Florida State tennis coach Dwayne Hultquist can't recall how many miles he's traveled in his college recruiting career. But he does remember a time when he flew to South Africa and only stayed for 48 hours to see a player. This experience points to a growing trend, one that has dramatically increased the talent pool for collegiate tennis programs.
"Tennis recruiting is much like football and basketball now," says Hultquist. "Players are seeking out schools before we can even get to them. Juniors are committing before we can call and set up home visits. We only have four and a half scholarships and can only give out one full one each year."
It used to be that coaches recruited at the Orange Bowl in Miami, the U.S. Open Juniors, and tournaments in places like Kalamazoo, Michigan. Now, to seek out the best talent, coaches are going overseas to Wimbledon and Paris (for the French juniors) and to other countries for their national championship tournaments.
Hultquist and assistant coach Nick Crowell are in charge of the Seminole High Performance camp, which brings in hundreds of kids every year to learn from the best in the country. Camps like these also help with recruiting, allowing coaches to see kids well before they even begin to consider college.
Hultquist remembers a nine-year old who turned out to be one of the best players in the world. He says, "I had Andy Roddick in my camp in Texas and a number of college players that have played for FSU and Texas before that. As a nine-year old, [Roddick] was one of the best campers out of 100 kids. He already had skill at the time and he was very small. I remember him playing a D-I player and the whole camp was watching him.
"Camps are more important at an early age, so the kids can get recognized when they are 11 to 14 years old. Our camps are great, because they give us a full week where we can see them, watch and evaluate them. I have had some really good players come to camp."
Another tool used by college coaches is www.tennisrecruiting.net, a website that ranks players by graduation class from 6th to 12th grade—blue chips, top 25 players and players ranked by number of stars, similar to football and basketball. Raising your ranking on a recruiting site improves your ability to market your talents. You achieve this by playing in several tournaments and developing your state and national rankings.
With a limited number of scholarships available for college tennis programs, many coaches look for players who are also able to pull in academic money or Bright Futures Scholarships. This allows coaches to spread their scholarship money around instead of allocating all of it to the top two or three players and using walk-ons for the remainder of the team.
"For me, it's going to be hard to get a California kid," adds Hultquist. "If I offered him a full, then I only have three and a half more scholarships. It's easier for us to get the Florida kids. The academic aid really helps."
So, if you are looking to get on an elite D-I tennis team, make sure you factor in these new realities of college tennis recruiting. You may get to play for the school of your dreams if you focus your efforts correctly.