Quite often, I ask my junior tennis students and high school players if they will play tennis in college. The response is most often, “I’m not good enough.” This statement, however, is absolutely false. The reality is it depends on where that student attends school.
I played tennis for a Division I program in Wisconsin, and had the opportunity to become the assistant coach of the team as well. Over the past few years, I have also helped out with the Fashion Institute of Technology Men’s and Women’s Tennis programs as a small part of a full-time teaching gig in midtown Manhattan. These two experiences have opened my eyes to the realm of possibilities for youngsters aspiring to play college tennis.
There are many different options for both men and women in collegiate tennis in terms of level, location and funding. What is important to realize is that the better you improve your skills at an early age, the more options will be available to you. With a little research and proper planning, you can find a school that suits you, but first, you need to know what opportunities lie out there and where to look.
One option available in college tennis is the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). The NCAA has three divisions, Division I, II and III. Basically, the differences between the divisions have to do with funding for sports. Universities are categorized a Division I sports program if they offer at least 14 total sports for both men and women, offer some sort of athletic scholarships, and require that students maintain a certain GPA and are full-time students. There are more than 300 schools that offer tennis in Division I for both women and men. Division II is similar, however, schools have less scholarship money for student/athletes and only 10 teams are required per school in order to compete in Division II. There are less Division II schools with tennis teams, however, the number still exceeds 200 universities total. Division III, on the other hand, offers no scholarship money for student/athletes and a university only needs to maintain five sports teams in order to be considered eligible for NCAA Division III. Division III has the most teams for college tennis players, exceeding 300 for both men and women. At an average of eight to 10 players per team, if you are a decent high school tennis player and are looking to play tennis in college, surely there are a variety of options in the NCAA.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) also has more than 100 programs to choose from of varying ability, as well as the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA). These are both options for players that will be choosing a smaller school for their academics, or even potentially want to transfer to a larger program, check out NAIA.org and NJCAA.org for more details.
In addition to formal tennis programs, many universities offer club tennis where teams compete against other club tennis teams in their state or neighboring states. Otherwise, intramural tennis is also an option at certain schools as well, where teams and players play against each other within their own university.
If you are a junior tennis player or even a high school tennis player, there are several things you can do in order to improve your chances at playing college tennis. First, try competing in USTA tournaments. Most college teams will be looking at both your Sectional Ranking and potentially National Ranking as a rough benchmark to determine if you would be able to compete at their level of play. Tournament play will also improve your game no matter where you decide to go to school.
High school tennis is another way to show coaches you know how to compete, be a member of a team and could be ready to play at a collegiate level. In the past several years, coaches have been also using the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) system in order to gauge a players’ abilities. With tennis being so international, this is a good indicator of where you’re at comparatively to others, regardless of gender, age and location among other factors.
Aside from improving your game and working on your junior career, you should definitely make videos of your practices or even playing a couple games in a high-pressure match. Contact each coach and send out videos to schools you might be interested in playing at. You should also ask to meet the coach and some of the players on the team before you choose a school to make sure it is right for you. Most importantly, be realistic about the teams you are looking at, maybe go to one of their matches to see if you are looking at the right level.
The college tennis experience can be a blast if you choose a school that is the right level for your abilities and fits with your overall academic and athletic goals.
Jarett Cascino is currently a Teaching Professional at Midtown Tennis Club. A Minnesota native, he was a standout junior player in the USTA Northern Section, where he won multiple state championships. He played college tennis at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he became an Horizon League All-Conference player before going to on to become an Assistant Coach at his alma mater. He has taught at clubs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida, France, Connecticut, New Jersey and now New York, and enjoys teaching a variety of players of all ages and levels.