Thursday, July 28, 2011

The College Tennis Hunt

Playing collegiate tennis is the dream of most junior tennis players in the United States and all over the world. The process of finding a school and a tennis program that is the best fit for an individual may be a confusing process, not only for the player but for the parents as well. I remember my collegiate hunt back in Zimbabwe was a long and grueling process. Recently, I have had the opportunity to work with a few talented junior players, and when I ask them what their collegiate prospects are, most of them, and their parents, do not know how the process works. The best time to start the process would be the beginning of your junior year of high school.

Here are a few pointers that will hopefully help in the college hunt.

1. First, figure out what you want to study and then do some research on schools that provide the area of interest.

2. Figure out what region you would like to go to, and make a preliminary list of schools that are located in that region. As a junior in Zimbabwe, I primarily looked for schools in the Midwest because I wanted to experience the different weather that the region offered. I had never seen snow and I wanted to be in an area that had four seasons since Zimbabwe did not have that.

3. Ask your local pro or coach about college tennis and what level of college tennis he or she thinks would best suit you. Most tennis professionals have played college tennis and may have information that can be very useful in the process. Also, in my experience in Zimbabwe, most of the coaches that I worked with were in some way in contact with college coaches or coached players that wound up as NCAA athletes and are therefore hooked up.

4. Figure out if you want to play Division 1, 2, or 3 tennis. One must keep in mind that Division 3 schools do not provide scholarships.

5. Once you have figured out where you would ideally want to play, improving your ranking or getting your ranking to the level that the coaches are looking for is vital, but one must understand that it takes time to improve it. Most college coaches use recruiting websites or ITF Juniors for international players as a guide to track prospective student athletes. Note the assumption is you already are a solid player whose chances of playing in college are good, but you have not competed in adequate sanctioned tournaments.

6. Make sure you create a résumé and player DVD that highlights your skills in the best way. I would also make sure to create a user profile on tennis recruiting websites.

7. Register with NCAA Clearinghouse in order for you to be able to play in the NCAA.

8. Contact college coaches and express your interest in their program and ask them about more information about the school.

9. Plan an unofficial visit or official visit with the school, coach and team.

10. Finally, decide on the school that best fits your academic needs while also satisfying your tennis ones as well.

The whole time this is happening, do not slouch on your game. There is a definite jump from high school tennis to college. Go to your local club and hit with the former college players, or of course if you're in downtown Chicago, visit

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Informed Tennis Buyer: Soccer Moms got it figured out!

I have heard a Soccer Mom talk of attending a recital, ballet practice, and a PTA meeting all scheduled at 9:00 am! Do not ask me how; I am not a soccer mom! Coaching in the burbs gave me the opportunity to witness these Wonder Woman types in action.

Soccer moms are quite efficient when it comes to arranging and scheduling multiple events and commitments, all of which are done with an ease that makes multi-tasking seem easy. Tennis players and parents with tennis players could learn a thing or two when it comes to saving on your tennis expenses and maybe even getting that extra “me time” during the day.

Before hipsters made it cool, and luxury car owners felt the sting of the global economy collapse, soccer moms were already driving fuel-efficient, spacious minivans.
High performance tennis players tend to frequent the same circles for every region typical of tennis players. Not only is carpooling cost effective on gas but most importantly and directly related to tennis, it potentially creates lifelong hitting partner relationships that ultimately cut hitting lesson costs. Indirectly, it is a way of creating a healthy atmosphere of motivation by companionship, a healthy dose of competitive camaraderie, if I may.

Sharing or Splitting the Lesson:
When it comes to tennis lessons, there is more gain in getting quality coaching. After all, it is not during the time spent with a coach that most improvement is seen. It is in the time spent outside of the lessons reinforcing what you learnt in the lesson that is important. One of my coaches in junior tennis, the late Claudio Murape, may he rest in peace, once told me for every hour you take in a lesson, take two more in practice outside. Most tennis parents or players period have to make sacrifices, and Sam Sampras raised a champion in the same way:

“…it may come as a surprise, but I almost always shared my lessons with Stella (Pete Sampras’s sister) – she had thirty minutes, and I had thirty. It was written in stone…”

In summation, as you travel around playing tournaments, make friends with other players, and parents, talk to other parents. The benefits are bountiful.

Save on Restringing Jobs:
Restringing is not for everyone. The job can be annoying and tedious, especially for learners. If you do not have the time, I would go ahead and pay for a string job but save a little by providing your own string. If however you are a tennis parent, investing in a string machine for your child is a lifetime investment. Not only is your child learning to “customize” their racquet early, but it can be a side gig from which he can make some change restringing acquaintances' and friends' racquets.

Bulk Buying:
Bulk buying is not limited to private tennis lessons packages which save you on your tennis bill. Buying food in bulk saves money, and for
health conscious people, this is a better way of keeping your dietary content in check. This also allows you to pack food to go. Bulk buying applies when it comes to equipment as well. Buy tennis balls by the cases. If you get a good deal on tennis shoes, buy a couple of pairs. Most brands carry shoes with a “six month guarantee”, and most high performance players get an opportunity to use their guarantee. The guarantee allows you to send your worn-out shoes back with the receipt before the six-month period from the time of purchase.

Until the next blog, happy savings, tennis enthusiasts!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Sophisticated Buyer - How to Make the Most of Your Tennis Lesson

Whether it's a group lesson or a private lesson, there are several ways to make the most of your bottom penny, especially those of us who work the extra hour for it. Coaching daily, I cannot believe how many players lose out on quality gems due to stuff that can be avoided.

I made a quick list of things to help you maximize your lesson time.

10. Be punctual. Business-minded people say if you are on time, you are late. Calling the club or coach to say you are running late does not change the fact that you are cutting into your lesson. Coaches simply say “take your time”, literally.

9. If you are going to the venue for the first time, look at the aerial map, then look up the directions. The GPS leads people through detours and dead-end roads more frequently despite the technological advancement! Allow 20 minutes of insurance travel time.

8. Come from home or work dressed and ready to play, and if you want to feel like those boys and girls on TV before stepping on the court, then allow for locker room time. Players put their shoes on upon arrival to the court all the time.

7. A tennis bag can get in the way if you have to dash for your lesson. Your racquets, a water bottle, and towel will suffice for a 90 minute tennis class, even if you own the new Sharapova tennis bag.

6. Take a water bottle to the court. Not all clubs provide on-court coolers. A good size bottle can save roughly 4 trips to the water fountain.

5. Always bring 2 racquets to the tennis court. If you know your strings are about to break, just get a new string job. You do not want to scrounge around for a demo if you pop a string.

4. You know yourself best. Give your pro the heads-up ahead of time on areas of your game you are struggling with. You coach can come up or research methods to improve your game out of class rather through than on-court trial and error. One of my students gave me a flash card with areas she wanted to work on for the next lesson. Impressive!

3. There is the temptation to socialize during a group class or with the pro. Unless your clock is almost ticked out, do not give in. That cutie will be there after class to exchange numbers.

2. Turn off your cellphone or silence it. The temptation and seduction of a smartphone is undeniable. Once you check it, consider yourself gone from the matter at hand. Men or women, multitasking is grossly overrated!

1. Unfortunately we cannot all get ball boys and girls. Help the pro pick up balls, and fast! If you are a parent, pick up balls while the child plays (do not get in the way). Parents with 2 or more kids, while one kid is taking their lesson, the other kid MUST pick up balls. I affectionately call those kids garbage men and ladies.