Stupid Tennis Math and the College Scholarship Myth

I think one of the most interesting and frustrating things that I witnessed as I played tennis growing up, was that as competitors started reaching the ages of 14-18, there was increased talk among parents about scholarships. They would huddle together at tournaments and gossip about s0-and-so who got a scholarship to some college in the USA, and whether or not it was “full-ride”. They would tell their kids that if they too won their matches and got good rankings, they could receive a $20,000 scholarship from bumpiss state somewhere in the US.

Once players and parents started equating winning with some distant financial reward, you could see them salivating. Enormous pressure was mounted on kids to win their matches at any cost – and since kids were calling their own lines, it got pretty nasty at the older ages. Of course the better players were always aware of the gamesmanship and cheating, but did not have to stoop so low.

It always seemed like such ludicrous reasoning. Below I drafted just a simple thought process where if you add up what the costs of playing tennis at a high level for a year might be, and extrapolate those costs out for 8 years, you can see what the total financial and time costs are for trying to play tennis at a high enough level to achieve a college scholarship. You can tweak the assumptions however you like, but anyway you cut it, the financial costs are pretty enormous, and probably leave you in the red, even if you get the revered “full ride” scholarship.

Item 1 Year Associated Costs 8 years of Costs 4 Years of Average College Tuition Net Gain Time Lost
Financial Cost
3 Racquets $450 $0
3 re-stringings $105 $840
3×3 grip changes $90 $720
new shoes $100 $800
Tennis Attire $150 $1,200
Tennis bag $200 $0
1 can of balls per week $156 $1,248
Tournament registrations $1,000 $8,000
Transport to tournaments $500 $4,000
$60/hr private coaching 4hrs/week $12,000 $96,000
TOTAL $14,751 $118,008            100,000 -$18,008 1,744 Hours
Time Cost in Hours
Practices Per Week 6 48
Length of Practice 1.5 12
Weeks of Play 50 400
Transport Time to/from Practice 0.5 4
Weekends at Tournaments 10 80
Productive Hours per Weekend 16 128
TOTAL TIME COST 218         1,744

Now obviously, if you took those 288 hours spent playing tennis each year, and devoted that time to hardcore studying for your academic subjects, SAT tests, and tutoring where needed – you would likely dominate academically and be in a better position for scholarships without any of the financial costs associated with tennis. Not to mention that the highest-ranked universities do not generally give out sports scholarships at all – instead they reward need-based financial aid to all those who are accepted. So if you’re aiming for a place like Harvard or Yale, it’s impossible to get admitted by only focusing on an athletic scholarship.

Tennis is a game that can be enjoyed for your whole life, and it teaches a lot of life lessons along the way. It’s great for learning about your own mental attitude, other people, and the biomechanics of the body. But at the end of the day, it is just a game. I would argue, before you set out to devote all this time and energy into becoming a ‘college level’ tennis player, focus first on your education which will be invaluable throughout your life in any endeavour. Once you’re already doing well academically, Tennis becomes what it should be – a hobby and a game for you to enjoy – and not a stressful win-at-all-costs financial rat race.

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