On the surface, it seems obvious. College coaches want the best tennis players. This is true to a point. The tense is incorrect. Coaches want players who will be the best tennis players. After corresponding with hundreds of college coaches, I put together a tiered list of what coaches look at when deciding on whom to recruit. All coaches have their recruiting quirks and preferences but this is what I have seen nationwide.
►TennisRecruiting.Net: This ranking is the starter for all conversations. When Division 1, 2 or the top Division 3 schools ask about a ranking, they are asking about one’s tennisrecruiting.net ranking. Tennisrecruiting.net ranks kids by grade and uses an algorithm based on quality of one’s wins and losses. It is not based on how far one goes in a tournament. This ranking is seen as the most accurate because the advantage of point chasing is minimalized. It also puts a slight premium on more recent results and best wins.
►Admittance potential: If a child has a tennisrecruiting.net ranking, the next question I get is “How are the academics?” If the child has grades that are above the average of the regular student body, this appeals to a coach because they won’t have to ask for a favor from admissions or they may even be able to recruit another player who is more below the academic average than usual. Also, the coach doesn’t have to worry about recruiting the player only to have it fall through with admissions at the end. For this reason, a coach won’t want to recruit somebody who he/she thinks won’t get admitted even with the easier standards for athletes.
►Financial situation of a player: The amount of tennis scholarships that are allowed per school is capped, the same way the NBA, NFL or NHL have a salary cap (4.5 maximum for D1 and D2 men; eight maximum for D1 women and six maximum for D2 women). Therefore, if you are LeBron James, you will get your “max contract” or full-scholarship anywhere. If you aren’t at the very top of the national rankings, however, more doors will be open to you if there is a smaller “cap hit” attached. D3 coaches may care a little about the financial aid (non-athletic) needed from the recruit only because it is another hurdle to overcome with admissions.
►Attitude: Simply put, coaches don’t want to complicate their lives by having a player who is a headache. This means a player who won’t get along with teammates, the coach or even opponents. Work ethic is also something that coaches try to find out about. Character references are what college coaches look for the most when I speak to them about a player.
►A recruit’s perceived interest in tennis vs. using tennis for admission: This is especially important for Ivy League coaches and coaches of strong academic schools that do not offer athletic scholarships. One top Ivy League coach told me that his biggest job in recruiting is figuring out who wants to contribute to the team versus who is using him to get admitted just so they can quit once getting on campus.
►Record vs. category: For the unfamiliar, tennisrecruiting.net groups kids into categories (Blue chip, Five-Star, Four-Star, etc.). I have noticed a definite uptick in coaches asking what the child’s record is against a certain category.
►USTA ranking: This actual ranking is a bigger deal with mid- to lower-level tennis D3 schools. It’s really only relevant with the D1s, D2s and stronger D3s to determine which national tournaments you can get into. Qualifying for certain tournaments can limit or enhance your exposure to coaches who travel to tournaments and recruit. Although, you should also be contacting them!
►Game style/technique: This does vary a lot among coaches. When we were winning championships at Stanford, the coaches never saw us play and literally went down the ranking list for recruiting believing that if you knew how to win, that was enough. A lot of coaches do want players who have bigger games that they will grow into. Coaches also like lefties.
►Doubles ability: Doubles are an important component of team matches. Coaches aren’t necessarily looking for doubles specialists, but do prefer recruits who aren’t “singles only,” especially if the recruit is going to be near the bottom of the singles lineup.
►References: Coaches aren’t going to do a friend a favor and take someone the friend works with who clearly doesn’t belong on the team. If the recruit is near the cut-off they can take the relationship into consideration though. Especially if it’s a relationship they want to foster.
►Recruitability: Does the kid respond to e-mails quickly? Is the school on the kid’s list of 20 schools or is the school on the short list? Is the child making himself/herself available for a visit?
►Domestic players: With two players being equal, most schools (not all) prefer the American player to an international player. I have spoken to coaches who see international students as lower-maintenance.
►Rise in rankings: Is the child’s ranking improving through the years or is it getting worse? If it’s getting worse, what is the reason?
►High school tennis: Some coaches do sympathize with kids not playing high school tennis if the recruit can give a good reason why it is a waste of time. If two kids are equal, it is definitely an advantage to show your love of being on a team by playing high school tennis.
►Does the coach think you will be happy: Of course, the coach is thinking about how to field the best and most unified team. However, no college coach wants kids to transfer. Some coaches will consider that although it may be a good fit for them, you will not like the lack of playing time, location, etc. and that you may want to transfer after a year.
Read this list like a pyramid
Not everything is going to fit perfectly but the stronger you can build the base of your pyramid, the higher your pyramid can potentially grow. You do need that top however, or it’s not a pyramid!