On Sept. 2, 2010, The City Parks Foundation hosted a clinic in Central Park for 40 of the best eight-12-year-old girls, in the east. Steffi Graf and Billie Jean King were the stars in attendance and they were wonderful, helping the players for over three hours.
I had the opportunity to address the girls on long-range preparation for college tennis. The following is a summary of this talk …
Welcome, and if you are accomplished enough to have been invited here today, then I have some very good news for you. It's a great time to be a female tennis player because there are so many opportunities for you to use tennis to help your education.
It is also fitting that we are just miles away from the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during the U.S. Open in a public park because Billie Jean King is such a strong supporter of tennis in the parks both here in New York and everywhere else. She grew up playing in public parks and became one of the greatest tennis players of all time!
We would not be here today to talk about college tennis opportunities for girls, were it not for Billie Jean King because these opportunities might not exist and many of you today would not be athletes.
Billie Jean King founded the Women's Sport Foundation and championed Title (9) legislation which equalized opportunities for women in sports. What that means is that today, there are tremendous opportunities for girls to achieve college tennis scholarships despite the influx of foreign players and the increasing competitive playing level. Fully-funded women's programs have eight full scholarships for women and only four for men.
Even at a very young age, it is not too early to recognize and understand the athletic, academic and personal qualities that coaches look for when recruiting a team.
It is a long road ahead, but tennis success, especially for girls, is not a sprint, it is a marathon If past history remains consistent, many of you will not be competitive tennis players at 17 and 18, and that would be a shame because you will miss out on some great experiences and opportunities that will enhance the rest of your lives.
The following areas are of tremendous importance and should be considered as you plan the road ahead:
1. Establishing a record of tournament participation, success achievement and improvement. Don't worry about any one tournament win or any single loss. By the time you reach the age that coaches will take serious notice of you, as you will have played hundreds of matches and you will have a record of achievement that will represent your abilities.
2. Displaying athleticism and versatility, as a singles and doubles player. The sport is becoming increasingly athletic, and even though your wins and losses matter, this emphasis should be balanced with the goal of improving, learning to play the whole court and developing your game. Coaches look for players with the potential and desire for improvement.
3. Tending to health and well-being, with a record and emphasis of being illness, and injury resistant, fit and well-conditioned. College tennis is challenging, and you are not going to be a great help to the team sitting on the sidelines unable to play because you have not taken great care of your body.
4. Achieving a record of academic participation, success, achievement and improvement. As a student-athlete, schools want you to represent them well in the class room and on the tennis courts, and often, the classroom will come first. You will need to maintain a healthy grade point average to be eligible to play and you will need to be a strong student to get into some the best schools.
5. Recognizing the value of team and community orientation with an emphasis on using your abilities to help others. While junior tennis is an individual sport, college tennis is a team sport and coaches will be sensitive to your willingness to put the needs of the team first.
6. Having personal integrity and a repetition for competitive, as well as fair, play. As I have discussed, in college tennis you represent the school as well as yourself. Coaches will be very concerned about players whose past behavior indicates that they may not be sportsman like, as well as behavior disruptive to team harmony.
7. Understanding personal independence as well as a demonstration that you can be responsible for yourself. You may not have your family with you to help you with the day to day tasks that you may take for granted now, like laundry and getting to sleep on time. Coaches will get a good feeling if they know that you can take care of yourself when you get to school.
8. A desire to improve and grow so that coaches feel you will improve and inspire others rather than merely using your tennis to leverage admission and money. Once you get into a school, there is often little a coach can do if you do not perform your best. Many experienced coaches will look to character, as well as ability, when choosing a team.
Tennis can help you get into a school that you might have been otherwise unable to attend. It can help you get a scholarship that is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It will help you form lifelong friendships and be one of the most important and fun parts of your education.
I hope you all choose this path … good luck.
Steven Kaplan oversees activities during the City Parks Foundation-hosted tennis clinic in Central Park
Steffi Graf delivers one-on-one instruction during the City Parks Foundation-hosted clinic in Central Park
Players have their agility tested during the Central Park clinic
Steven Kaplan is the owner and managing director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as director emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and executive director and founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 New York State high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.