Most serious young tournament tennis players from the local area aspire to transition from the junior ranks to college tennis. A college education is not the best path for every young person or every young tennis player, however, and some of the greatest tennis players of all time opted to skip college and had impressive careers. Clearly it made sense for the likes of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Andy Roddick and the Williams Sisters to follow their dreams of playing professional tennis. They were highly successful at a very young age and made fortunes doing something they love. It also seems reasonable for players from countries who may not have an opportunity to seek higher education to see pro tennis as the way to a better life.
The decision to forego formal education to pursue a career, any career for that matter, is a life-altering event and should be considered carefully. The cost of a top-notch four-year college education can be as high as $250,000 for a degree and that number rises almost every year. If you give up a scholarship to turn pro and you wish to go back for a degree, one day you will look back and think about what you will have to earn in order to have the ability to pay for it.
Those who read my blogs and columns know that I am a strong believer in the value of higher education, but I don't pretend to suggest that one definitive path is right for everyone. Instead, I propose questions that athletes should ask in order to make an informed choice before skipping (or leaving) college to play professional tennis.
Ten questions to ask before skipping college to turn pro
1. Is this something you truly want to do, or are you satisfying the business interests, ego and aspirations of family, friends, coaches and agents?
2 Do you fully understand your college tennis opportunities for receiving training, competition, financial support and professional playing experiences?
3. Have you considered which option gives you the best chance of long-term professional tennis success?
4. How much do you value formal education and the college social experience?
5. Are you ready to enter the work world and embrace the lifestyle of a young professional tennis player?
6. Have you weighed the risk/reward of college with the risk/reward of a professional tennis career?
7. Have you fully investigated the successes and/or failures of players in a similar position who have come before you?
8. Have you sought the advice of players who have been in similar positions and who have now experienced the consequences of their choices?
9. Have you considered the long-term financial ramifications of your choice?
10. Have you considered your life after tennis?
According to a study in 2010 conducted by the USTA National Collegiate Varsity Committee:
►The average age of the top 200 men is 26 years of age and women is 24 years of age. Both ages are steadily rising.
►The average career length of a professional tennis player is seven years, regardless of the starting age. You will likely work for 40 years.
►The cost of one year on the ATP Tour is about $143,000 annually and the break-even ranking is 164 for men and 119 for women.
►The value of a scholarship is $43,000 each year and the educational and tennis developmental value is $90,000 per year. These numbers are, of course, way higher now and are inflating.
►It is estimated that the average lifetime value of an undergraduate degree is worth $1 million more than a high school diploma.
►The NCAA rules for college tennis have changed. Many schools will allow the best players to leave for the Pro Tour and return to finish their education on scholarship. This sounds like having your cake and eating it too.
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.