Should I play on my high school varsity tennis team? Should I play USTA Regional, Sectional and National tournaments? Should I try to do both?
If I only play in tournaments and not for my high school, am I eligible to play in the County Tournament or qualify for the states?
Which sounds better … County Champion or a particular rank in an age category in the Long Island Region, Eastern Region or National rankings?
In the future or even a year from now, which is more impressive, my ranking or the fact that I was New York State High School Champion?
The questions listed above are ones faced by many top juniors each year. Unfortunately, the choice is not an easy one to make.
My United States Tennis Association ranking is like the SATs. College coaches use the rankings to compare their possible recruits and scholarships can often be determined by the ranking. Parents might push the tournament route as a way to get a college scholarship or get into a “better” school, as private teachers push the USTA Tournaments as an advertisement for future clients.
“I coach the number five-ranked 16-year-old, and the number-two-ranked 14-year-old,” they may boast.
“Play tournaments and you get to play singles” and “There’s no one on the high school team that is worth practicing with,” are common arguments by the private pro.
High school coaches preach the virtues of school spirit, socialization, team fun and community pride. The coach might emphasize how playing for your school looks good on a college application. Being number one on your team means you’re the best in the whole school … compelling arguments from all sides.
Thus the dilemma …
Choose one or the other some preach. Playing both high school tennis and USTA Tournaments might be too taxing on young developing bodies. Top juniors are frequently sidelined for long periods of time due to the enormous physical burden of playing high level tennis. It takes its toll on the knees, shoulders, backs and ankles. And with all this tennis, when is there time for schoolwork?
From my perspective as coordinator of boys and girls public high school tennis for Nassau County, I'm prejudiced towards playing for the high school team. I believe that with the proper support from parents, the private professional and the high school coach, the top juniors can devise plans to play both high school tennis and selective tournaments. Many of the questions raised earlier can be alleviated or minimized through proper planning, prioritizing and compromising.
Long Island tennis has a long history of outstanding players who played both tournaments and for their high school. Among the recent elite are current touring pros Scott Lipsky of Bellmore JFK and Stanford University, and Bea Bialik of Hewlett, N.Y. Cory Parr is an All-American for Wake Forest after starring for Jericho High School. Cory was a high ranked junior who won the New York State Singles Title on two occasions and was a one-time winner of the Doubles Championship during his years of high school tennis. There are approximately 11,000 high school players each season ... winning a state championship is pretty impressive feat.
Unfortunately, some of our top Nassau County players have given up playing for their high schools altogether. Others have chosen to play a Regional or Sectional Tournament instead of the County Tournament. This choice eliminated them from possibly qualifying for the states. Most of the players I’ve taken to either Syracuse (Girls States) or the National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadow (Boys States) have expressed what an honor it was to be one of only 30 singles or 30 doubles players eligible for the states. Overwhelmingly, they think the title “State Champ” or the fact that they came in fourth in New York State is more impressive than a numerical ranking.
As a high school coach in Oceanside, N.Y., I believe the team experience provides a team concept type of fun, a concept that being solely a tournament player does not. Sharing winning or losing with friends is a part of growing up. The daily interaction of teammates allows for greater maturation, and as previously mentioned, being part of a team fosters both school and community spirit. Being on a team helps players get away from the “all about me” spotlight and the attention that comes with it.
Unfortunately, the elite player argues that there is no one individual player good enough on their team to make practice worthwhile. I’ve seen outstanding players help lesser players while still working on their own skills.
One of the best players I’ve ever coached in Oceanside, Jon Bonnet, used to play our number two singles player with his opposite hand (lefty). Not only did he challenge himself and his teammate, but he also eventually made his two-handed backhand stronger. Ironically, Jon and Jared Berse eventually teamed up to play and win the County Doubles Tournament together and then came in second place in the states.
From my experience, most of the top players in Nassau County High School Tennis not only participate in both team and tournaments matches, but also get tennis scholarships or entry into good colleges or universities.
The dilemma for some is very real. You cannot discount the external forces that push and pull. The physical toll is real. The shortage of time is acute. As a high school coach, I think the friendships and relationships that come from being part of a team are substantial and lasting. Of course, as I mentioned before, I have a biased opinion, and therefore, there is no dilemma!