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December 2002 Article

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What Most College Coaches
are Looking for in Players

John Mills Photo
John Mills, USPTA

After teaching tennis for almost 30 years I have talked to many collegiate coaches. Some of the qualities they are looking for may surprise you. Only a few players will get to the elite positions in college tennis (NCAA Division 1). Most players think that all coaches are looking for just the players with the "perfect game". Surprisingly, there are many coaches that are looking to take a player and help that player attain his or her goals.

Some attributes, which cannot be overlooked, are size, power and speed. Of these, power and speed can be improved by conditioning, weight training, cross training, etc. When you start applying for colleges you are basically putting yourself in a position of interviewing for a job. You don’t know when a coach may show up at a tournament to get a sneak peak and you should be prepared to offer the best impression possible. You are in a position where you must make the coach want you for their team.

When you get down to the "nitty gritty", these are some of the things that coaches are looking for that may make the difference in the final selection:

  1. The overall appearance of a player will make a big impression. Is the player making an effort to project a positive self-image, paying attention to good grooming? Making a "statement" with attire on the court or long uncut hair (for a male) may be giving the wrong first impression This can be very important as the coach will not have the time to get to know you personally while recruiting.
  2. Is the player displaying positive body language during the match, even when the point or games are not going his or her way? A coach doesn’t want to see a hot head. The coach wants to see that a player is in control of his or her emotions and able to stay focused on the game and move on to the next point.
  3. Does the player make good "eye contact" when talking and listening? If you get the opportunity to speak with the coach, then the coach will be observing your communication skills. When you talk, don’t mumble, speak distinctly and loud enough so the coach doesn’t have to ask you to repeat yourself. Be direct, to the point and don’t ramble or make excuses.
  4. Be a good listener, don’t interrupt or look around at what’s going on around you. What the coach has to say is important. Let the coach know you are listening and interested. Respond with comments and questions to show you are capable of carrying on a conversation. The manner in which you communicate may indicate to the coach whether or not you are able to accept coaching advice.
  5. Does the player have a good "work ethic? The court is your office and how you conduct yourself on and off the court will say a lot about you. Be a considerate player and do not display poor gamesmanship and it will go a long way for you.
  6. Does the player have good "time management skills"? This is very important when starting college. Balancing tennis with studying and social time is very difficult. Many students have dropped out of college as a result of not being able to prioritize and schedule time wisely and efficiently in order to do everything that they need to do.
  7. Is the player a team player? There is no "I" in TEAM. The coach is not looking for a Prima Dona. The coach wants players who will fit into the team and contribute positively to the morale of the team. Healthy competition within a team is good and can be accomplished if you have the right mix of players. Diversity in a group is good, but the basic complexion of the group should be the same, such as commitment, flexibility, generosity, honesty, easy to get a long with, outgoing, helpful, and attitude to name a few.
  8. Does the player have a true love of the game? This can be very important. The coach wants a player who truly loves the game, not one who’s only goal is to get on a team in order to fulfill the dreams of their parents or to help foot the bill. A player with that kind of an attitude will not last on the team and only wastes the time of the coach and the other players, so the coach wants to avoid that kind of player if possible.

There are many more coaches looking to build a team rather than inherit a team. Look for one of them. A good coach can watch a player play one match and make his decision. In a match, nothing is hidden. The coach will see how you carry yourself and how you deal with pressure. The direct outcome of a match the coach is watching may not have any bearing on the coach's impression and ultimately their decision. The coach is looking for as many positive qualities as possible. Project a positive image in every game and incorporate some of these attributes into your game from now on... because you may not know when a coach may be watching. The qualities that coaches are looking for are the same basic qualities that your future boss will be looking for in you later.

Good luck on the court!

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This column is copyrighted by John Mills, all rights reserved.

John Mills' experience includes four years as head pro at the Windemere Racquet & Swim Club, where he was responsible for organization of all tennis activities at the club. John also played college tennis at the University of Houston and has spent 20 years teaching tennis at the Memorial Park Tennis Center, the Pasadena Racquet Club, and as the head pro at the Bay Area Racquet Club.


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