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Are you recruitable? Lessons Learned in College Placement

Are you recruitable? Lessons Learned in College Placement

I get this question all the time: What do college coaches look for in players? Recruiting, and how college coaches go about identifying prospective talent, is a primary interest of mine and one that influenced my line of research while in graduate school for sport psychology. The following is a short summary of years of actual research, along with hundreds of conversations with the nation's top tennis coaches at all levels. Keep in mind, these anecdotes are from coaches of top 20 programs and their answers reflect their own needs in terms of talent, character, and intangible abilities.

Can the

Not surprisingly, prospects need to have talent and be able to play at a high level. As one coach told me, "If he can't play at this level then I simply can't recruit him. He might be a great guy, but if he doesn't have the skill set required to win then he can't really help us." Improve your skills and then back it up with results. Rankings and results are simply a ticket to get into the show, but there are other factors that ultimately influence recruiting decisions. 

Can I trust him/her?

The word "trust" permeated countless conversations I have had with coaches over the years. In short, coaches want to know that they can trust you if they decide to put you in the starting lineup. They want to know if you will compete, regardless of the circumstances. They want to know if you will have a good attitude and fight through adversity. They want to know if you can handle pressure and not let it define your performance. They want to know what will happen over the course of 10 matches. As one coach once told me, "The worst feeling is putting a guy out there and not knowing what he will give you that day. Will he fight? Will he tank? Will he put it on the line? Will he crack under the pressure? If I can't trust you, then how can I start you?" Build trust by bringing your bottom end up. Bring a consistent effort and fight level to each competition. In doing so, you build trust in yourself and others will be able to see it as well.

Does the player care?

As one DI coach told me, "I look at how a player responds after losing a tough match. Does she take it hard and is visibly upset? Or, does she drop the loss quickly and laugh it off with her friends 5 minutes later? For me, I want the kid who is visibly upset and hates to lose. I can't love the game for the player, nor can I make her care about doing well." Simply put, coaches want to see your passion. Prove that you care about doing well by putting a good product out there each time. Work hard in practice each day and invest yourself. The more you invest, the harder it will be to accept a loss or poor performance. 

Do I want to be around this player? Would my current players like this player?

It might seem strange, but coaches are human beings too. They don't always like everyone simply because they are on the team. A player's attitude and character can greatly improve the team culture and make the experience unforgettable. On the other hand, a player's attitude and character can rip a team apart and make it no fun for anyone. Which player are you? As a DI coach stated, "I like to watch a player interact with his family, with his friends, with the tournament staff. These interactions give me a lot of information. Is he well-liked? Does he have any friends? Is he personable? Is he respectful? Is he humble and gracious in success and defeat? Most players don't realize we are watching a lot more than just the time you spend on court during competition."

So, what does it all mean? College coaches want the complete package - talent, character, personality, resiliency, etc. So, what can you do? Here are 3 things to be working on or aware of as you work your way towards recruitment:

1) Practice and compete as though you are being watched each and every day. What would a college coach see if he/she watched one of your practices or matches? Before you can become consistent in attitude and effort, you have to be consistent in your attitude and effort. Make the right choices each day and become the constant, not the variable. 

2) Be a different player 2 weeks and 2 months from now. Will a college coach see improvement since the last time he/she saw you play? Create short term goals and keep yourself accountable to them each day. Stack quality practices on top of one another and realize you won't get those bad practices back. 

3) Be open, be honest. When talking with college coaches, be honest and ready to explain your plan to improve. Answers like "I just need to keep working hard" are not good enough. What do you have to improve? Is it mental? Physical? Tactical? Talk about your player development plan and tournament schedule, along with your upcoming goals. Coaches love to see a player take ownership and be self-motivated to improve. 

"Peaking Mentally" starts now

There are about three weeks left before the USTA National Clay Court Championships kick off the summer grind.  As I work with players getting ready to peak at the summer nationals, there are common themes that should be addressed so that players can cash in on their hard work.

By now, the training foundation has been completed.  From building the physical toughness and endurance, to cleaning up the technical changes, players must now transition into a different mode for the weeks leading up to the big events.  

1. Sharpen the blade:  

  • Focus on your weapons and what you do well.  Win with your strengths each day of practice to build confidence.
  • Shift your focus to tactics over technique.  Ask questions that matter during competitive point play.  What adjustments can I make?  What does my opponent do well/not well? How can I play to my strengths?       

2. Approach each day with purpose:

  • Create "mini-match goals" to stay engaged during competition.  Create measurable goals that relate to your game style. For instance, "Win 10 points at the net," or "Serve out wide on every first serve to the deuce box." 
  • Never leave the court frustrated or mad; finish with something positive each day. If you had a rough training day then end it with a drill that you love. I like to have players end practices with finishing drills like floater volleys, overheads, or mid-court balls; they work on being aggressive, which can alleviate the frustration. 

3. Execute your mental routines:

  • Use practice matches and smaller tournaments to work on your on-court presence. How do you want to look and act when you are competing at the larger tournaments? Practice being the player you want to be when the pressure arrives.  
  • Use your self-talk in a motivational way.  Remind yourself of the long road you have taken to get to this point and the challenges you have overcome.  

4. Use the excitement and nerves as motivation

  • As the excitement and pressure builds closer to the tournaments, keep yourself accountable for having a good attitude and work on being a positive player each day. The nerves are a good sign; you care, and you are emotionally engaged.  Now direct this nervous energy into a positive manner. 
  • Remember, the tournaments are the fun part!  They give you an opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and test yourself in new ways.  

Look for the ASP Team in Florida during the Clay Court Nationals events.  If you are interested in working on your mental skills, reach out to us today to schedule training sessions.  Best of luck this summer!  


Finding the Small Wins in a Loss

I have been working hard for a long time. I said enough about the nerves. I was nervous during the matches last year. Working hard every day slows that down... The victories help. Still not 100% perfect, but it is much, much better.
— Rafa Nadal after winning Monte-Carlo

Nadal's win in Monte-Carlo represents his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title since 2014, and more importantly, represents a return to championship form that he has been lacking over the past 2 years.  Injuries, age, and a surging Novak Djokovic have not helped Nadal's road back to the top, but here he is once again holding the trophy in Monte-Carlo and marching his way to Paris.  It took a champion's mindset and approach to fight through the struggle and the setbacks, and Nadal's experience is full of learning opportunities for all players.

One of the most common questions I get from players is "I am working hard, but why aren't the results coming?" These are players who are returning from injury, making changes to their games, or who simply have not broken through the way they thought they would by that point in their careers. Regardless of the situation, the message is pretty much the same; each time you step onto the court is an opportunity to go out and get a step closer to where you want to be. Find the small wins in the losses as a way of maintaining and building your confidence; in doing so, your mindset will become more engaged in personal progress and finding solutions. 

If you go back through Nadal's press conferences over the past year, you will hear him working through this process of finding small wins.  In Buenos Aires and Rio, Nadal lost two three set matches, and while he was not happy with the outcomes he was pleased that he kept competing through his struggles. This year at Indian Wells, Nadal pointed out that even though he is losing to Djokovic, the fact that he is going deeper into tournaments to play against him is a big step forward.  Further, he noted that he was gaining more confidence in his forehand, and he was more competitive against Djokovic than in prior meetings. Not surprisingly, Nadal stated his forehand and level of competitiveness were the main reasons for his success in Monte-Carlo. 

Maintaining confidence is an active process, especially when going through difficult times. If you choose to focus on the negatives, you will keep finding the negatives at every step along the way. By finding the small wins in the losses, you train your mind to sift through the negatives and locate what you can build upon and what you can control.