| By Ricky Becker

"Back in the day,” people were never home-schooled to play tennis. Back a “half-day ago,” it was done by a select few who had a slightly reasonable chance to make a living as a professional tennis player. It was considered putting all of your eggs in one basket. But what about today? Home schooling is still an alternative route, but certainly not totally unusual for serious players with pro or even college tennis dreams. In fact, many people go the home school/full-time academy route just to open up college doors.

A few years ago, a player I worked with had great grades and a decent ranking. He decided to move to the Weil Academy in Ojai, Calif. to get his ranking up. I thought it was a great idea and it opened some doors to him that weren’t available to kids with a lower ranking and equal grades.

There is very little doubt that when comparing two kids with equal grades and equal rankings, the child going to school will be looked at more favorably than the home-schooled child. However, in many cases, when standardized test scores are equal and the home-schooled child has a higher ranking, most schools, even the strongest academic ones, will go with the higher ranked child. See the chart to the right of top American academic schools. Home-schooled/academy students are definitely starting to infiltrate rosters.

Whereas many schools are now open to home-schooled kids, being home-schooled isn’t ignored. Dartmouth Women’s Head Coach Bob Dallis said, “Home-schooled kids are viewed with some trepidation by admissions. They need to do well on their SAT and SAT II's. Admission does realize that home-schooled students are a reality.”

Besides admissions having a preference for kids who are in a traditional school environment, individual coaches may also have their own preference. Brown University Men’s Tennis Coach Dave Schwarz notes that although he has found himself recruiting more online and home-schooled players, he does have a bias to kids who go to regular school.

“They tend to integrate into the team environment a touch better, and they seem a little better-equipped to handle the work load and class time commitments at a top academic school,” said Schwartz. “They also are sometimes better-equipped to handle not being able to train six hours a day whatever time of day the mood strikes them to play. They are better-equipped to deal with very specific time constraints on their training. That being said, players who are online or home school-educated are perfectly capable of being tremendous teammates and students.” Schwarz does note that online schools are providing more rigorous course loads than ever.

Division III schools don’t have as many home-schooled kids on their rosters. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that Division III is any more anti-home-school than D-1 schools are. I think that most kids who were home-schooled want the more rigorous tennis programs that Division I schools provide.

And as for the future of home-schooling and college? Although the trend of universities accepting home-schooled candidates is increasing, there is no guarantee that the trend will continue.

“I think admissions is going to have some data in the next couple of years on how home-schooled students have performed in college,” said Dallis. “From there, admissions might reassess home-schooled candidates.”
But right now, “All things being equal, the schools I have worked at (Cornell, Middlebury, Brown) definitely prefer regular school,” Schwartz said.

Ricky Becker is the Director of Tennis at the prestigious Pine Hollow Country Club for his ninth year, coaches high-performance juniors throughout the year and has been the Director of Tennis at three of Long Island’s biggest junior programs.  As a player, Becker was the Most Valuable Player for the 1996 NCAA Championship Stanford Tennis team and ranked in the top-five nationally as a junior.  He can be reached at rbecker06@yahoo.com, 516-359-4843 or via juniortennisconsulting.com.