For those who don’t know, high school tennis is vastly different from high school football, basketball, and baseball, at least in terms of college implications. The best high school wide receivers, point guards, and pitchers all over the country are ranked and touted by college recruiters from Division 1 colleges. How about tennis, you ask? Well, I say, it’s pretty much the opposite. Performance on one’s high school tennis team usually means little to a college coach. Whether you’re recruited or not to a high level college team depends mainly on your individual results from junior tournaments outside of high school. Interestingly enough, ability levels on a high school team can range from beginner to advanced. From my experience, I would say that a majority of advanced level players (highly ranked nationally or locally) choose not to participate in high school tennis. The reality is that many train at academies day in and day out and skip high school tennis to play more junior tournaments, with some still taking classes in school and others taking classes online. Simply, there isn’t enough time to fully commit to high school tennis. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s what you want to do, if that’s what floats your boat, if that gets you to the professional level, I’m all for it. I’ll admit, that’s what often what it takes to make it to a good college team or to the pro tour.
I’m never the one to brag or boast, but I’ll admit that from the age of 10, I did well in tournaments and achieved a high national ranking until college came around. My successful junior career eventually led me to Princeton University Men’s Tennis and Coach Glenn Michibata, a former #1 doubles player in the world. But I couldn’t have made it that far without my high school tennis experience. No chance.
So why did I choose to play for my Torrey Pines High School Falcons? Not only did I get to represent my school, win a team championship, and put TPHS Tennis on my resume, I gained many invaluable friendships that continue to last today and will continue forever. I felt part of a special team. Part of a band of brothers. Part of a family. Sure, some of us were good players, some bad, some intermediate, but the common goal to win a team championship brought us all together. All of a sudden, we were all the same.
Aside from our actual team results, the friends I made and the things we did together defined my experience as a member of TPHS Varsity Tennis. After practices, we would play football on the field until the sun set. Then, it was basketball. Then tennis baseball. Then we would play before and after practice! We pushed ourselves on the court, and had fun off the court. We hung out on the weekends, and sometimes that included more football. Maybe laser tag. Maybe poker. But, I will never forget the day we won our division’s team championship one year; after taking the bus back to school, we stepped off the bus, proceeded to the gym, somehow brought the nets down, and played some basketball.
Whatever we did, I was immersed in it. I forgot about all my junior tournaments coming up. That’s bad isn’t it? For some, it may be. But for me, I actually felt more relaxed, knowing I had friends to lean back on, a team to play for, a purpose greater than myself. I was so eager sometimes for that next road match that I remember once considering to drive home from Palm Springs during the Easter Bowl, one of the 4 US junior “grand slams”, board the bus with the team, play against a mediocre Mission Hills team, and drive all the way back to Palm Springs for my next tournament match.
The teamwork and leadership attributes that I gained from an inherently individual sport proved invaluable. The transition to college was smooth as I already had 4 years of team tennis experience under my belt. I’ll be the first to tell you that transitioning from several years of an individual mindset on the junior circuit to 4 years of team tennis can be quite challenging. Tennis players are trained to play solely for themselves, yet those who pursue a collegiate career are suddenly thrown into an environment where only the team’s success matters. And that’s why high school tennis can be so incredibly important to one’s tennis career. Not only can it make you a better collegiate player, but gaining so much experience learning how to play under pressure (since you have a team that relies on you) can prove critical in one’s professional career, where the ability to play the big points well is often more important than anything else on the court. While my tennis career never reached the professional level, I couldn’t have made it as far as I did without my 4 years of Torrey Pines High School tennis.
High school tennis. It prepared me for college. It prepared me for Princeton Men’s Tennis. It prepared me for life.