And by “definitive”, I mean my completely inconclusive guide to college tennis.
Let’s take a look back to 2012 first:
I was just beginning my recruiting process and I was very clear with my goals. I refused any offers from non-Ivy League schools and was very straightforward in telling schools that I was only looking at the Ancient Eight. Not to further Asian stereotypes (although I suppose stereotypes must hold at least a fraction of truth to them), but I’ve always been making college lists since as far back as I can remember. Little 1st grader Tyler would be told to sit down at the living room table and crank out a “Top 10 College” list when I probably couldn’t even spell Dartmouth yet. As expected, my list consisted of the usual suspects: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc. Essentially, my entire focus of my childhood was how to attend the best possible university.
Naturally, when my turn to be recruited came around, my focus was still on how to attend the best possible university. Eventually I settled on Yale for a myriad of reasons: teammates, facilities, the opportunity to play #1 immediately, Prentice Cup, and (no shame) Yale’s reputation.
While 2016 was a relatively mundane time in my college career (I sat out my junior year with wrist surgery), it marked the first time that I really questioned my selection of Yale during my recruiting process. While sitting out due to injury, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t ready to hang up the sticks quite yet and I felt that I had much more potential in tennis that had yet to be realized. So what does professional tennis have to do with Yale? I started thinking to myself, and started hearing from external sources, that maybe my tennis game would have improved more had I chosen a less academic-centric school. If I had known 4 years earlier that I would eventually want to play professional tennis, would I have chosen a different school? Would I be better prepared for my chosen profession?
My senior season far exceeded my expectations. To be quite frank, I didn’t feel like my tennis improved all that much from my freshman season through my junior year. I was a solid #1 Ivy League player, good enough to be respected but never feared. As my close teammates can attest, I would often say, “I don’t feel like I deserve to be a #1 Ivy League player”. Confidence was definitely something I struggled with. For people who have read my previous post, they know how important I believe confidence to be as one climbs up the rungs of tennis.
Everything really took off for me this year. This was the first year in college where I really felt like I made significant improvements in my game and it showed in the results. I was consistently putting more returns in play, utilizing a more effective out wide serve, and playing a more controlled aggression. With a couple lucky breaks here and there, I won nearly all of my big matches and qualified for NCAA individuals, a fitting culmination to my college career.
So now back to the question driving this college reflection topic in the first place: was Yale the correct choice for me?
Yes. For two primary reasons.
- I had no way of knowing that I would eventually want to play tennis. Hindsight is 20/20 but the present is all we have and I made the correct decision for myself with what was available to me during my recruiting process.
- I needed Yale. And not for the people, the degree, or any other sappy crap that everyone repeats either. I needed Yale for the confidence. I was as high as 15 in my class nationally as a high school senior but never even gave professional athletics a second thought. Why? Because I wasn’t confident in my abilities. I didn’t think I was good enough to play professional tennis so why in the world would I not leverage my tennis to get the best possible degree? Playing #1 for all four years of my college career is exactly what I needed. I needed the constant feedback of feeling like I belong with the best. It took a full 3.5 years in college but in my second semester of my senior year, I finally felt like I belonged with some of the top players in college tennis.
Did I have my disappointments with my college tennis career? Of course. It’s no fun going 5-23 in conference matches over 4 years. A tougher schedule would maybe have resulted in an uglier overall record but the team surely would’ve improved more. I would’ve had more chances to match up against ranked players to try and prove myself and gauge my level. All of this pales in comparison to the confidence that playing #1 afforded me, though. Sure, if I attended UCLA instead it could be theoretically said that my tennis would be better than it is now. However, that tiny seed of a dream left in me that still clung onto the idea of being a professional athlete would’ve long been crushed. Instead, that seed within me, with the positive reinforcement of being the best player at Yale, has grown each year to the point where I am now comfortable chasing that dream. My tennis may have been better, but there is no way in hell I’d be calling myself a professional athlete now.
Now that I’ve dragged you through a brief summary of my college tennis career, it’s about time I provide that “definitive” guide.
- You have no idea where you will be in four years. Chase your dreams of the present, not what you think they will be in four years. It turns out what I ultimately chose was the complete opposite of what I originally chased.
- Winning isn’t everything. Winning can’t certainly feel like all that matters to competitive individuals, but to borrow a cliche, enjoy the process. The process of getting to where you want to be is the most important, not the immediate satisfaction of a victory.
- There is no definitive guide to college tennis. No matter what school you choose, you will become a product of your experiences at that school. Ironically, I think had I chosen a stronger tennis program, I would be done with my tennis career at this point.
For those hoping to play college tennis: follow your dreams. I followed mine and along the way I happened to stumble on another dream to follow and work for. Passion is the driving force of success and is a necessary ingredient of achievement. If you have passion for something, don’t let it wither away. Believe in it, develop it, work for it, protect it.
For now, I just received a wildcard into qualifying for the upcoming Taipei 25K this coming weekend so I’ll be flying off to Asia tomorrow! I’ve been in Long Island training with Martin Wostenholme, a fantastic coach, trying to get ready for this opportunity.
Special shout-out to Martin, the Yeary family for providing housing, and all my friends at The Creek! I’ll be back soon. Hopefully I can pick up a point and crack the ATP rankings on this trip. That’d be a good start to a long road. Good thing that long road is my dream. Enjoy the process!