When it comes to college tennis, some players think the biggest hurdle is getting recruited. But the challenges don’t truly begin until you step on campus.
“There are always ups and downs,” says Ronni Bernstein, women’s tennis head coach at the University of Michigan. “If a student comes in and has four amazing years, it’s unusual.
“It’s life—everybody has stuff that goes on. You hope it goes as smoothly as possible.”
There are lots of variables that can impact a player’s college experience. The better prepared you are, the better yours will be. It’s best to prepare yourself with this truth: there are going to be a lot of growing pains, no matter how good you were as a junior.
“When you first get here, there’s the adjustment to college life, and having to be a little bit more responsible living on your own,” says John Roddick, director of tennis at the University of Central Florida. “I try to get players to take care of themselves and learn how to be self-sufficient, from stringing racquets to going to tutors.”
In college, everything you do on a day-to-day basis is up to you. There are no parents to do your laundry or supervise your diet. How you spend your free time is entirely in your hands. Whether or not you put in the extra work in the gym, court and classroom is your choice alone.
Coaches and everyone involved in your college career, from tutors to trainers, will do their part to help you be the best you can be. But ultimately, it’s up to the player to buy into the program.
“It’s never good if we’re telling players what to do, when to do it and how to do it—that’s what you do when you’re 12,” says Roddick. “We’re OK if they make mistakes and miss something, because that’s how they learn from it.”
The learning curve in college is about a lot more than what happens between the lines. You also need to hone your time management and study skills, your ability to work with others, and your mental and physical health. The challenges are constantly changing—one week, your greatest hurdle may be a tough calculus test, while the next it’ll be a high-pressure dual match.
Being a successful student-athlete is like playing a match against yourself, and any temptation to cut corners.
“It’s so much more than tennis,” says Bernstein.