Recruits should consider many factors when determining what college and college tennis program best suits them. One important factor is the coach. Here we delve into a somewhat common situation at programs in all three NCAA Divisions and in the NAIA: coaches who are the head coach for both the men’s and women’s programs. While this is often viewed as a negative by recruits, we asked some coaches with dual responsibilities to outline the positive features of such an arrangement.
Questions and Answers
Sometimes, prospective players may sense drawbacks to a program that has a shared coach between the men’s and women’s teams, such as shared time and attention. However, are there unique benefits to such a situation that players may not initially consider?
Benefits include both teams being able to travel together quite frequently. That always creates a built-in cheering section when we’re on the road. I also like to tell recruits that we have 2 full-time coaches to help and assist them in their college career. Some programs with one coach don’t have an assistant at all or some might just have a GA. Additionally, there is a lot of synergy between the two programs as we will sometimes integrate practice, conditioning and lifting. –Division 1 Coach
The positives far outweigh the negatives in my opinion, at least for the player. In my opinion, the best thing is that the men and women form one large group that supports each other on and off the court. They develop strong friendships and hang out together in their off time. They help each other with class work, often tutoring each other. Practicing and traveling to the matches usually together makes for a fun group to be around. For the women, it’s a great thing for the #1 girl that’s too good for the others to have a guy to push her and play sets against. All our group functions, meetings and community service projects are done together. –Division II Coach
I think if a coach shows the ability to be successful with both programs and isn’t compromising one in favor of another that there’s got to be merit in the process or culture of that program potentially above and beyond a single coach situation. Obviously there will be some shared time, but it’s important to understand the context of this time and what setting it’s in. Certain aspects cannot and shouldn’t be shared; however, others benefit from there being different athletes around not just for comparison’s sake, but also for keeping things fresh. Most players grow up in a culture where Men’s & Women’s Tennis exist together. Although many schools have both Men’s and Women’s Tennis, I think there can be much more unity when there’s a shared coach and this can provide an ideal situation for a better atmosphere and shared experience which ultimately provides a benefit that’s difficult to achieve when two programs coexist, rather than share. –Division II Coach
I believe that all successful programs share some common threads. The coaches and players must share a passion for excellence. The team needs to have a healthy culture in which everyone works and sacrifices for each other. Coaching two programs is no different but it does give me the unique opportunity to grow this culture across two teams. The shared philosophies and approaches create a strong bond between the men’s and women’s teams. They inspire and support each other on the court, in the gym and around campus. Both teams also travel together on Spring Break and a few times during the season so our teams become very close. –Division III Coach
Co-ed practices, when we choose to conduct them, are a great benefit. My top women have the benefit of practicing against stronger players while the men get the opportunity to work on their consistency and playing more tactical points instead of always relying on their power. I find that the women on the lower end of the ladder also request to practice against the men when they see the stronger women doing it, so it is a motivator for many of the women. For my more secure men, they enjoy helping the women’s team and practicing against them as long as it is not every day. They need to prepare themselves to compete against the big servers in a faster paced game (that they will see in men’s matches). Other advantages include those associated with scheduling. I don’t have to check with another coach when scheduling facilities and have some room for creativity – like co-ed matches where the men and women play at the same time. Finally, if it’s done right, both teams are like having one big family and both the men and women love the camaraderie and support they receive from one another. It is, however, like having 2 children, and a coach needs to be careful not to show favorites and to treat each team equitably. –Division III Coach
Two teams under one coach creates a bigger, more diverse family that increases a player’s networking, resources, relationships, opportunities, etc. It gives the team a broader band of expertise in academics that can help each other in areas that one may struggle, i.e. tutoring. When doing fund raising events for large groups, the numbers of two teams help tremendously. Pooling resources for smaller budgeted programs can benefit to supplement in areas of need, giving greater flexibility with budget utilization. –NAIA Coach
How does managing the rosters of both a men’s and women’s team affect your approach to recruiting, if at all?
In our case, managing the rosters and recruiting is like managing two entirely different animals as we have 8 full scholarships on the women’s side and only partial scholarships for the men. So there is no negotiating with the women and plenty with the men! –Division I Coach
Managing the roster is a challenge just because I’m dealing with 20 players instead of 10, but it comes with the job. I certainly utilize my assistant to help and he is very capable of giving good advice. Recruiting is no different with one or two teams. I put equal efforts into recruiting both male and female players for our teams; it just takes twice as long. My players are good recruiters, too, and I seek their advice on recruits they might know from their regions. –Division II Coach
I’m not sure it has any real affect, certainly not negatively, in my approach to recruiting. The obvious difference is that in any given year I may need more players; however I’ve found that for my programs to be successful and for the players to receive the best experience and opportunity for success, I run the rosters as lean as possible. This does provide a small margin for error with regards to manpower, but it minimizes me being spread thin and could mean that the number of incoming recruits with both my teams combined is similar to that with a much larger roster of 12+ players. One thing is that long term it has enabled me to speak with more people than I might have done recruiting for just one program and that has provided a lot of avenues that I probably would have overlooked otherwise. The fact that almost all junior events and many national tournaments around the world run both Men’s & Women’s or Boys & Girls draws simultaneously is a massive help, hopefully that continues to be part of tennis culture. –Division II Coach
Recruiting is a very critical part of any team’s success. It is vital to find players that want to be part of our culture. Rankings and star ratings are a good starting point but not the end all. I am always looking for athletes with a passion to be the best they can be. I am not concerned if a player has not yet achieved their highest level because as long as they are athletic and coachable and have a work ethic we will get them there. In Division III, we can only work with players while in season, so I make the most of the time I have with my players in the Fall and Spring seasons. My assistant and I are on the court most of the day working with individuals from both teams and we also coach two distinct practices every day. When our players need support, guidance or a push in the right direction we are there. I think it is important for recruits to understand how much time my assistant and I devote to our players and that they will experience the same dedicated approach to their development when they are in the program. My goal is to make sure that everyone in our program has the opportunity to reach his or her ultimate potential. –Division III Coach
My expertise has always been on building players. My unranked players over the years have improved to the point where they were competitive with players from other teams who were recruited in with decent USTA rankings. I am from the old school where I could be happy to get who I would get and work to build them to as high a level as possible within the 4 year period. So, when recruiting, I’ve relied a lot on my assistant these past few years to attend one or 2 showcases (Donovan’s being one of them). I personally do my recruiting while I’m on the road playing my own tournaments in the summer or at the few speaking engagements I’ve participated in (USPTA, etc.) and have made great contacts at those venues. The way it ends up is usually one team needs a lot of recruits one year while the other is adequate with respect to numbers and quality, so we alternate concentrating on one team more than the other, from year to year. –Division III Coach
I don’t think it really affects it at all. It’s similar to a coach that recruits for larger squads like soccer, baseball, etc. If anything, a coach gets more experienced at recruiting as he or she does it twice as much. Furthermore, it gives the coach even more recruiting contacts, current players, alumni, parents, etc., all out there to potentially help recruit or get the word out about the university and its tennis program. –NAIA Coach
How do the roles of head coaches and assistant coaches differ in programs that share a coach between programs versus programs that are led independently?
In our case, as coaches, we try our best to spend an equal amount of time, energy, and resources with each team. As one can imagine, it’s always somewhat of a balancing act. However, I’m very fortunate to have one of the hardest working assistant coaches in the country in Jay Friedman! –Division I Coach
I don’t think the roles are any different; two team coaches are just spread thinner. That’s why the support staff is so important. Recruits should ask a coach that does both teams about that and make sure that it’s not just a coach alone trying to deal with a huge group of men and women. Also, make sure the coach cares about both teams because that’s not always the case. I’m very competitive and want success for both teams, which is how it should be. –Division II Coach
I assume I spend more time potentially on court given that I run the development and practice components independently and the hours add up quickly. There can be situations where the Assistant Coach may have more responsibility and have to almost act as a Head Coach at times when both teams travel simultaneously. At least in the programs here I try to make my roles exactly like they are (or at least how I perceive they are) in a program without shared coaches, in order to compensate for any potential loss in attention for the student-athletes. If that means I have more expectation of myself or my assistant, then that’s a necessary difference, but ultimately I’d think or at least assume that anyone who is fully invested and is doing this for the right reasons is probably doing this anyway. –Division II Coach
Every program is different but I choose to use my assistant coach to multiply the impact we have on each team. We work together during every practice so that we are on the same page and always in the same mode. We also develop individual players together. Our players benefit from having two coaches that completely understand the direction of their development, their tendencies and needs at different points of the season. –Division III Coach
As long as the players feel that their needs are being met, than it becomes a non-issue. After 35 years of coaching at the college level, I have come to realize that the work to life balance is important to me. It is, likewise, important for your players to see you model a good work/life balance since many of them are also workaholics to the point where they get sick or so run down that they can barely get through the day. So, I’m not sure how much the players feel the impact of having 1 coach coaching both teams. Some of them probably feel it more than others, based upon their tennis goals and personal philosophy of life. Some of them, however, may like it since I may ask them to do more things independently of the coaching staff, and they like that freedom. Also, in the secondary phase of our split season, my assistant coach becomes more active coaching that particular team (women in the spring, men in the fall), which is good experience for him/her plus can be a good experience for the players as well to get more feedback from someone else (as long as you have competent assistants). –Division III Coach
What kinds of questions should prospective players/ recruits be asking of coaches who have dual programs, as well as themselves, in order to get a sense of whether this type of program may be a good fit for them?
Almost every university shares a facility, and they should ask if both teams get along with each other. Most likely they will be seeing a lot of the other team. To take that a step further, they should inquire if they get along off the court as well. In fact, this is probably important whether or not there is one coach or split programs. –Division I Coach
They should ask about the number and quality of assistants, student assistants, graduate assistants and volunteer assistants. Do the team’s practice at the same time? Do they hit with each other? Do they travel together? Are travel budgets and scholarship budgets fairly equal? Does the coach favor one team? Do they get along? –Division II Coach
I’d ask how the coach runs the program on a daily basis and ask if you can see a practice schedule to get an idea of how both programs are run around each other. It might be a good idea to make an unofficial visit on a practice day to see how this works in reality. Ask questions about the programs goals and maybe that of the other team the coach works with. See if they match up or try to work out if, and where, any corners are being cut relative to what you might experience in a program without a shared coach. Finally you might also want to ask about travel and how this works both in the spring and fall. Do the teams travel together? Which team does the Head Coach / Assistant Coach travel with in the case of simultaneous events? If all things are even, does the coaching staff try to travel as much as possible to maximize opportunity for the players? It’s really a question of trying to assess the process and whether it’s the right fit for a recruit or not. Certainly, all things being even, the upside of having a shared coach should beat the downside if it’s approached in the right manner. –Division II Coach
I think every recruit should have a good sense of the culture of the programs. Asking the following questions will help a recruit collect information: 1. Does the Head Coach delegate a team to an assistant for half the week? And then switch off? 2. Does the Head Coach make every effort to schedule creatively in order to be at every match? 3. Do both teams practice at the same time? 4. Are coaches interested in developing players individually? 5. How do the two teams get along? –Division III Coach
Here lies the crux of the matter – players knowing what they want out of college tennis. Someone who is independent and has set their own realistic goals, I believe, will flourish is any program, whether it is run by a dual program coach or not. –Division III Coach
There are important characteristics that I must recruit for, so players can turn those questions around and ask of themselves: Am I a self-motivated individual looking for a coach to collaborate on my development, not be responsible for it? Am I self-disciplined and able to determine the right things to do at the right times and excel at time management? Am I self-reliant? Do I enjoy taking care of and doing tasks without having my hand held through process and without having everything done for me? Do I enjoy being a part of something bigger and keeping a focus on the group/team/family versus only my individual gain? –NAIA Coach
Donovan Tennis Strategies
Donovan Tennis Strategies has been helping prospective college tennis players and their families navigate the recruiting process since 1997. In addition to consulting services DTS runs two College Prospects Showcases to help players get exposure to college coaches.