Yulia Beygelzimer
Sports Agency

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Sports and education - two in one?

During the last couple of years we often hear that there are less kids coming to play tennis. Parents realize that if they want their children to be able to do this sport they’d have to spend a lot of time, energy and money. So they either choose some other kind of activity or just take it as a hobby for the next couple of years. Many fifteen or sixteen-year-old kids don’t have any possibility to keep playing their favorite game and set some serious goals. Choosing between tennis and education they pick the latter and, after they finish school, just stop playing and dive into the studding. But in reality, tennis is a sport that opens many new doors. Most of the families in our country don’t know that thanks to tennis they could get the possibility to study in the foreign university and still have a chance to make the professional career after that. Whereas in Ukraine inter-college sports competitions are only seen as an addition to the academic classes, in the other countries, for example, in the United States, these events are very popular and are shown on the national TV. The sports budget of the biggest universities and colleges may be measured in millions of dollars, part of this money to be used for the scholarships for the talented athletes, who compete for their team.

In US most of the kids playing tennis from the beginning see it as a chance to get in to the good college. Their goal is to have a good national ranking and to be seen at the main tournaments by the team coaches. So by the time they are in their last year of high school they get couple of propositions from different teams and can choose one of them. To give you a better idea of how does it work I asked the Oklahoma State University assistant coach, Matt Manasse to answer couple of questions for our Tennis Club Magazine.

Y.B. – Hi, Matt, thank you so much for talking to our readers about the college tennis in US. Before we start I would like to congratulate you and your team with the NCAA Championship final you made couple of months ago.
M.M. – Thank you, it was great, we won many matches against strong opponents. We are very happy about it.

Y.B. – Unfortunately in Ukraine we don’t know much about the college tennis. Could you please tell us a little more about it?
M.M. – In USA every school has its teams representing it in different sports. The bigger is the school the more likely it is to have a bigger sports budget, which is spent on student’s scholarships, salaries for the coaches and staff, as well as on building new sports facilities, providing the teams with all the necessary things, etc. This works for all the popular sports and tennis is one of them. Competitions between schools are very popular, colorful events full of adrenaline and emotions; they always drag a lot of attention.
The level of players is very high, there were many examples when athletes after finishing the college decided to compete in the professional tour and reached great results.
All the schools compete in several divisions, where the first one has the highest level of tennis. Each division has different conferences. At the end of spring there is a tournament where 64 best teams in ranking compete against each other. This is the competition where we have reached the final this year. Stanford University team won the first place.

Y.B. – Wow, that’s great! Do you have only American players in your team?
M.M. No, we have players from different countries and, by the way, there is one Ukrainian girl too.

Y.B. – And what would be the benefits of studding and playing for the team on the same time?
M.M. – First of all, it’s a chance to get a free or partly free education in a good college. The quantity of full scholarships for girls is quite big. It’s a little more difficult to get a full scholarship for boys because American football takes many of those spots. But still it’s possible. Such education in the best schools may cost around $60000 a year. That’s a lot of money. Players on scholarship get everything paid starting with the air ticket to USA and continuing with hospitality, tennis gear and clothing from such companies as Nike or Adidas. They would have everything necessary for training, facilities include courts, gym, swimming pool, and they are working with good tennis and fitness coaches… Our university has probably the best facilities in the country, we have just built the new complex with the newest equipment. It’s impressive.

Y.B. True, it sounds very impressive. So athletes are able to train on the same time while they are getting their education?
M.M. Yes, of course. Their schedule may vary but usually students try to plan the courses for the first half of the day because practices start after 2pm. Nobody says it will be an easy ride. Couple of times a week very early in the morning they would have a warm up or a short fitness session. It could be even as early as 6.30 or 7am. At 9am they already have the academic classes. Then comes the tennis session which would go for another 2-2.5 hours. In case there was no warm up in the morning, players would have their fitness session after tennis. Plus they still need to do the homework. That’s a lot of things going on. But we are trying to make sure our training is intense and interesting so they don’t get tired mentally.

Y.B. How busy is your competition calendar? Do the students have time and possibility to play more tournaments when they are not competing for the team?
M.M. Normally we play from September to the middle of November and then from January till the end of May. The quantity of matches depends on how good are we doing. Players may also play the professional tournaments. In this case they have to have the amateur status and cannot receive the prize money unless they use them to cover their expenses, although they are still getting the ranking points. Normally the school would take the players from the team to couple of such tournaments during the time when there is a break for the team competition.

Y.B. How old should be the athlete to be able to get the scholarship?
M.M. Normally it would be the player, who has finished high school within the last 6 months. If after he or she was done with the high school they kept playing for some time and competed in the professional events, this person could still get the scholarship but would not be able to play for the team during the first year. But normally students come straight after high school.

Y.B. And what about the high school grades, how good do they have to be?
M.M. To get to the best schools you would need to have quite good grades, because these schools have certain academic level which they want to sustain. If your academics are not good enough it will be just too difficult for you to study. Plus the future student has to pass the TOEFL.

Y.B. Matt, how do the schools actually choose who is going to get those scholarship spots?
M.M. College coaches go scouting to quite a few tournaments, junior and professional ones. They follow the rankings and look for the new players for their teams, so these guys are very up to date. National and international rankings are taken into consideration, but of course it’s very important what kind of attitude does the player have on the court, how does he or she present himself, what is his or her game level. This athlete will have to become a part of the team, so they have to match.

Y.B. Matt, thank you so much for sharing all this information so openly, I am sure that it will be very helpful for our young players who are still choosing their path. Good luck for your team!
M.M. Thank you very much, Yuliya!

I think after reading this interview you will have a better idea about the college tennis system. For our players it means that they can have the new goals. It’s true that not everybody wants to make a professional sports career. But you can choose the different way, play on the certain level, go up in rankings and give yourself a chance to get the free education in a good foreign college while still playing tennis. After that it will be your choice: if you wanted, you could work using your new diploma or give it a try and play professional tennis for couple of years as you wouldn’t have to worry about your education any more. In any case it’s a win-win situation. I hope this article will give you something to think about and make you see your tennis life from a different perspective. Good luck, guys!