Adjusting to college life, in general, is difficult, and playing tennis in college makes it even more challenging. Freshman year is the hardest, because the rules are different, the environment is different, and the mentality is different.
Individuals who play sports, such as basketball, softball, and volleyball, have played on a team their entire life. However, individuals who play sports, such as golf and tennis, need a while to adjust to the new circumstances collegiate sports has to offer.
Growing up playing junior tournaments, all I had to think of was myself. My main concern was to practice as hard as I could and have the best results I could have. I played for myself and tried to perform on the highest level I could produce.
Another adjustment you have to make when playing college tennis is that, during a dual match, when one of the teams gets to the four points that are needed to win overall, your match will be suspended.
It has happened to me numerous times when I did not finish a match. This is frustrating, especially when you are winning in a match. This never happens in junior tennis, because you are only playing for yourself.
This mentality is very different in collegiate tennis. You are playing to win for your team. It’s not only about you.
There are a total of 10 players on the team. Each person has a specific role on the team. If you are playing, you are playing to help the team to get to four points. If you are not playing, you are cheering on your teammates to get to the four points.
In college tennis, you can win your match, and the team can still lose overall, or the other way around. This is very different from junior or professional tennis.
One of the biggest adjustments I had to make as a freshman was to concentrate on my own match. I would get distracted easily and watch my teammates play instead of playing my own match.
It was very overwhelming at the beginning. There is so much going on, because the cheering is incredibly intense. In college tennis, you cheer as loudly as you can.
The SEC conference made a new rule last year because teams and spectators were cheering so loudly and verbally targeting players, it was negatively affecting them. Now, you are only allowed to speak towards the team you want to win, instead of negatively cheering against the opponent.
Another adjustment for freshmen is having a coach on your court. In junior tennis, coaching is never allowed, so you can only rely on yourself. While in college, you have a coach that can talk to you as much as they want after every point. Especially on the changeovers, they are giving you strategies.
This is a big adjustment, because you have a minute on the changeover before it is your time to regroup. Meanwhile, now, you are engaged in a back and forth conversation.
Team dynamics are also a crucial part of a successful team. As a freshman, you come in and do not understand why you have to constantly cheer for other people on the team, or why you all have to wear the same color of T-shirt or skirt.
Also, seniors are somewhat leaders on the team, since they have been there the longest, so you have to listen and follow some of their rules. This was something I struggled with at the beginning, because I felt like all of us should be equal.
Some of the things I hated as a freshman, I have grown to love. Playing for something that is bigger than yourself has a lot more meaning than when I was just playing for myself. You are representing the school and wearing colors that represent the school.
Playing college tournaments is a lot more fun than when you are traveling alone to tournaments. Your teammates become your best friends, and on the road, team spirit is important. The entire team needs to be on good terms. It is always easier when everyone wants the same thing, which is to be the most successful team.
Collegiate tennis is nothing like what I expected. The SEC conference Ole Miss is located in brings such a high level of competition. Before coming to college, I did not expect to grow as much as I did both on and off the court. Even though our traveling schedule is demanding, I visited places I could only dream of, such as Hawaii.
A collegiate athlete’s life is extremely challenging, because you are juggling both academics and sports. However, looking back at the opportunities Ole Miss tennis has given me, I am extremely grateful for this experience.