What do you do if you have more potential players than spots on your high school tennis team? While the USTA encourages and rewards coaches who have a no-cut policy (link), you might find yourself in a situation where you can’t take every youngster who wants to join your program.
Coaches wrestle with this question every year, and there is no single answer that will suit all programs. With a broad mind and willingness to be creative, you may find more than one solution to your problem.
Why Your School Has a Tennis Team
Before you begin deciding how to handle the number of players in your program, remember that sports teams did not add schools to their activities, schools added sports teams to theirs. The main reason for scholastic sports is to help students develop life skills through athletics. These skills include goal-setting, discipline, teamwork, self-esteem and sportsmanship (winning and losing gracefully), to name a few.
Never forget that you do not coach tennis, you coach youngsters.
Each time you tell a player he or she can’t play on the school tennis team, you’ve not only disappointed a youngster, but taken away the opportunity for them to grow as a person. While your school may not have the budget or the facilities to carry every player who wants to play, JV or developmental players may be willing to do with less.
Consider the following as you plan to make your rosters…
How many courts and coaches do you have? While you don’t want to cut anyone who really wants to be part of the team, you can’t have a zoo, with 30 kids on four courts with one coach. Can you have your JV practice twice a week? While the two U.S. teaching pro organizations recommend six to a court for practices, there is no substitute for live-ball drilling, and as we’ve discussed numerous times in our articles, line drills are actually bad for your players.
You can run as many as eight players per court, but be sure to include lots of two-on-two live-ball drills, and make sure your players are able to play singles points, as well.
Do all of your players need to practice for two- to three-hours, five days a week? A properly run practice, using the techniques we discuss throughout our articles can consist of 90 minutes of on-court work, with 30 minutes of conditioning afterwards. A second, 60- or 90-minute practice could begin while the first group is doing their off-court conditioning. If there is only one coach, have captains run the conditioning portion of practice, using a program you have set up and taught them at the beginning of the season.
There is no substitute for the occasional knock-down, drag-out, three-set match. But these are not needed every day. Setting aside two days a week for matches will allow you to keep your players in playing shape without using precious courts every day which could be used for JV practice.
In season, it’s detrimental to have your players play complete matches the day before a team match anyway, so these pre-match days are ideal for light practices for the Varsity team and full practices for the JV.
Planning for the Future
Do you take the 10 or 12 best, based on current ability, or do you take a number of freshmen and sophomores in order to develop them for upcoming years?
If you wait until your players are juniors or seniors to start developing them, you’re probably too late to make a serious run for your conference or state title. Taking a number of younger players with the potential to be starters in two or three years is an ideal way to ensure competitive teams and winning seasons year after year. Remember, if you cut freshman and sophomores now, they may not be back in two years. And if they do come back then, will they be any better?
Look for good footwork as a key to spotting youngsters with potential. You can help them with strokes and strategy, but good footwork is something every top coach looks for as a far as talent potential goes.
Consider the reason that your school has high school athletics — they’re an adjunct to helping young people grow. So, it’s not only about the best players or only allowing those who can compete at a high level.