| By Ricky Becker
Photo Credit: Getty Images

 

Unfortunately, over the last few years, the Long Island High School Team Champions are the schools who have most of its strongest players participate and not necessarily which high school has the best players. After speaking with some high school coaches, I realized that the athletic director sets the mandate as to what commitment its’ top players need to make.

I’m going to shout it out here: “Hey AD’s out there … you should want your standout tennis players representing your school! Maybe you should be a little more flexible!”

On the flip side, and just as loudly, I would shout out to those not playing high school tennis: “Hey junior player … you should want to play tennis for your school! Maybe you should be a little more flexible!” I want to present to each side why their argument is wrong. I also have a measurable solution that should work for any team out there.


What I would say to a high school administrator who makes a player who is head-and-shoulders above everybody else on their team go to every practice?

In most cases, a highly-ranked player or a number one singles player who is levels ahead of everybody else on their team has dedicated a lot more of their life and made many more sacrifices to tennis. If that player has nobody at their level to practice with, you are asking that player to fritter away valuable time during the day, basically helping teammates and sacrifice their own tennis game which they have already worked very hard at. High school tennis is a positive for colleges, but is it enough of a positive to get shut out from some colleges because of it? No! Face it …. college coaches would rather you play high school tennis than not play and would take the high school tennis player over the non-player if rankings are equal. But don’t think for a second that the player who is ranked 300th in the country who plays high school tennis is getting more interest than the player ranked 200th who doesn’t play high school tennis.

Tennis is not like team sports where it’s necessary to work on plays or timing patterns. You don’t need to have everyone at practice together to get better. Your team is going to improve more by seeing your number one player come in for matches than it is by not having that player play at all.

I truly believe, in most cases, the top player who doesn’t play would like to. It’s just they are shooting themselves in the foot if they have to spend 1.5 to two hours each day going to a practice and getting nothing from it. Either they are going to practice again somewhere else later in the day and have barely any time for schoolwork, or they won’t practice later and have a couple of months with subpar practice.

With so many top-Eastern players getting home-schooled, it would be nice to reward the ones who go to regular school by accommodating their schedules a bit. Schools often give high-ranked players a couple of free periods at the end of the day to train, so how is this different?

As far as other players resenting it … honestly, I think that is their own issue. It should be respected that this person has reached such a level and I think it’s sour grapes if other kids don’t like it. This top player isn’t slacking. This top player is training harder on the outside than any high school team trains. These top players aren’t taking the easy way out and the rank-and-file players on the team should respect their training schedule instead of playing the victim card of “It’s not fair.”


What I would say to a top-ranked player who doesn’t play high school tennis with players their approximate level on the team?

When you look back at your tennis career, you will have more memorable moments from high school tennis than you will from playing an ITF in Waco, Texas. It’s not even close. You know what’s a weird feeling … sitting in homeroom that Monday morning after you won a Super Six Tournament and nobody in your class knows or cares what you did or accomplished that weekend. You know what’s a fulfilling feeling? Getting recognition in your school, in NewsdayLong Island Tennis Magazine or your local newspaper when you beat somebody who wouldn’t even make a Super Six in a high school match. Coincidentally, while in the midst of writing this article, the front page of my town’s newspaper featured a player from my town who has been undefeated.

You want to include something on your resume when you get older? To the average person, high school tennis accolades are more relatable than an ITF ranking. You see what is put on the bottom of all my articles including this one? The part where it says “Ricky Becker blah, blah, blah …?” Underneath the part where it says what I am doing now, it mentions team tennis, including high school accolades, before anything USTA-related. That is because it is more memorable and means more to most people who read this magazine and to people at large.

Is your club telling you it’s dumb to play high school tennis? There are motivations often behind this. They don’t want to deal with make-ups, you skipping (and not paying for) the first two months of the semester, or asking for a refund. As a coach, I admit it is a pain on my end, but turn into great experiences for my players.

Winning a Super Six or a National Level 2 is probably a bigger accomplishment than going undefeated for your high school tennis team, but it certainly isn’t more memorable. Truth of the matter is, 99.9 percent of junior tennis players aren’t going to be known names outside of tennis circles from junior tournaments or professional tournaments alone … high school tennis can give you that feeling. You want to feel famous? This is the closest you are going to get. Enjoy the present once in a while! Very rarely will you hear that high school tennis is boring. Create some memories!


The solution?

Yes, I realize this won’t come to fruition most likely … it just makes too much sense. The solution is simple …

If the top player on a team is two full UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) points higher than the next player on the day tryouts start, then practices should be optional for that player. On match days, the player must travel with the team and stay at the match until it is over like the other players. Additionally, the player should be appreciative that the school is giving them the opportunity to do this and not cop an attitude. If you are a player who has another player on your team within two UTR points and you don’t play high school tennis, you are not seeing the big picture at all. If you are a school that would require your best player to come to practice every day, despite them being more than two UTR points above the next person, then you really aren’t being fair to all of your students, you are being a detriment rather than an aid to that player and you aren’t helping your own students.

 

 

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.