For so many junior tennis players, earning a college scholarship to play in America is a major goal. I’m writing this piece to share some of my experiences as well as mention the incredible opportunities available to tennis student-athletes. For me, playing college tennis was the chance to keep playing the sport I loved, further my education and create relationships that would last me a lifetime. Although my college experience ended with COVID - 19, I still experienced a taste of those parts of college; the full-time training I did, prior to my leave date of August 2019, the semester of online study I did from my college in South Carolina and the 3am Zoom calls as I got to know my teammates. I still talk to them to this day!
As someone who was obsessed with college sports from way too young, playing college tennis seemed like the most logical progression for myself. I loved the team aspect that intercollegiate tennis was centred around. Coming from a GPS school and being around the 1st IV squad throughout high school, I learned to see tennis as more than just a sport I could play for more myself. I could play for a crest on my chest and my teammates. Some of my favourite tennis memories came from being around a team of like-minded student - athletes. I know for a fact; many other tennis players feel this way, and find college such an appealing option as a result. Team tennis, in my opinion is an incredibly under-utilised competition format.
And it goes without saying, the academic and athletic opportunities available to student-athletes are second to none. Often, collegiate student-athletes, regardless of what sport they play, have access to facilities and trainers that many professionals could only dream of. Big tennis teams have access to spectacular indoor facilities for when the weather turns and hundred-thousand-dollar budgets to work with. Nearly every high-end athletics and swimming team have their own indoor facilities as well. This seems natural considering their teams are often made up of Olympic and international level athletes! In terms of education, there is no group better catered for in the American education system than student-athletes. From getting first preference in picking their classes, to having unlimited access to incredible networks of advisors and tutors, as a collegiate student-athlete there is no shortage of people catering to your every academic need.
Another kettle of fish is getting to the U.S to begin with. As an international student-athlete, finding information, let alone the right information is incredibly tough. With the continual growth of intercollegiate sport leading to more rules, guidelines and procedures than ever before, following them is becoming tougher and tougher. Therefore, the employment of recruiting agencies is becoming one of the most viable options in securing American college scholarships. This is the route I took. After attempting to navigate the NCAA eligibility centre, trying to build relationships with college coaches and then attempting to negotiate scholarships, I decided to employ Platform Sports Management, headed by Amrit Rai, to help me with my recruitment process. With so many different agencies around, who had the best contacts and athletes’ best interests at heart were all questions that needed to be considered. When I first met Amrit, I hadn’t touched a racquet or attended school in months. I’d recently been diagnosed with glandular fever. In short, I was a very unattractive recruit. From that moment forward, Amrit and his team worked tirelessly to help me achieve my goals of playing college tennis. And he did just that! I remember the excitement I felt when I signed to play tennis for USC – Sumter, a top 10 junior college in South Carolina.
It goes without saying, moving to the other side of the world will be one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. To do it at 17, 18 or 19 makes it seem even bigger. I know what it feels like to be faced with that decision. After many late-night chats with mates, family and those who I held most dear, I decided to stay in Brisbane. Sometimes I wish I chose to head over there, disregard health advice, friends and family, and start a new life in Sumter, Carolina. However, it wasn’t the right decision for me at that point in my life. For another person, heading over to South Carolina at that point may have been the best possible decision for them to make. I saw that scenario play out a few times, actually. I watched Finn Macnamara and Zac Larke both head over to college. These were boys I spent hours and hours each week with on the court and in the gym. Since they’ve been over there, they haven’t looked back. For them, getting over to the States was the right choice.
Most importantly, this process taught me that everyone will run their own race. Some people will go on to play at major Power 5 schools in front of thousands of fans, others, like myself, will sign to smaller schools, using them as a steppingstone to bigger schools down the track. What seems the best for others may not always be the best for you. Maybe a massive college town isn’t the best for someone who is easily distracted. Maybe the hustle and bustle of New York City is the best move for someone who has corporate aspirations. At the end of the day, you’ll be getting the most out of your college experience if you do what’s right for you, winning your own race!