Coaches are the gatekepeers to college tennis. What do they look for in recruits? One thing is for sure: it’s about a lot more than a players’ rankings and results.
“I’m looking for a good athlete that can handle adversity, because matches require a lot of mental toughness,” says Steve Denton, men’s head coach at Texas A&M. “Also, some players require more work in their strokes. I’m looking for players that don’t need major surgery on their swings.”
Odds are your strokes are fairly established by your late teens, but you can always make small but significant tweaks. More importantly, make it clear to your target schools that you’re open to learning and adjusting—something a college coach values in a player.
“I think there’s a certain level that’s expected just to get in on the recruiting process,” says John Roddick, director of tennis at the University of Central Florida. “But you also want to see, from a tennis standpoint, that there’s upside and a lot of room for improvement.”
Your willingness to work—during practices and matches—isn’t going to be found in a Google search of your name and stats. Building a reputation for being a hard-working student-athlete is invaluable.
“You don’t necessarily have to be the highest-ranked player,” says Ronni Bernstein, women’s head coach at Michigan. “I watch how you compete, which goes a long way in college. That’s my big thing.”
Part of being a student-athlete is the classroom. With your time split between books and backhands, an ability to balance your responsibilities is critical. It’s a mental asset that’s just as important as what you offer from a physical perspective.
It’s possible that your personality or game style might not mesh with the college program you’re chasing, and that’s OK. Bernstein strongly believes there are opportunities for nearly all hard-working and committed players.
And if you’re struggling to get recruited, don’t panic. Instead, Bernstein says, expand your horizons.
“There are different levels in college tennis. There are so many programs. Your level doesn’t really exclude you. Maybe you can’t play at one of the top programs, but there are so many opportunities.
“There’s a place for pretty much everybody.”