I interviewed recruiter Ross Greenstein for my blog
and he offered these tips to parents and kids with the goal of securing a scholarship at the school of their choice:
The full interview:
What’s the very first thing a parent should do to start the process and when?
- Start early. Have your child attend practices and camps at local universities as early as 7th and 8th grade, to get to know the college coaches there.
- Let the kids do the talking. Your kid should send out the emails and make the phone calls to college coaches. Not you.
- Non-elite players do get scholarships. Having a major coach as an advocate can influence schools to offer you a scholarship based on your potential.
- The #1 factor in a college’s decision? The interview. Be certain that your kid knows and is liked by the coaches and players prior to the interview.
- The number one payoff of a scholarship isn’t money. It’s connections. College is a great opportunity to build friendships and business relationships with powerful students and alumni.
Ross: Around 7th, 8th, and 9th grade, go watch a college tennis match or team practice. Get a feel for the level of play and the atmosphere and get your face in front of local coaches. Camps on college campuses during the summer are another way to get the attention of coaches. Most Americans live within 60 minutes of a campus with a tennis team, so you don’t need to fly to one of the major programs to get a taste of college tennis and introduce yourself to coaches.
In 10th grade, kids should make a list of the colleges they’re interested in. This list might change over time depending on the kid’s academics and tennis needs, but it’s good to get 5-10 schools on paper. Then put together a proper resume and email those coaches. Ask what grades and what level of tennis the coaches are looking for. Some programs have really high standards, and as your grades and tennis scores start to accumulate in your 10th year, you’ll start to learn which programs you have a realistic chance to join, and you can start to really focus on those particular schools.
What’s the most common mistake you see parents make when getting their child recruited?
Ross: There’s a couple.
First, not having their kids start early. Take your kids in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades to college tennis matches and introduce them to coaches. So definitely start early. I’ve seen parents assume that their kids tennis will become so fantastic in high school that colleges will be beating down their door. And it rarely works out that way, so make those first contacts before high school even begins.
So keep your kids on a schedule, but it shouldn’t be you making the calls and the emails. Your kid needs to be the one doing those things. It’s their job interview.
How does a kid without a “bluechip” tennis ranking, but a lot of potential, get recruited?
Ross: Get the attention of a local college coach who will become his or her advocate. Go to college matches and practices. Attend summer camps at college universities. Maybe coaches will give you a lesson. If your kid has a lot of raw potential, he or she will catch the eye of coaches there.
You just need one coach who believes in you. Even if you’re not good enough to play at his university, he can get on the phone, call other schools and say “hey, I’ve got this kid I’ve been working with…great work ethic…great attitude…mentally solid…you should have a look at her.”
What % of kids get into their #1 choice of school? And what’s the #1 factor for getting into that #1 choice?
Ross: First, it’s about being realistic about your list of schools. Everyone wants to go to Stanford, USC, and Harvard. If your tests scores, grades, and tennis performance don’t match up then you’re wasting your time.
But assuming you’ve chosen the schools that match your academics and tennis scores, the number one factor is definitely the interview with the coach. By the time you’re face-to-face with the coach, you obviously have the academics and tennis they’re looking for. At that point, it comes down to whether or not they like you. Do their existing players know and like you? Do they want to spend the next 4 years with you? And to pass these interviews, it’s just absolutely critical that you’ve already spent time on their courts with their coaches and players.
What percentage of parents ever get their investment in their child’s tennis back in the form of a college scholarship?
Ross: Virtually none. I suppose some kids have sponsors to help pay. But if the average kid starts at age 10 there’s no way a scholarship is going to offset coaching, court fees, travel fees, and other things that go into a nationally ranked junior tennis player. So you can’t look at tennis as a net positive investment of money.
So what’s the ultimate payoff of securing a college tennis scholarship?
Ross: Relationships and networking. The education and the tennis is great, but the relationships you build with kids at schools like USC, Ivy League schools, etc. are hugely valuable. In fact, even the kids and the parents you meet at national tournaments starting at age 10 are very well connected. They own businesses, they work at the top of corporations like Adidas, Microsoft, Wilson, and Nike. You can get interesting, well paying jobs just by being friendly with the powerful people you meet in your tennis career from age 10 to 22!
Yeah, we had a kid sweep the high school state championships all 4 years. He chose a small school called Claremont McKenna, which wasn’t known for its tennis, but more known for producing hedge fund managers.
A lot of high school kids are realizing that their tennis sets up a great future in business. Harvard is usually at the top of kids’ lists because they know about Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and the chances to work at the biggest companies in the world.
It’s ironic because these kids already have access to the kind of connected people they hope to meet at Harvard. They’re at junior tennis tournaments.