From Recruit to Student-Athlete: Understanding the Initial Transition into College and College Tennis.
Part 1 in a 3-Part Series introducing important college transition support from DTS.
For more information on these services, contact David Donn. David@donovantennis.com, 413-537-3084.
The day that verbal commitments are made, or college acceptances are received and deposits are made, many players and families celebrate the end of the sometimes long and stressful recruiting process. Yet, those moments, while appearing to close a significant chapter, actually open the door to a new and vitally important stage for recruits: the transition to becoming a collegiate scholar-athlete. In this series of 3 articles, DTS attempts to continue guidance into the collegiate foray.
DTS surveyed freshman who recently concluded the first semester or term of their college experiences. Players from women’s and men’s programs, across the 3 NCAA divisions, shared their thoughts on a number of topics related to college in general, as well as more specific experiences as college tennis players. The 3 part series is an expression of patterns of experiences, as well as unique considerations and recommendations, which will serve the purpose of better preparing high school recruits for the final stage of their recruiting process, otherwise known as the college transition.
THE GENERAL TRANSITION INTO COLLEGE
Key Academic and Social Adjustments
In starting this interview project, college freshmen were asked to recall their level of confidence or concern about transitioning into college and a varsity tennis experience. Almost unanimously, the student-athletes related excitement more specifically than nervousness. Where there were more identifiable concerns, those concerns revolved more commonly around the general college social experience than the academic or team adjustment. Two main assessments seemed to come into play with the immediate college transition:
1) Being among all other transitioning students was helpful to settling in
2) Having established habits from high school helped lessen anxiety about academic expectations
- Fitting In: Some of the interviewed students mentioned that joining other freshmen, athletes or not, in a new setting went a long way to settle nerves, anxiety, loneliness and fears. It was generally agreed that once classes and practices started, most of the strongest concerns faded or even proved to be unfounded. One player shared her fear of adjusting to the college living situation given that she had never lived around so many people as in the dorm setting, and had never shared a room. She expressed surprise at how quickly she adapted saying, “It became very normal very rapidly and now I just think, that is just what we do.”
- Starting the Transition before the Fall: Any connections that could be made prior to stepping on campus seemed to be very helpful. Whether it was a formal orientation program, or making more casual connections with teammates and coaches prior to landing on campus, pre-college activities proved to be very effective in lessening concerns related to making friends, fitting in, or understanding what to do. Additionally, becoming aware of special support services available to athletes was reaffirming.
- Carrying over HS Study Skills: A number of the interviewed student athletes reflected on the role of their high school experiences in making them feel prepared for college. Those students who felt they were accustomed to a structured high school schedule, and therefore had already established reliable study habits, expressed less concern about their academic transition from high school to college. There were interviewed students who did not carry that same confidence into the college. Those students recognized the need to rely on guidance from other students and services on campus about appropriate study skills. Nonetheless, there seemed to be consensus among the students less practiced in positive study skills that they viewed starting college and leaving high school behind as a fresh start, opportunity, and motivating atmosphere in which to start off on the right foot and leave old habits behind.
The subsequent focus of the student interviews addressed the more specific transition into the collegiate athletic experience.
- On-Court Performance: In reflecting on the tennis transition, the greatest general concern centered around on-court performance more than off-court team assimilation. There was broad agreement from players across levels and divisions that, unless a player had trained full time at a high- level academy, the training portion of the tennis was tougher and more intensive than even expected. Players identified on-court and physical elements (for example, ongoing soreness and early morning workouts) as just some of the experiences that made college tennis seem very intense. One player noted that practices and training sessions were not always challenging in their length, but in their level of efficiency requiring unwavering mental focus and leaving no room for coasting or relaxing. There was also some anxiety expressed around the shifting priority from playing for oneself in juniors to being responsible for winning for the team and the coach. That being said, those players who selected a program where they were quite sure about their ability to contribute immediately as a starter had significantly less stress around the tennis expectations.
- Team Expectations: Feedback from questions confirmed that off-court tennis expectations also heightened the intensity of the athletic experience. Across the board, there was acknowledgement from interviewees that tennis participation in college required thinking about much more than just one’s own game. College tennis meant constant consideration of the time commitment, how to manage the scheduling, understanding how to socialize with and support teammates, etc.
As with other general college transition concerns, most interviewed athletes said that nervousness around tennis dissipated within days. As soon as the unknown expectations came to light, and one was just “in it”, confidence in handling the reality of the team experience grew. Most players cited the support of the established team members as a key factor in easing the tennis transition. Knowing that a group of teammates is supporting your efforts is comforting.
- Recommendations for the Tennis Adjustment: Having survived the initial college tennis transition, two solid recommendations for recruits came to light:
1) Preparing both physically and mentally for the team component before getting to campus is important. Talk to coaches and teammates over the summer to be aware of what to expect and to get suggestions on how to be ready. Coming into the first day of practice physically fit and competitively sharp is a big advantage.
2) Starting in the “team first” mindset and moving away from the player first priority helps with the adjustment on and off the court. If possible, implement a team experience like high school tennis to have team skills which will be central in college tennis.
All in all, most players emerging from recruit status to collegiate scholar-athlete cited adjustment to the team and the quick bond with teammates as the easiest part of the overall college transition. The amount of communication that a recruit dedicated to getting to know coaches and teammates prior to college seemed to correlate directly with the level of comfort with the personal adjustment. In a transitional period that can be busy and chaotic for any student, the combination of structure and support provided to student-athletes can be effective in hastening the period of settling in.
PART 2 Preview: The next installment of this series will highlight the specific practical challenges that first-year student athletes faced as part of their start in college and college tennis. Stay tuned for it’s release!
DTS has been helping student athletes and their families navigate the college tennis recruiting process since 1997 and is recognized as an international leader in the field. DTS also provides services to assist committed recruits in the next stage of successful transition into college and college tennis. Please contact David Donn from DTS at 413-537-3084 or firstname.lastname@example.org for details about the DTS College Transition Program.