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March 5, 2020

The Evolution of College Tennis Recruiting

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While Tennis Recruiting Network – an NCAA college tennis coach’s premier venue to scout prospective high-school athletes – only launched in 2005, numerous significant changes to the recruiting process have already been implemented (Lecessi, USA Today). These changes reshaped both the traditional logic NCAA coaches from noteworthy schools were using, as well as the strategy student-athletes would use to give themselves the best shot of getting recruited. We hope to provide you with some background on the old system compared to the current, introduce their competitors (who are becoming increasingly popular), discuss potential pros and cons for certain players as a result of the changes, and finally, give you some helpful tips on how to continue putting yourself in the most advantageous position for scouts and coaches.

The Old vs. The New

At the inception of the Tennis Recruiting Network, one of the biggest frustrations players experienced was related to the methodology used to calculate player rankings. There was no real methodology or any standardized ranking calculations. To be fair, the site was just getting started, and college tennis recruiting, in general, didn’t have a high market cap potential, but nonetheless, the rankings were essentially arbitrarily selected based on the gut feeling of their employees. This had significant implications across the board but specific to college tennis recruiting, a lower-than-deserved ranking could have automatically disqualified you from consideration at a school you may very well have been a good fit for. Most notably, there was a substantial disincentive for top-ranked players to play more tournaments. Even though there was not any specific methodology used, it was extremely apparent that a player’s W-L ratio was a primary factor. To prove this with real data, we can take a look at publicly available statistics from Tennis Recruiting Network to compare the top-ranked recruits from an earlier recruiting year, with a more recent recruiting year. We randomly selected the Boys Class of 2006 and the Boys Class of 2017, adding statistics for the Top 5 of each year as the sample size. 

Boys Class of 2006

  1. Marcus Fugate; Tournaments Played: 5; Overall Record: 13-6
  2. Kallim Stewart; Tournaments Played: 3; Overall Record: 14-1
  3. Dylan Arnould; Tournaments Played: 8; Overall Record: 10-8
  4. Attila Bucko; Tournaments Played: 12; Overall Record: 40-8
  5. Holden Seguso; Tournaments Played: 4; Overall Record: 7-4

Boys Class of 2017

  1. Benjamin Sigouin; Tournaments Played: 7; Overall Record: 12-7
  2. Oliver Crawford; Tournaments Played: 13; Overall Record: 28-13
  3. Alafia Ayeni; Tournaments Played: 21; Overall Record: 37-19
  4. Gianni Ross; Tournaments Played: 14; Overall Record: 27-15
  5. Alexander Brown; Tournaments Played: 10; Overall Record: 31-10

(Source: tennisrecruiting.net)

The numbers clearly indicate both the amount of total matches and tournaments played among the top recruits increased substantially in 2017 as compared to 2006. Specifically, the top recruits in the boys class of 2006 combined for 32 tournaments played and an 84-24 record, while the boys class of 2017 combined for 65 tournaments played and a 141-64 record. Therefore the class of 2017 played in more than double the tournaments of the 2006 class, as well as additionally winning 59 more matches in total. Not only do more tournament results make for a more accurate recruiting profile, but that dynamic creates a lot more revenue for the USTA (United States Tennis Association) as a whole (Widom, Tennis Consult). 

As the Tennis Recruiting Network grew and virtually monopolized the college tennis recruiting market, there was a clear incentive for competitors to emerge. One of the most popular today, if not the most popular, is UTR (Universal Tennis Rating). Though it was established in 2008, it didn’t gain much name recognition until fairly recently. The first two sentences on the UTR website’s history sums up perfectly where the company started and what it’s grown into today: 

“Universal Tennis was founded in 2008 by a group of passionate tennis players and coaches with one goal in mind: to make tennis more affordable, accessible and fun for all players, regardless of age, gender, and socioeconomic status. Over the last decade, Universal Tennis has grown from a rating system used by college coaches for recruiting into the world’s premier global tennis platform for players, organizers, and coaches.”

(Source: myutr.com)

UTR currently has over 1 million active users in 200 different countries, and over 12 million matches logged (myutr.com/about). With backing from technology superpower Oracle and current ATP world #1 Novak Djokovic, and a much trendier, ease-to-use site as compared to Tennis Recruiting, it’s no surprise to see UTR rapidly picked up popularity. Their main selling point, seamlessly allowing both coaches and players to participate in with a wide variety of engagement to network and collaborate to find the best tennis path for each individual, is another reason to believe UTR will continue to build on their already considerable presence in the tennis-recruiting arena. 

Winners and Losers

Before we go into detail about how to put yourself in the best position in the new recruiting landscape, it’s important to understand which types of players gain an advantage (and vice versa), as a result of the more recent changes. We’ll elaborate on this even more in the next section, but as you’ll notice from the above class comparison, nowadays players who excel in stamina and play a lot of tournaments have an edge. Not only does that generally lead to a better rating or ranking spot, but it also gives prospective student-athletes more opportunities to pitch themselves to college coaches. Another fairly obvious winner group is players who have a large W-L spread, or a high winning percentage. It gets a bit complicated here because winning percentage is far from necessarily indicative of your class standing, which is precisely why Tennis Recruiting has a Schedule Strength rating category (Tennis Recruiting Network). This prevents players from competing in lower-tier tournaments, for the exclusive purpose of boosting their W-L ratio. 

The players who lose out in this dynamic are conversely the ones who tend to play fewer tournaments; ironically, often it’s incredibly talented players who only want to compete in the highest level tournaments. One or two disappointing results, if you’re playing an exceptionally light schedule, amplify those results that much more. Consequently, your winning percentage wouldn’t be a fair representation of your talent on the court. 

Tips on Gaining a Recruiting Edge Today

The first thing you want to do is make sure to create an account on multiple tennis recruiting websites and consistently keep your player profile up to date. Furthermore, make sure to take full advantage of the variety of tools each site offers; for example, Tennis Recruiting allows registered members to see which coaches viewed them and how frequently they visited their player profile page. If you’re a decently high ranked recruit, you’ll probably notice a lot of different schools visiting your profile regularly. If you register for a tournament that you know one of the coaches will be attending, make sure to reach out to them beforehand, introduce yourself before going on the court, and if they stop by to watch you, whether you’re winning or losing, make sure always to appear professional and be on your very best behavior.  

Additionally, as we’ve been talking about, play a lot of tournaments and take advantage of events featured on the UTR website that are useful to you. If you’re looking to play college tennis, irrespective of your actual chances, there is no downside with having a busy tournament schedule. There are a large variety of reasons it makes sense for very talented players. It makes even more sense for less talented players. When you’re not an extremely high ranked player expecting a full scholarship offer at a Division I school, which is the case for the vast majority of high school tennis players looking to play in college, the reality is college tennis coaches make decisions at the margin for those people. When they have one spot left to fill, and you’re one of a handful of recruits on their list, a standout match you won could ultimately be the deciding factor. In other words, one big win is more powerful than multiple bad losses. College tennis coaches, particularly at schools where tennis scholarships aren’t given, are also very conscious of the reality that many tennis players use tennis as a way to get into college, then quit the team once they’re in. Playing a lot of tournaments goes a long way in showing you take the sport seriously. 

Lastly, be yourself. Some people struggle with this as they’re understandably trying to project an image of themselves they believe a college coach would want to see, but it doesn’t always work out in their benefit. While the popular expression of not acting in a given situation as you do with your friends does apply to your interactions with college coaches, one of the worst things you could do for yourself is come off as disingenuous. I’d be surprised if any college tennis coach disagreed that that’s an automatic red flag. 

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