You're a good high school tennis player who thinks that you might be able to earn a tennis scholarship to college. Your parents would love nothing more because the cost of a college education these days is enough to make even Pete Sampras blink.
Last month we talked about the beginning stages of the scholarship hunt and this month I'd like to take it a step further. To review: there are over 100,00 athletic scholarships available in 35 sports and yes, tennis is one of these sports.
Unfortunately, there is no real centralized location where college coaches and high school student athletes can find each other. This means that, unless you are a highly ranked or highly publicized tennis player, most college coaches will never hear of you.
So it is up to you to take the bull by the horns and put yourself out on the scholarship market in a way that will make the coaches take notice.
Last month we talked about the first step in the process, selecting your scholarship team. These are people who can give you advice, help with the paper work and guide you along the path to choosing a college. Team members might include your parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, etc.
Once you have your team firmly in place you then need to form a list of potential schools that best suit you. This can be tricky. While your first instinct may be to look only at colleges where you
can play tennis and earn a scholarship, you must remember the true reason that you are going to college---to get the best education possible!!! Tennis should be secondary.
You must put your ego aside and be realistic here. While we all have dreams of taking the court against Sampras or Seles on the pro tour, the fact is that the athletic careers of most college athletes ends when their eligibility is up.
"Only 70 out of every 1,000,000 high school athletes will go on to play a professional sport for even a brief period of time," says Penny Hastings, author of the book How To Win A Sports Scholarship. "A college degree however, lasts a lifetime."
With this in mind, the best approach when selecting colleges to investigate, is to search for all of the schools that meet your academic requirements first, and then narrow your focus to those schools that offer scholarships in tennis.
Your best resource for a list of colleges is the library and local bookstore. There are many, many college guides out there which can give you all the details you'll need to make your list.
Keep in mind that there are other factors to consider when putting together your list of schools. Location, campus environment, size of the school, student/teacher ratio, graduation rate of athletes, and course requirements are all important elements in your decision and should be considered carefully.
Mike Quitko, Head Coach of the Quinipiac men's and women's teams says that "When one is looking at schools, they should imagine themselves at the school without the ability to play tennis." "If you get hurt and are unable to player tennis you had better like the school."
In addition, speak with members of your team, family, friends, anyone who knows your goals, and ask them to offer suggestions. An initial list of no more than 30 schools is recommended.
Once you've narrowed your list of schools, the next step is to write and send an initial contact letter. This letter should be sent at the beginning of your junior year, though some coaches have said that they prefer to hear from students even earlier, during the sophomore year.
The letter should be sent to the coach of each school that you are interested in, with the purpose being to introduce yourself, express your interest in their program, and request more information about both the school and the athletic department.
"Do not," says Mike Quitko, "mention scholarship in the initial letter. It is the kiss of death. If, as we get further along in the process, a particular player that we really want is needy for whatever reason, we'll make sure that we won't lose them due to lack of funds."
Be sure to send the letter to the coach directly and use his or her name. DO NOT begin your letter by saying "Dear Coach" or "Dear Athletic Director." I guarantee you that if a coach has two letters in his hand, one which is addressed to "Dear Coach," and the other, "Dear Mr. Adams," he will be much more impressed with the one which has his name on it.
Also, be sure to spell it correctly. This is easy information to
find and can be done by simply calling the school and asking for the coach's name and proper spelling.
By taking the time to find out the name of the person you are writing, you will immediately stand out from the crowd and leave a favorable impression.
After you've sent out your letters, the information will soon begin to arrive from the schools on your list. You must then begin to cross-match them with those that fit both your skill level and offer scholarships.
You list will shrink considerably and will probably be narrowed down to 10-15 schools that become your prime candidates. Now the real work begins; you must convince these coaches that they should give one of their very few scholarships to you. In other words, you must sell yourself.
The first stage of the selling process, says Penny Hastings, "is to send the coaches your "Sports Resume Kit" which includes additional information to help the coaches get to know you.
Simply put, this is your sales kit and you are the product. Your Sports Resume Kit should appear much like the resume of a business professional searching for a job.
It should include a cover letter, a concise list of your academic, athletic and personal accomplishments, a good picture of yourself, letters of recommendation, an offer to provide a sports video, upcoming match or tournament schedule, copies of newspaper clippings, awards, etc.
Make sure that your kit looks as neat and professionally done as possible. This means type-written, numbered pages, and be sure that you proof read any information you send out. After you have read over your kit, give it to someone else and let them go over it as well. It is vital that this presentation be impressive because this is going to provide the coach with his first real impression of you.
Many coaches say that quite often they simply throw material from high school students directly into the garbage because they are sloppy, unreadable and appear haphazardly done. The coach figures that if a sloppy presentation is the best that student can present then the student is not college material.
After you've sent you Sports resume kit, wait a week to ten days and then call each coach to confirm that they received the kit. Do not sit by the phone waiting for the coaches to call you. Get a jump on the competition.
Keep your name in front of the coaches by continually updating them on anything new that has happened, a big tournament win, an award, and academic achievement, etc. Remember, each coach has hundreds of athletes contacting them every year so anything that you can do to make you stand out from the pack will help.
For example, show an interest in the coach's life. A Christmas card to the coach and his family or a letter of congratulations if his team has a big win helps to further plant your name in the coach's mind and it is quite often these seemingly insignificant details that can sway a coach's decision. "Persistence indicates a desire," said one coach, so go for it.
Also, try to be seen as much as possible. Play as many tournaments as possible and attend college camps. Many college coaches conduct summer camps. Go to these, get to know the coach and vice versa.
The better you can get to know the college coaches, and they you, the better the chance of staying in their minds when the time comes for them to decide who they'll offer their scholarships to.
I hope that these last two columns will serve as a good start to your quest for a college scholarship. There are, however, many more elements you will need to be familiar with in order to complete the task thoroughly and properly. Too many, in fact, for this space to adequately address.
Things such as recruiting rules, negotiating with college coaches and the role that parents should play in the process are all vital factors and you should become familiar with each of these areas.
With this in mind, I strongly suggest that you head to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of Hastings and Craven's book which, during my research, I found to be the most thorough.