The U Word: Guiding Student-Athletes Beyond the Numbers

In the dynamic realm of tennis students, where aspirations are synonymous with both athletic prowess and academic excellence, a single word looms large. It carries the weight of dreams, aspirations, and sometimes, unintentional pressure. Let's dig into the multifaceted world of tennis ratings and their profound influence on the lives of student-athletes.

The U Word: Guiding Student-Athletes Beyond the Numbers

Once upon a time, there was a Friday afternoon and I was surrounded by a group of spirited tennis players, ready to embark on a journey filled with discovery. “Let’s kick things off with a question: how can you take your tennis rating to the next level?” I asked, and suddenly, the room came alive with a chorus of responses. It felt like an impromptu brainstorming session, where every student eagerly contributed their thoughts. “Beat someone better than you,” one confidently asserted. “Win more games,” chimed in another. Their answers mirrored the diversity of their personalities.

But here’s the thing – you could sense the tension in the air. These metrics have evolved from a simple rating system into the “U” word that tennis players whispered about when they dreamt of being recruited. It’s a handy tool, sure, but it’s got a split personality.

I’ve been in the recruiting biz for a while now, way back in the “Before U” era, you know, before ratings took over. Back then, you’d shoot an email to a power 5 coach, and they’d respond, “Give me a call when they’ve won a round at a 15K tournament.”

The real deal is that some coaches these days use ratings like a shield. In the past 15K results were their shield, now, they just say, “Get in touch when they hit 13+.”

Getting back to the room. My response to those students was like a bolt of lightning. “You know what? The easiest way to boost your rating is by just having your past opponents do better on the court.”

I swear, I saw a collective “Aha!” moment sweep over the room. It was one of those rare moments of pure clarity, a peek into the weird world of ratings and things that some can’t even comprehend. I kept going, “Isn’t it wild that your overall rating – your current level – is technically based on your past, and even wilder, it’s determined by your opponents rather than your future potential?”

That chat was like the opening scene of our exploration into the U-word puzzle. Similar to the principles of USP, we, as advisors, are here to guide our student-athletes through the maze of tennis ratings.

After chatting with our students, it became apparent that the added pressure, albeit unintentional, could be weighing on their shoulders. We are working with very impressionable teenagers that have real life problems. At USP we are here to guide them in both academics and athletics, but let’s prioritize creating an environment where they can truly thrive, grow, and be the best versions of themselves. It’s crucial that we refrain from using ratings as a way to illustrate the gap between where they are and where they want to be. Such a focus doesn’t contribute positively and, in fact, can negatively impact their confidence since it’s something they can’t fully control.


Each of our students is unique, with their own talents, dreams, and challenges. At USP, our mission is to help them discover their passions, boost their self-esteem, and guide them through this exciting journey, both on and off the tennis court to become their best self. 


Here are a few key principles we should keep in mind:


  • Celebrate Small Wins: Let’s cheer for every bit of progress, no matter how tiny. These little victories boost their confidence and motivation, in tennis and academics alike.
  • Constructive Feedback: Give feedback that inspires improvement without adding pressure. Highlight areas for growth while appreciating their hard work.
  • Supportive Environment: Create an encouraging atmosphere where they feel safe balancing their academic and athletic goals.
  • Set Personal Goals: Encourage them to set their own goals, whether it’s improving their tennis skills, academics, or personal development.
  • Focus on Enjoyment: Keep in mind that tennis and academic success can be enjoyable. Encourage them to find joy in both.
  • Ratings are a Tool, Not a Determinant: Understand that all ratings are a tool for assessing a player’s skill level and tracking their progress over time. It should not be the sole determinant of a player’s worth or potential.
  • Continuous Improvement: Encourage players to focus on improving their level over time rather than fixating on a specific rating. Emphasize the journey of becoming a better player.
  • Personal Growth: Stress the importance of using ratings as a measure of personal growth rather than as a means of comparing oneself to others. Each player’s journey is unique.
  • Development Takes Time: Help players understand that these ratings can fluctuate, and significant improvements may take time to reflect in their rating. Patience is key.
  • Focus on Process, Not Outcome: Encourage players to concentrate on their performance and the process of improvement rather than obsessing over the outcome of each match.
  • Stay Mindful of Pressure: Be aware of the potential pressure associated with ratings, especially among junior players. Encourage a healthy perspective on them.
  • Long-Term Perspective: Remind players that ratings are just one aspect of their tennis journey. College coaches value character, academics, and potential.


Our role extends beyond mere advising; it encompasses inspiring, empowering, and nurturing their growth as individuals. We should strive to become the mentors who instill confidence, resilience, and a lifelong love for tennis.


While tennis ratings certainly have its place, let’s not forget that it’s just one part of the equation. Together, we have the power to create an environment in which students thrive, believe in their potential, and embark on their college journeys with a profound sense of accomplishment and enthusiasm for both their tennis and academic pursuits. Let’s continue to inspire and make a positive impact on their lives, one student-athlete at a time.