Former Brown Coach and current manager of Sportime Syosset/Bethpage Jay Harris has been a great source of information for me. Although we constantly debate how much kids actually improve in college, he is generally “spot on” with his take on things. This is the second installment of my interview with Jay.
From your experience, how much do colleges "relax" their academic standards for junior players who will make a major contribution to a team?
Jay Harris: This is the million dollar question … especially in the Ivy League. Across the country, athletes are often given a bit of a “break” with academic standards when it comes to admission. In the Ivy League especially, this has also been a subject of great debate. When I get involved in this debate I often think of two things:
►First, I believe that if schools use extracurricular activities, such as clubs, etc., and/or musical talents to add merit to an application, then they should obviously use athletic talent to add merit as well. I am always amazed that tennis playing students, especially players at top schools, can compete academically with the non-athletes.
►Second, if the collective GPAs of student-athletes at almost every school in the country are compared to non-athletes, it will be found that, amazingly enough, the averages for the student-athletes are actually significantly higher. This may surprise a lot of people.
At Brown, not only were the student-athletes averaging better grades, they also seemed to get some nice advantages when it came to job selection post-graduation. Many company recruiters would say, “Well who wouldn't want an athlete who has been a part of a successful team and lived the last four years with the utmost discipline and highest work ethic?” They all would!
Did your correspondence with prospective student-athletes sway your interest in them? What did recruits do or say to turn you off to them or on to them?
JH: Of course! A quick way to sway a coach the wrong way is to address an e-mail/letter to the wrong name. There were a few times, for instance, I would get e-mails addressed to other coaches. A huge way to make a great impression is really show a true interest in the school. I would often ask players what they knew about our program at Brown. Most of the time, I would get a “not much” response, but the guys who knew a lot about our program showed me that they were serious and professional in regards to the recruiting process, and of course, that they were truly interested in being a part of our family.
Do college coaches and their respective admissions departments care about non-tennis extra-curricular activities?
JH: I think I already answered that one. Admissions departments do look at non-tennis extra-curricular activities, but I doubt that those actually have much to do with the final decisions.
Do college coaches care if someone played high school tennis?
JH: As a coach, I actually really liked if a player not only played on a high school tennis team, but also if they had some experience on another team (even if it was not tennis). One of my favorite and most successful players played on his high school hockey, soccer and basketball teams. Because of his experience as a leader on all those teams, he quickly became a leader on our team and was the team’s captain as a sophomore!
Now that you are spending extended time on the junior tournament scene, what do you see as the biggest difference between coaching junior players and coaching college players?
JH: College coaches often know about every aspect of each player's life, and thus, it is much easier to not only know what the players need, but also to evaluate growth along the way in comparison to a junior coach.
However, being involved at Sportime working with many top junior players has been extremely gratifying. At Brown, we sort of had the fifth- or sixth-round draft picks on the recruiting scene (Harvard, Yale and Princeton sort of dominated the opening rounds!), but now I am working with a bunch of first-tier players!
Ricky Becker is the Director of Tennis at Pine Hollow Country Club. He independently coaches high-performance juniors and adults of all-levels year-round at Bethpage Park Tennis Center. He has coached hundreds of ranked junior players. As a player, Becker was awarded Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis Team and 1989-1992 Roslyn High School Tennis Teams, and was ranked number four in the United States in the 18 & Under Division.