Welcome to Interview #21.
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NJCAA Men’s and Women’s Tennis Coach of Tyler Junior College, Dash Connell.
Coach Connell has been the Men’s and Women’s Head Tennis Coach at Tyler Junior College since 2011. At Tyler Coach Connell has won 3 National Championships, 2 with the women (2012 and 2013) and 1 with the men (2013). Coach Connell was named the 2014 Wilson/ITA NJCAA National Women’s Coach of the Year and the 2014 USPTA National College Coach of the Year.
Coach Connell’s full bio is at the end of the interview.
Read on. This interview is full of priceless information!
How do you find players for your team? What type of student and athlete do you focus on?
We find players through several resources. We find out about them either through their current coach, a former player of ours can inform us about them, and also through talking through different agencies that help place athletes at good schools.
We look for prospects that are not afraid to work hard and know that they still have areas of improvement. That is on the tennis court, in the classroom, and in everyday life.
Why do you think athletes should consider a NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association)? What are the benefits of an NJCAA school specifically?
NJCAA gives different opportunities for prospects than four year schools. It is a chance for the prospect to usually get instant playing time and be able to develop quicker with that playing time used.
We get two kinds of student athletes at TJC. There are some that need to develop in the classroom in order to have a chance to play at the NCAA level and there are also those that need to develop on the tennis court to reach the correct level to play in the NCAA. Both kinds of athletes can use junior college as a great stepping stone to their next four year school.
We believe it is having the right kind of people playing with the proper goals set. We try to recruit athletes that fit the values and work ethic that produces success. We also try to set goals as a team and not just as individuals. We try to push the understanding that if the team develops and grows together then individual goals will be met as well.
What effect does social media have on your recruiting? Can you talk about players who you have either stopped recruiting or become more interested in based on their social media use?
Social media is such a great resource to connect with prospects, but at the same time they have to be careful. We told a story to our team last week about a prospect we were talking to and developed a communication on Facebook. After looking at the material and interest on their profile we decided it was not in our best interest to continue communications. This is happening more and more so we tell our team, who is also being recruited right now by four year schools, to pay attention to their social media.
Could you share, in whatever detail you are comfortable, what the athletic scholarship break down looks like on your roster?
A fully funded junior college has 3 full scholarships and 6 scholarships that can cover only tuition, fees, and books. This is true for both the men’s and women’s teams. At TJC specifically, if a tennis player receives the second scholarship option then they only need to pay about $2,500 a semester. The cost of school is another reason why junior college can be a great option for many.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
One of our biggest pet peeves is when a parent emails or calls us to promote their child to be recruited and playing tennis at TJC. We would rather have the player contact us themselves and show an interest. We do recommend that the parent help the prospect think of questions to ask coaches and to look at the school and meet the coaching staff to have a second hand look at the atmosphere we try to develop. If the parent has extra questions or concerns about anything then they would call or email us.
What does the offseason, fall season and summer look like for a NJCAA tennis player?
The fall offseason is essentially the month of November. During this month we spend more time in the gym trying to get in better shape (6 am Monday-Friday workouts), take extra time improving pieces of our players’ games on the court, and make sure the students are ready for the end of the year finals approaching.
The summer is a different kind of offseason than that. We encourage our students to take a week or so off after finishing the long spring season. After that, they will get back to work and prepare for tournament play in July. Many of our players will compete in the ITA summer circuit or a tournament at the same level.
How does your school help players transition to a four year college? When looking at a 2 year school, what are some questions student athletes should ask about the help they will receive to get into a four year school and to continue playing?
The answer to this question is what makes TJC special. TJC helps prepare student athletes in the classroom by helping them complete the core classes that are needed for every student in America. They help student athletes do this with the proper tutor resources, support from our staff, and with the environment that reminds our athletes that their education is first. TJC also helps prepare the student athletes on campus. Because the campus has many of the same characteristics of a four year school, our athletes are trained how to time manage and organize themselves. Lastly, TJC will also prepare them athletically. We consistently have great athletic teams that are full of great athletes that will go on to play at high caliber four year schools. Our teams are deep and have many good players that will make for great practices and prepare them for that same atmosphere at the next level.
These should be some of the main concerns when a prospect is looking at a junior college. They should find data that would show them where student athletes went to school after that junior college and whether those athletes were prepared at the next level. Ask if those athletes were able to graduate from that four year school with success and play for the school.
How do academics and athletics fit together?
Athletics aren’t an option without academics. This is true at any school, but even more so at a junior college. If student athletes want to move on to a NCAA school after junior college they need at least a 2.5 GPA. We ask our athletes to set much higher goals than that though. Last year our men’s team got a cumulative GPA of a 3.3 and our women’s team had a 3.75.
On top of this, if a player leaves junior college with a higher GPA then there will be more scholarship opportunities at the next school they attend. This is a big incentive for a coach to recruit you because if a prospect is receiving scholarship money due to a high GPA then that means there are more financial options for the coach and their team.
What are some myths or misconceptions about junior colleges?
The two biggest misconceptions that we deal with are misunderstanding the atmosphere at a junior college and that going to junior college is taking a step back academically. Many come to visit our campus and tell us how they are surprised that it is not a four year school. We have many of the same attributes a four year school has with our campus size (about 10,000 students), tutoring options, training room, training staff, athletic teams (TJC has 12), great facilities, and great local fans that show support. Many think that it will be more like a glorified version of their high school, but it is more like a classic, small four year school.
The idea that attending a junior college instead of a four year school is taking a step back academically is incorrect for many. It is a cheaper option to take many of the same core classes you would take at a four year school anyway. As stated above, it is also an opportunity to develop and mature before going to a four year school. We have heard many stories of athletes going to a four year school and were not ready for the challenges they received there.
Bonus Question: Is there anything important that you would like to share directly with high school athletes or tennis players in particular as they navigate the recruiting process?
Have a criteria and list of important attributes you want a school to have. Every school has something to offer a prospect whether it is academics, athletics, campus life, etc. Also, make sure you are comfortable with the coach and with the team atmosphere. They will be your family during this next stage. Be sure you are able to enjoy and respect them.
Coach Connell has been the Men’s and Women’s Head Tennis Coach at Tyler Junior College since 2011. He was a 2-time NJCAA All-American while attending TJC from 2001-2003. He then went on to play on a Texas A&M squad that was ranked as high as #9 in the nation. During his time at TJC, Connell also received the Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership and Sportsmanship for Junior College players in 2003 and also won the Donnelly Award in 2002 from the World Team Tennis Organization. Since taking over as head coach, Connell’s women’s teams have won 2 National Championships (2012 and 2013) and his men’s team has won 1 National Championship (2013). Coach Connell was named the 2014 Wilson/ITA NJCAA National Women’s Coach of the Year and the 2014 USPTA National College Coach of the Year.
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