I have written several articles in the past about this topic and it is a recurring theme I often witness in the world of junior tennis. Therefore, I feel compelled to revisit the issue.
I'll lead in this article by letting you know that I have two players coming to my men's collegiate tennis program this fall that have been recruited by several Division I colleges, but will show up in August as members of a very talented Division III tennis program at SUNY Oneonta. I did not offer them an athletic scholarship because you are not permitted to do so in the Division III arena. However, I just graduated five members of the squad who all played for four years and here is the journey and the end result.
After a career that was filled with more than 80 competition dates and 160-plus matches, singles and doubles, three trips to Florida, one trip to Europe, these gentlemen are now off to careers at JP Morgan, American Express, graduate school at SUNY Stony Brook, medical school and one internship at a world-renowned music industry corporation. In each of these cases with these five gentlemen, their tennis games evolved to high levels, while having the time and balance to excel both in the classroom, as well as on the court.
It does not stop there for me, as our women's team will welcome eight new players, of which, three players were offered scholarships to compete at Division I institutions. I just graduated two starters who are going onto graduate school to become teachers. This article should end here, in that these students, both men and women, should feel proud of their accomplishments. As a coach, I am full of pride as we send these young men and women off to their next step in life, with victories in the classroom and great lessons learned on the tennis court playing at a very high level. Their success on the court went hand-in-hand with their classroom victories, as the student athletic experience augmented their marketability, adding special ingredients helping them to stand out from their peers.
I often think I preach this message way too often, hoping that parents and independent coaches read this and it finally sinks in. I'll try again and add this as I sit and watch the French Open while writing this. The percentage of those players who are competing at Roland Garros who played collegiate tennis was microscopic. So now what? What happens when collegiate tennis careers are over? The odds are overwhelmingly against them that they would have any financial achievement surviving and playing successful tennis competing professionally. I would rather buy a lottery ticket as you have a better chance of winning the jackpot then gaining a French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open or Australian Open title. However, I have the answer ... play tennis in college where the priority is the balance of athletics and academics. Invest time and energy in the classroom, using tennis as an amplification to the working world by promoting yourself. That is like buying a lottery ticket, one that has the odds in your favor because chances are, it will pay dividends.
I can only advise other coaches and write articles on the matter. However, with several tennis academies here on Long Island, I am hoping that my coaching peers read it and trend in the direction that our game gives students such an edge with the experience gained competing, while providing the tools necessary to being successful in society and the workforce. I see it firsthand every year … this formula works! I am so impressed with the talent that is developed and produced throughout the New York area in the many tennis academies we have. However, with the same academies, I encounter just too many instructors who take incredible pride in the talent they have produced, but few of those players can really be successful playing high level Division III tennis, never mind Division I, and would not make my team. If you want to add value to your coaching, make it multi-dimensional and supplement your instructional advice and get your students to see that playing tennis at a high level will pay dividends way beyond the tennis court. That likelihood will probably occur off the tennis court, and in most cases, in the workforce. In metaphorical terms, that's prize money surely received for the hard work.
I will close with this little tidbit, Middlebury College, a small but academically-prestigious college in Vermont, just won the Men’s Division III National Tennis Championship. Each one of those players were good enough to play Division I tennis at many schools throughout the country. They chose to play Division III to provide them the academic balance to help them earn that prize money in the workforce after graduation. They will go into the next chapter of their lives as National Champions in tennis. Are you going to tell me that those men made the wrong choice? In the Women’s Division, Claremont-Mudd Scripps in California defeated Emory University and the road map was the same for these young women. All were recruited to play Division I and played Division III, but will collect their prize money with successful collegiate careers paid out eventually through the work force. I like the formula.
Lonnie Mitchel is head men’s and women’s tennis coach at SUNY Oneonta. Lonnie was named an assistant coach to Team USA for the 2013 Maccabiah Games in Israel for the Grand Master Tennis Division. Lonnie may be reached by phone at (516) 414-7202 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.