Welcome to Interview #103
“College Athletics Helps You Grow Into A Better And Stronger Version Of You.” Coach Vicky Maes
I am pleased to share with you the wisdom of NCAA Division 1 Women’s Tennis Coach, of The University of Arizona, Vicky Maes.
Coach Maes has been the Head Women’s Tennis Coach of the Arizona Wildcats for 16 years. She is also one of the greatest players in Arizona women’s tennis history. Maes expects a strong commitment from each member of the team. As a result, the Wildcats currently hold an amazing 100% graduation rate.
What can or should high school athletes do from their end to get on your radar screen?
It is important to establish a relationship with coaches early on. A coach should know you by name, understand your level of interest, and be familiar with you as a person well before the time they can make that first call to you. It is not just about getting picked by a school because of your tennis, but also about making sure you fit into the culture of the program.
To get on a coach’s radar, communicate early within the parameters of the rules, invite them to follow you and your career, and share your upcoming tournament schedule. Also, take unofficial visits. Unofficial visits are a great opportunity to interact with a coach (and the team) face to face, and obtain a real feel for the campus and the program. You will know a lot more after an unofficial visit than you would after ten calls. It can be expensive but it will pay off in the long run.
What are a few of the most common mistakes that prospective-student athletes make in the college recruiting process?
When you are a top recruit, many coaches will reach out to you and you will have lots of options. However, when you are not, and you are actively seeking to be recruited, I think overselling yourself or having unreasonable expectations are common mistakes. Real results do matter.
Do your research on the programs you are interested in and reach out to those coaches who have similarly skilled (or lesser) players than you. Your chances of getting recruited are much higher when you understand the level of each team and whether you are up to that level. Telling a coach that your match play does not reflect how good you really are, will not usually draw a coach’s attention. You need to be able to back up your claim with results.
For a Division 1 school, how and when are scholarships offered? How much time do athletes typically have to respond?
Generally, by the time we offer someone a scholarship, the relationship has evolved enough to the point where the student-athlete in question should know within a matter of days whether to accept or not. If it takes longer than the agreed upon timeline, the athlete might appear to be exploring other options and/or using the offer of a scholarship to pressure other programs to do the same, which can create mistrust.
Bottom line, however, is that every school has its own way of offering scholarships and each situation and/or year is unique. It goes back to communication and understanding the program’s needs for your given year. How many scholarships are available? Who are they looking to replace? Does your level and your personality meet the expectations of the coaches?
What are some things that would keep you from recruiting an athlete?
A lot can be determined when observing someone, not only on court but also off court: behavior towards family/coaches, conduct on social media, interaction with peers etc. Reputation is a big factor too. Players talk, as do coaches. If there are too many red flags, we will quickly remove an athlete from our list. It is understood that 17-year-olds make mistakes and still have a lot of growing to do, but if the activities we observe continuously go against our culture and expectations, we are not going to recruit that person.
What is the role of the parent in the recruiting process?
Initially, I want to hear from the recruit, not from the parents. I want a player who can think for herself, who shows initiative, and who will be responsible and accountable. If mom and dad are taking the wheel, I feel they will be doing so (and I will be expected to) during college as well and that is not a good sign.
Once a relationship has been established with a recruit, I absolutely want to engage with her family. It is important for me to know her parents, and it is important for the parents to know me. After all, it is about finding the right fit, and family is a big part of that. While a recruit will most likely make a final decision, parents are a strong voice and will know what will be the right environment for their daughter.
You have been at Arizona since October, 2001. Could you share an example or two of how competing at the collegiate level has impacted your alumni in their lives after college?
I enjoy being on the tennis court and helping players develop. Each player who comes through the Arizona program knows I am going to make myself available to help them become better tennis players, if that is what they so desire.
However, my role here is not limited to tennis. And, frankly, not everyone aspires to be the best at tennis. Most young people want the college tennis experience but have other career goals for when they leave. Therefore, I believe it is crucial that we, as coaches, are able and willing to encourage each of our ladies to grow in all aspects of life.
The tennis experience offers an immediate form of camaraderie, an instant family and, through the bonds with other teammates and other student-athletes, our players learn a lot about themselves and others. They learn to manage and balance relationships, time, and many different other responsibilities. It is this experience that has helped so many of our alumni adjust more comfortably to ‘life after tennis’ and to be successful in their post-college careers. Through our program, our graduates are more well-rounded when they leave, armed with a plethora of skills and abilities, regardless of which career path they choose to follow.
What are the differences in playing tennis during their high school years and college?
If you are a top junior, chances are you did not only play high school tennis. You trained at an academy and/or with a private coach. Your parents likely set a schedule for you, traveled to tournaments with you, and arranged nearly everything for you, including laundry, meals, transportation etc.
In college, your academics and training are still determined by others, driven by available time for the whole team, but you will get to make a lot of choices and decisions without oversight. And while your schedule will appear to be very busy, and time management is crucial, you will still have a lot of spare time on your hands. This newfound freedom can be exciting, but you need to remember that you will face a lot of extra scrutiny as a college athlete. Every move you make is put under a microscope and coaches expect that you behave in a responsible way, as you no longer only represent yourself.
What do you wish your incoming freshmen knew before they trained with you for the first time?
During the recruiting process, I talk a lot about how hard we work. It seems like a simple concept, but I stress it over and over because young athletes do not always realize what hard work, day in and day out, truly is. If you want something badly, hard work is not optional. Just because you have been playing tennis at a higher level, managed training and studying during the high school years and/or were told your whole life you were good at something does not mean that you have already reached your true potential.
Based on what I see in you as a player and person, it is my intention to draw you out of your comfort zone, push you just beyond what you believe your limits are, so that you can see for yourself what you are capable of and grow into a better and stronger version of you.
Can you talk about the personal sacrifices college athletes make and how they can keep from being overwhelmed?
Being part of a Division 1 (or any college) program is both a privilege and an honor. While you may need to make some sacrifices to help the team (and yourself), you have made these types of choices all your life. You chose to work hard at tennis to become better at it. You gave up some things in order to excel at the game. And you did it all because being on a tennis court gave you great satisfaction. When things get a little rough, remember that tennis was/is the lifestyle you chose because your love of the game and that, in the end, the benefits of that choice far outweigh the costs.
Many student athletes and especially their parents worry about being able to succeed academically while playing at the Division 1 level. Your teams have a remarkable 100% graduation rate. What would you say to the future college athlete regarding the balance of athletics and academics?
Time management is important, but understand you will still have a lot of free time every week. With no more than 20 hours dedicated to your sport, 12-18 hours to school, and say another 20 to course work, there are many hours left to do what you choose.
It is not always the demands of school and tennis that are overwhelming, it is the misuse of free time that can put you in a difficult position academically and athletically. Be disciplined during that spare time, have some fun but also prioritize sleep, nutrition and even allow some time for self-reflection. Fuel your body physically, emotionally and nutritionally and you will give yourself the best chance to be successful.
You yourself were a four time All-American as a player at Arizona. What is one way playing tennis in college changed your life?
For many years, I thought a successful playing career at Arizona was the reason I felt so connected to and invested in my alma mater. As I got older, I realized that was not the reason at all. It was the people who helped me through college who made the experience so enriching. My coach, my fitness trainer, my physio… they all pushed me. I was put into uncomfortable situations, challenged to the max, all so that I would learn to get comfortable with myself.
While I was quiet, subdued, even insecure when I first arrived on campus, over time, I learned to use my voice (and my actions) to inspire and lead others. I became invested in setting a good example and helping my team, my university in any way I could. This was a significant transformation for me personally and completely influenced the course of my life, as I never believed one day I would be a coach and lead at a professional level.
Can you share a creed, quote or philosophy you try to instill into your athletes?
Tennis, being an individual sport, teaches us many transferable skills. Skills such as self-discipline, self-motivation, problem solving… abilities that can be extremely useful in a team setting. Mix these qualities with those you learn as a team player (self-sacrifice, accountability, leadership, selflessness) and you will become a well-rounded, well-prepared and, once again, recruitable individual when you graduate.
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?
Do your homework! You are not just picking a college, you are making a life decision. Where you go will significantly influence the course of your life so invest the time and effort into learning as much about a place (and its people) as you can.
Coach Vicky Maes
The University of Arizona Women’s Tennis
You can find out more about Coach Maes and The University of Arizona Women’s Tennis by clicking here.
Next, check out: How an Email to a College Coach Can Open a Door or Slam it Shut
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