Dear Coach Bryant:

My high school son has played tennis for years, and plans to play in college, too. He has accepted an invitation from one of his target teams to watch a practice and match. This school is a solid contender on his short list of potential programs. He likes the school’s academic offerings, location and size.  

We pretty much knew what he should look for when he took the traditional campus tours and met with an academic advisor. But we’re not sure what to suggest for this trip. Do you have any advice?

Uncertain in Cincinnati

Recruits can watch and learn about a team's environment during a visit.
Recruits can watch and learn about a team’s environment and priorities during a visit.

Dear Uncertain:

You’ve asked a great question. Your son should carefully consider whether a team’s environment is right for him before making a four or even five-year commitment. Watching players practice and play can reveal a lot about that environment. Here’s what I tell my clients preparing for such visits.

Assess yourself.  

Your son has to know himself before he can know where he is most likely to thrive. That’s why I do an assessment with my clients, identifying their five signature strengths. Then we talk about those strengths as we assess programs. When they visit campuses, I ask them to consider how (or if) their strengths might fit that program and school. Identifying strengths helps students define their priorities. That helps them know what they’re looking for in their next team.

Assess the prep.

I also suggest my clients notice how well their visit is planned. Does the coach communicate well beforehand? Do they know what to expect? If they don’t receive an itinerary, or are told to just “show up,” that might indicate something about the coach’s organizational skills. This visit is a good time to observe whether players know what to expect on a daily basis.

Assess the coach’s style. 

Your son should watch how the coach delivers messages during the practice and match, and also watch how the team responds. Does the coach’s communication style seem to work well for the players? How would your son respond to someone who delivers messages that way? Would he want to be coached that way?

Assess the team’s style.  

Your son should also watch the players’ conduct and speech. Do they show up on time? What happens if someone is late? Do they seem disciplined? Are they respectful to the coach? Are they supportive of each other? Are they focused on what is going on, or are they on their cell phones? Do the team members seem to be a family, spending time together outside practice? Is partying a high priority, or do team members seem to hold each other accountable for off-court behavior?


The Reality

A right fit for one student is a poor fit for another. Your son might thrive under a disorganized coach. He might prefer a team that doesn’t spend its off-court time together. He might be shocked if he can’t use his cell phone during practice. He needs to know himself before he can know which team is best for him. And while your son will be able to tell a lot about his targeted team as he watches them practice and play, he should also watch the opposing team during the match. Any contrasts could help solidify his decision. How does each team respond under pressure? How do the coaches respond? Since your son could be spending six days a week in that targeted team’s environment, it’s important that he consider whether that team’s priorities align with his own.