leaving the player at a disadvantage in the recruitment process

    Jo Ee Kok Consultant