The American College Tennis system has always been a great way for players to develop their game and be in a structured environment. I believe in this day and age the majority of young players coming through should be pursuing this pathway, staying in school and focusing both on Tennis and their academics.
The simple facts are that the majority of good young players (nationally ranked, worldwide) coming through will not compete on the professional level, under 5% of them will make it into the top 1000.
For this reason, I always encourage young players to stay in school and work hard academically no matter how their tennis is tracking. A player is only an injury away from never playing again.
This provides them with structure, social interaction and an outlet away from tennis. Doing this can open doors to follow the American College Pathway or set them up within their own country to attend a university/college.
I know a lot of players globally are looking to pursue the American College Pathway. So it is also getting more competitive to get placed somewhere. However, the harder you work, the more opportunity you will get.
Within Australia, we have seen an increase in agencies that offer guidance around obtaining college entrance. With the UTR ranking system in full swing, it shows me how far things have come and also the interest from both sides (players and colleges) in the tennis sporting sector.
In my opinion, a big reason the American college system is successful is due to the team environment. The majority of the time a tennis player is in ‘solo mode’ it is all about themselves and most of the time it needs to be.
However, being in a team environment like a college team provides players with a broader mindset which enables them to work on and develop other areas of their social skills, communication, and lives in general. It also teaches players to rely on others, trust, and loyalty.
These are traits that serve us well as we journey through life. For these reasons I can see these programs continue to grow and more and more people will look at this as a real option.
Last year I interviewed 2 Australians who were in an American College playing tennis. They both spoke very highly of the process and both felt they had made the right decision pursuing it. They felt they had good support and connection over there, which as a parent myself would be a concern of mine.
I asked them about the training side of things. One of them was in a division 2 college team, the other was in a division 1 team. The division 2 player commented that they had to do the majority of their own Tennis Fitness Programming and organized a lot of hits also. They said that it was easy as all the other team members would train and hit together outside their college structure.
He felt it unified them more, having that extra responsibility as a team. The division 1 player, had all her practice sessions organized (hitting, Tennis Strength and Conditioning, recovery etc) she found it to be very professional and thorough. Being a tennis fitness trainer, I loved hearing about it all!
(To watch the interview, click on the video at top of the page)
One area that is of concern to me is the actual rate of major injuries that I hear of from players coming through the college system, it is no worse than that of a player working outside the college system, however given the amount of support that should be on offer (Tennis Fitness Programming, Tennis Player Monitoring), I believe can improve.
Most of these tennis injuries seem to be from division 2 colleges. We always strongly recommend developing players follow an off-court Tennis Strength and Conditioning Program. In fact, we developed a program specific for the college player, you can check it out here - https://www.memberstennisfitness.com/high-performance-strength-and-conditioning
Placing recovery protocols in place can reduce many tennis injuries. Players need to be more responsible for their own recovery and off-court training. Most colleges will provide adequate tennis practice and tournament scheduling etc.
One area I would like to see improve is the emphasis on tennis injury prevention and recovery. This can happen through educating players on the right protocols, when to do things and how often they should be doing them. Once they learn these things and apply them, they will be set for life, no matter the environment they are in.
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