One of the most popular options for many tennis players when they reach 18 is the US College route. It gives them the opportunity to continue excelling on the court and in their studies, whilst gaining experience and friendships that last a lifetime.
But what is life like at US College? Is it right for you/your child? To answer these questions and some of the many others we receive from our players and parents, we’ve asked former STA players to share their experiences of the US College system.
We’ve already heard from Joe Smithyman who after graduating from Niagra University in New York, set up his own skincare range. Now, Ryan Gaskin who trained at STA for 4 years, tells us about his first two semesters at the University of North Georgia.
My Freshman Year
My first year at the University of North Georgia was nothing short of a rollercoaster, to say the least. Every single cliché I had created in my head or picked up from a terrible movie came true in one way or another, and I absolutely feel like I am in need of this three-month break. However, as SotoTennis Academy Director Dan Kiernan told me time and time again during my 4 years there, the U.S. college route is most definitely a beneficial, smart and enjoyable route to take.
After finishing my freshman year and having a few days to reflect on it, I can easily see how well the Academy set me up for life at an American college. Now, the thing I enjoyed the most was of course the tennis and everything that came with it, whether that was the loud home matches, the intimidating away matches, even the constant ice baths that followed any three-set match. When playing for your university, the pressure is certainly on, and I felt I was forced to constantly ‘man up’ in certain situations. You can’t afford an off day in the gym, practice court or the match court, because it wasn’t just about me anymore. If I slacked off on court, or in the gym, I wasn’t only letting my 8 teammates and coach down, I was letting the whole school down. If 8 guys were working hard and one was slightly off, it was our job to pick him back up. This sort of behaviour came very naturally to me, due to the team environment I experienced at SotoTennis.
Not only that, pressure situations also didn’t affect me as much as I thought they may do. ‘Pressure is a Privilege’ are words spoken with great repetition around Soto, and this really helped me to come through some tight moments. My favourite one by a mile, was clinching the tie against University of Mount Olive, a team ranked a lot higher than us, that had also taken a 3-0 lead after doubles. It is first to 5 ‘rubbers’, so losing 3 out of 3 doubles is not exactly ideal, but from this produced my favourite college moment to date. All 6 singles matches went on simultaneously, and all were finished deep into my second set. The overall score was tied at 4-4, and I was a set and a break down (6-2 3-2). With both men’s and women’s teams on the side-lines, along with a few fans, the noise increased dramatically, and I managed to fight back, eventually winning in a third set. The atmosphere created at college matches is something I have never experienced before and is something I believe any junior tennis player should crave. Being an athlete at a university has been pretty surreal (along with the British accent, I’m actually almost popular, believe it or not), and all the gear that comes with it has been a nice bonus!
Of course, there are two sides to being a student athlete (3 if I include the social aspect), and for me, the education is definitely the less fun side to it. If I’m being honest, in my first semester I struggled with the school, a bit with the adjustment to it, but more with my attitude towards it. I didn’t embrace it because I wasn’t confident I could achieve academically in the same way I was achieving athletically. But the support you receive over there is overwhelming, especially as a student athlete, if you ever need a tutor or extra classes, it can be sorted for you. Another skill I gained from being at Soto was being able to change my mindset, and toughing something out, and this is exactly what I did with my schoolwork. I applied myself, and used the support that was available, and this semester my grades have soared. The options educationally are endless, there are so many fields you can go into, and this has been extremely beneficial to me.
Another thing I have loved is still being able to travel, whilst keeping my studies in check as well. We’ve been down to Florida a few times, to Alabama, and the Carolina’s just to name a few, and it’s been really fun being able to explore some of America as well, even if I barely scratched the surface given how big it really is. Looking back, bus journeys with the team were a big plus point, even if in the moment they seemed pretty tiresome, especially when you’re cramping for a 3-hour ride back home! This of course is even tougher after a loss, and we experienced our fair share of heart-breaking results. In the fall semester, I reached the last eight of the regional ITA tournament, eventually losing 7-6 in the third to the #2 from Columbus State. This was one of the tougher moments I experienced on court but, as I found out later, far from the toughest, as I found a team loss to be much more painful, later in the season. Four 5-4 conference losses meant us only just sneaking into the conference tournament, which resulted in a first round exit to number 2 in the nation Columbus State. I myself have had some battles over the course of two semesters; us being a young team with 5 freshmen meant I started high in the line-up, but an injury to our #1 and an eligibility issue with our #3 meant I started #1 for a lot of matches, presenting me not only with the challenge of a stronger opponent, but also having to carry a heavy weight of the team. As a freshman, this proved challenging at times, but it was an experience I have relished, and hopefully after a summer of work back at SotoTennis, and some more fortune in the treatment room for teammates, a successful season is on the horizon.
Overall, my first year in American college has been a blast, even after one year I feel like I’ve grown and matured on and off the tennis court and gained a great deal of experience. Taking that plunge across the water is definitely something I’d advise any junior tennis player, as the benefits you get on the court, in the classroom and just from a learning perspective in life, are never-ending. And that feeling, when the crowd is shouting, and your teammates are losing their voices, and you get over the line and clinch a win for your school? I already know that feeling will stay with me for life.
Former STA Student-Athlete
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