In this final article in the DTS series addressing the transition from recruit to collegiate scholar-athlete, players provide insight into coaches‘ and teammates’ roles, and recommendations for a successful step from high school to college.
THE TEAM & A RECRUIT’S COLLEGE TRANSITION
Roles & Responsibilities
Many feel that the connection to a collegiate team upon entering college is a unique advantage for incoming student-athletes compared to the students transitioning to college life without those associations. Our survey of anecdotal data reaffirms that claim. Every freshman collegiate tennis player we surveyed acknowledged the significant role of the tennis team in their first-year transition.
A Coach’s Role: The role of the coach varied greatly in the feedback, with some coaches having less direct involvement in students’ lives outside of tennis, to a few players citing coaches who played an extra parental role, assisting freshmen with important decision making to stress management. While a coach’s specific role may differ from program to program, more generally, a coach’s role was identified as one of encouragement, particularly on court. Many new players expressed liking pointers they may not have received before as juniors, as well as the general show of support.
Upperclassmen: Most of the help with the overall collegiate adjustment seemed to come almost exclusively from older team members. Time and time again, freshman at all levels of programs mentioned the very active role that teammates played in all parts of their transition. Upperclassmen showed the way and set the bar for on-court expectations from training to cheering. They also shared plenty of off-court recommendations with regard to academic time management, classes and professors, social invitations, etc.
Contact and Communication: The consistent message that flowed from discussion about a team’s role in the first-year transition is the necessity for a recruit’s early contact with the team and the coach. Having some comfort and depth in those personal relationships prior to getting to school allowed for the supportive roles to flow freely through the transitional phase.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM FIRST-YEAR STUDENTS
With a fall season under the belt, first-year college players were asked what they learned and will take forward into the continued transition process through the spring season and beyond. Many of the answers expressed relief for a greater understanding of both academic and tennis expectations than when jumping in after high school. Going into the second half of the year, there seems to be more confidence and motivation behind strategies for managing time, stress and nerves on and off the court; handling the physical and emotional intensity of academics and tennis; building comfort in asking for and accepting help, keeping healthy perspective, etc. Following is a selection of recommendations from current college freshmen across NCAA divisions to help recruits prepare for a fruitful transition into college and college tennis, long before stepping foot on campus as a first-year student.
- Start the recruiting process early and follow your gut. The earlier one starts, the earlier one knows what is desirable and what “fits”, and the earlier one is comfortable to commit. All of that translates into less application and decision stress.
- Be open minded. It’s ok to end up at a college that is lower on your list or don’t originally think is a priority. You will find your way to the best fit even if it is not the school you originally expect it to be.
- Start adjusting to college earlier than you think you should. Communicate with your coach long before you get on campus and get to know your teammates before arriving. Having established relationships is so important for the transition and it is something regular applicants and students don’t necessarily have the benefit of. It will put you ahead of the curve in terms of adapting in the fall.
- Get to know the coach and team before going to school. Take advantage of any opportunity to hit with team members and get to know them. Get clarity from the coaches about expectations. Early bonding goes a long way. That early connection is really appreciated by the coach and team too, aside from helping with preparations. Friends who started the fall “more blind” seemed to have a tougher start.
- Being well-prepared is very important to a smooth transition. Pay attention to academics in determining the right college fit. Prepare for how you are going to study and do work because if you are not prepared, the school part can be really hard. Avoid senioritis in high school! Continue with training and competition after committing because you need to be ready for the intensity on the tennis side of things.
- Value the importance of the perceived team culture compared to the level of the team. It’s not only important in recruiting to look at how a team is presently doing, but how the team might be doing when you are there a few years down the road when the line-up will inevitably change. I made it a priority to be on a winning team so I was just looking at that aspect in the moment without thinking more about the future and how that team might be building and progressing, which is really important.
Steps in College
- See college as a new, fresh opportunity to get a clean start in a new setting with old expectations gone. Use the new start as a motivator to start well.
- Don’t get discouraged if things don’t play out as you expected or as you want at first. Everyone experiences some difficulties when adjusting to a new environment and atmosphere.
- Don’t worry if you aren’t making as many friends through orientation than tennis…be patient, you’ll be fine and adjust to the whole thing.
- Get as much homework as possible done early in the week and before stepping on court for matches. Having less on the plate and on the mind is beneficial when competing. It’s hard to focus solely on winning for your team when you have other things on your mind. Being jammed for time is a college normality, so time management has to be something to always focus on. Being organized and in control of responsibilities can make you feel great on the court.
- Related to school, read the syllabi ahead of time and fill your agenda for the whole term with classes, homework and travel. It is important to look at the midterm stage because that is when all tests are happening at the same time, so you have to plan for and around that. Be productive early in the week so that Thursdays, Fridays and weekends are easier.
- Focus on your health and recovering your body. I now know how to use the tools available to me like the athletic trainers, and I feel no shame in asking for help.
- You will automatically have interaction with the coach and team, but let other people in from the college community to help with your transition. People like the trainers and other people on campus are great to develop relationships with. The more people you introduce yourself to and have relationships with, the more people there are there to support you and fight for you.
- Work hard on your tennis in the “more individual” fall season and over the off seasons. The hardest workers will hold up the best and find the most success when it counts for the team.
- Keep perspective. Remember to enjoy as many moments as you can. There will always be lots of responsibilities, but don’t spend a lot of time worrying too much about it. As long as you truly put effort into things that matter, everything seems to work out.
- Even though tennis might be the biggest thing on your mind during tennis season, think about your experience if tennis weren’t part of the equation. Remember what made you happy about your overall choice of school. Tennis for four years will be great, but most players will not go pro after college, so take advantage of why you chose the school, even outside of the coach and the team.
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.