For high school-aged tennis players, looking towards the future and where they will embark on the next chapter of their lives in college can be a daunting endeavor, and it can be difficult to know where to even begin when searching for the right fit.
Similarly, for college coaches, searching for the right players and people to enter your program is an equally-difficult task, with so many players out there to choose from.
Enter the USTA Eastern College Showcase Day, one of the pillar events of the Eastern Section which has helped revolutionize and simplify the college recruiting process for all the parties involved.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last two years of the Showcase have been held virtually, with coaches watching players play via video, and seminars and lectures being held online. And while the virtual showcase was effective, it was unable to achieve the true mission of the Showcase.
But earlier this fall, the two-year Showcase hiatus came to an end, and the event returned to its natural habitat: in-person. The 34th annual USTA Eastern College Showcase brought together players, coaches, parents, experts and more to The Saw Mill Club in Mount Kisco to form a bridge between high school tennis players and collegiate tennis coaches.
“We were so excited to be able to do this in-person again,” said Julie Bliss-Beal, USTA Eastern’s Senior Director of Competition, who runs the annual Showcase, who also added this year’s event featured a record number of student athletes in attendance. “The virtual was a great concept considering the environment we were in at the time, but parents and players never knew who was watching their kid play. You also lose that one-on-one interview process and being able to learn more about a coach or program, something that can be difficult sometimes through a computer or phone.
I also think it’s important for parents to see and talk to other parents, and for players to see their friends and peers here, because they are all going through a similar process. So it’s a great way for them to continue to network, and I’m sure there are a lot of coaches here from programs that they may never even had heard of, and wouldn’t really be able to learn about in a virtual environment. So it’s really invaluable.”
Monica LaMura, the Director of Marketing and Communications, echoed that sentiment:
“Having it back in person is really meaningful for us,” she said. “It feels a lot different to be physically here, rather than trying to communicate all these things through pamphlets, brochures and Zoom calls. This just hits different, and being in person is such a better way to do this.”
The Showcase runs all day and includes an array of different activities for both players and coaches to take part in.
“I feel that this event presented a great opportunity to not only display my skills in front of a wide range of coaches but also see the other types of players and see how they challenged me,” said junior Rachel Neuman. “Also, it gave me connections to coaches from schools that attended the event and ones that didn’t. Some even from schools that I was previously applied to! I learned a lot about the recruiting process and what it takes to play on the different division levels which helped clarify where I felt I was comfortable playing.”
Spread out across the 13-plus courts at the Saw Mill Club, players take part in match play, both singles and doubles, as coaches rotate around the courts and observe. This allows players to demonstrate how they compete against different types of competition, while coaches are able to see how these players handle pressure moments and match scenarios.
“I can’t sing the praises of this event enough,” said Kevin Kane, the Vice President and General Manager at the Saw Mill Club. “It’s a great marketplace of ideas, where you get a chance to put kids who are good players and give them a recruitment opportunity in front of Division I, II and III schools. When Julie and I connected on this event about a dozen years ago, I knew it was the perfect thing for our club to sponsor. We close down for a day, put carpets down on our two show courts which then serves as the main room where all the coaches and colleges set up. These players ought to be playing tennis for life, and this event provides the venue to find their ideal collegiate tennis fit.”
Helping to create a showcase that covers all aspects of the college recruiting process is the workshops and seminars that take place as well which cover a range of topics including one for players on how to get recruited, where experts discussed how to communicate with collegiate coaches and what helps a player stand out, as well as one emphasizing the importance of the mental game, given by Rob Polishook, acclaimed mental sports coach and author.
Polishook also presented a seminar to the coaches in attendance entitled “From Hothead to Hero”, where he demonstrated how to coach the person first, and the player second.
“We talked about the importance of coaching the whole human athlete and it went really well,” said Polishook. “The coaches were very receptive and engaged, and we spoke about the three Cs: Care, Connect and Communicate, and gave examples on how they can do that, and how crucial it is to have coaches identify what their personal talents are, not what makes them a good or bad tennis player, but makes them who they are.
I think this is such a great event to be able to discuss this concept to, and helping them be able to get their players to focus on their process and be their authentic selves, which will help them become better tennis players.”
Longtime tennis coach Whitney Kraft is entering his first season as the head coach for the men’s and women’s tennis teams at Oneonta State in upstate New York, and used the Showcase to further his program’s brand, connect with others and learn more.
“I found the presentations on mental toughness from Rob Polishook, and How to Get Recruited by Scott Treibly very valuable learning sessions,” said Kraft. “The Eastern College Showcase delivers an invaluable resource for college coaches and provides us face-to-face time with players and parents. The opportunity to both watch the athlete in action on court, as well as answer questions and highlight your school’s offerings, campus life, and other pertinent information are extremely important in this process.”
In addition, Kraft emphasized the unique opportunity the event provides for coaches to talk with each other.
“It was great meeting other coaches, and discuss potential future match opportunities between our schools, fundraising ideas, along with the best practices for developing a team culture and brand,” he said. “The Showcase proved very important for me as a first-year head coach.”
For the last three decades, the USTA Eastern’s College Showcase Day has been a pinnacle event for the organization, and an integral one for its overall mission of growing the game of tennis in our community. The 2022 edition of the Showcase was a return to normal, being hosted in-person as opposed to virtually, as it will continue to help play match maker for student-athletes and colleges.
“I think there is a misconception sometimes when it comes to college tennis, that it has to be uber competitive and all-consuming,” LaMura added. “For some players it is and they will go on to play at great Division I schools, but as you see when you come here, a lot of colleges offer intramural sports, or have Tennis on Campus, so there are a lot of ways for these students to continue to play tennis when they go to college, and do so on their terms. This is a great platform to learn about all of those opportunities and hear from experts. The Showcase is a one-stop shop for them to be able to get all of that information, and we are thrilled to be able to provide that for them.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org