Over the past six years, I have lived a charmed life, taking over the Division III tennis program at Oneonta State in both the men’s and women’s programs, along with coaching several national teams. I get to be around college students who are energetic, entertaining and part of a program supported by an administration spiritually and financially. The best part is that during half of the school year, I get to be around the tennis courts, whether it is at a practice or a match.
An entitlement of this privilege does not come just because you show up to school ready to play. What I am noticing with many young people is that the opportunity presented to a student/athlete to succeed at this level is being taken for granted.
Let’s begin with a journey, a journey which I embark on probably 20 weekends throughout the year … the journey of recruiting a potential player. On one weekend, I can easily spend several hundreds of dollars on travel, car rental, hotels and meals, and tap into a great deal of my time. I speak to interested student/athletes who potentially can play at the collegiate level who have communicated a desire to compete and work hard. The time and communication, along with expediting admittance to the college of choice is something that requires a great deal of effort and steadfastness. The investment in dollars, time, entertaining the potential student on campus, introducing them to their teammates, is an emotional outlay as well.
We celebrate and get energized when a student/athlete finally commits to play at the college. Then, we count down the months and days to their much celebrated arrival.
We as coaches cannot wait to get the student/athlete on campus to help begin their new college life, begin practicing and get them into competition. Then, we provide free athletic training, access to top-notch athletic equipment, world-class tennis courts, transportation to matches with free hotel and food, along with access to 30-plus years of coaching experience. The notion that Division III athletes may not be getting athletic scholarship money is maybe not presented in their admittance letter, but you can be sure that these tennis players are getting an incredible value/rebate back just because they are playing collegiate athletics. A coach and the college provides these young men and women the opportunity to live the dream and play tennis against top competition from all over the Northeast and nationwide, while spending time with friends/teammates. Parents, I ask you, what is better than that?
What I ask for in return are some simple things. To work hard in the classroom; be a good citizen on campus; respect each other, along with the coaches, be on time for practice, compete hard each time out and be on time. I ask parents to be supportive of these efforts and have their child understand the privilege they have and encourage them to succeed when the coach dares to challenge them in a variety of ways on and off the court. That is all I ask for. The college is already into thousands of dollars of an investment so that the student/athlete can play tennis, so what I ask for in return is more than fair or reasonable.
I do not believe that these views are old-fashioned and this outlook does offer great validity, even with the social media, technology-savvy generation of students I spend so much time with. I bring to the table, in addition to nearly three-decades of tennis coaching, concurrent employment in the corporate world by such high-profile organizations such as the Walt Disney Company. I can express, as clear as day, that teaching these students to play collegiate tennis is more than just a privilege, it is an education that will be augmented in the working world. The values that we want our players to embrace will be highly similar to what they find waiting for them in the working world. If you are not a good corporate citizen, respectful, appreciative and productive, I promise you a pink slip is in your future. A phone call from a parent will not help and the opportunity to earn money from the working engagement will end quite abruptly. A married person with children, a mortgage and other responsibilities will suffer the same fate, and the company will not care what your financial responsibilities are while also taking away your health insurance. A tough lesson!
When a student/athlete shows up to school, the first thing they need to understand is that this is a privilege and life-changing opportunity. It’s an opportunity to learn not only to play better tennis, but is an opportunity to get a leg up when the working world becomes a reality. Employers do indeed embrace collegiate student/athletes as potential employees, because they know time management skills, they commit to a purpose in a team environment with dedication, to completion. They feel that taking a chance on a past successful student/athlete is good bet and strong investment.
You bet this student/athlete collegian role is a commitment and privilege. You are in the minority of the student body and are a role model, whether you accept this as fact or not. Parents, make sure when you send your son or daughter off to play collegiate sports that they have a deep understanding as to what is being provided to them and the privilege they have. It’s a four-year window that closes way too fast. If a parent is enabling that child to not do the right things because their son/daughter sold you a bill of goods stating they do not have enough time and the commitment is hard, you are being taken for a ride and being sold the Brooklyn Bridge for a quarter. You are sending them to a college for an education, to challenge them to become overachievers and successful. It’s a huge privilege, not an entitlement, and will pay off handsomely in the long-run.
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.