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What to Expect from High School Varsity Tennis

Make sure you've already read the "High School Tennis Basics" page with "What to expect from high school tennis" if you are new to high school tennis.  This is additional information for those who want to make the varsity team and earn their spot in the line-up each match.

This isn't the nicest page on the website, but we've learned that players and parents should probably know this stuff.  The short version is that varsity coaches expect players to:

  • Work hard and take it seriously

  • Earn their spots on the team or in the line-up

  • Understand their role on the team and remember that coaches make decisions for the team, not just for individuals

Varsity Team 2020.jpg

Before I get into it, let me talk about Sherwood Girls JV for just a minute.  Most of the content below is from 2019 or earlier.  In 2020 and 2021, our girls team has started growing both larger and stronger.  That makes most of the items below even more true, but it also means that our varsity squad is complemented by one of the best JV teams in the state.  The coaches have invested a lot of time and effort to transform the JV experience into one we hope our players will be proud to be a part of.  JV practices will be filled with strong players and the practice matches and games you play there will be tougher than a lot of varsity-level competition.  Practices will be a great development opportunity, and should be a lot of fun due to the evenly-matched squad. 

Okay - Back to varsity.  Every high school coach will run their program differently, but there are a few things that you should expect from almost any program.

High School tennis in Oregon is great because players in a wide range of skills can play at the varsity level and most will have some level of success.  But because of that wide range, it doesn't always feel the same as other varsity sports.  In sports like basketball, soccer and volleyball, most varsity athletes started playing in elementary school.  That's not the case with tennis, which makes it very accessible for players who start in high school.  That's great.  But that also leads to a lot of players who don't treat it like a varsity sport.

You should expect that your coach WILL treat it as a varsity sport and will have expectations accordingly.  Varsity sports are competitive and your coach will prioritize winning matches, getting the top players into the state tournament to trying to earn honors.  The day-to-day arranging of line-ups will usually be related to meeting one of those goals.  Others sports also allow for subs to be put in the game for a variety of reasons like injuries, fitness or one team being so far ahead that the best players can sit out a while.  Tennis doesn't have subs, so the coach has to determine their line-up and stick with it.

With nearly 15 years of coaching tennis, these are things players and parents have misunderstood about high school tennis:

  • Players who thought fitness wasn't important.  If the coach feels that you won't have the energy to compete at a high level 2 hours into a match on a hot day, you may not play that day.  This may apply to you if you have recently been sick as well.  Some tournaments also have 2 matches per day, so this applies even more.

  • Players who don't think they need to be at practice every day.  A player should never expect to play if they are missing practices, regardless of the reason.  If you have other commitments during the season, make sure you and your coach are open and honest about what that will mean.

  • Players who expect to make varsity because they've spent 2-3 years on JV.  The varsity team will prioritize winning matches during the current season and potentially in future seasons.  Players have to prove that they are the best players to help accomplish those goals.  Almost every successful team win with the strength of the lower part of their line-up, not the top.  So, spots like 3rd and 4th doubles are critical to a team's success and will not be given away just because you've been around a while.

  • Players who think seniority earns them playing time or higher spots in the line-up.  The players that the coach feels are most likely to win will play in most matches, whether they are freshman or seniors.

  • Being the "best player on the team" (or league or state) grants them extra privileges.  A win at #4 counts just as much as a win at #1, and you are all part of a team win or team loss.

  • Players who think they are a lock for the varsity team because they were on it the previous year.  If other players can outplay you, they may take your spot.  As our program gets bigger and stronger, this becomes more and more true.  It also means that our JV squad is full of varsity-capable players that players should be happy to be a part of.

Before reading the next part, think about the varsity basketball team.  Basketball games have 40 minutes of play time.  For players on the varsity basketball team, it goes like this:

  • The star of the team probably plays 30-36 minutes, less if the team gets ahead by 20.

  • The other four starters probably play 28-34 minutes, less if the team gets ahead by 20.

  • "Players 6-8" probably play 8-15 minutes a game, more if the team gets ahead by 20

  • "Players 9-12" probably play 0-8 minutes a game, more if the team gets ahead by 20.

  • And when the game ends, it's over, even if you didn't play.

The tennis version (because we can't sub players in and out) is this:

  • The top 6 will play 85-95% of the matches.  They'll be candidates for sitting out when competition is very weak.

  • Players 7-9 will play 75-90% of the matches.  They'll be candidates for sitting out when the competition is weak or for special occasions like "Senior Night".

  • Players 10-12 (or 14) will probably 60-75% of the matches.

  • Players outside the top 12 or 14 will play some matches, usually against weaker teams or as a sub when needed.  And the coaches will work hard to get our opponents to play extra matches to get everyone some match play.  Tennis is probably the only sport that does this - you don't see the football or basketball teams staying for an extra hour so people who didn't play in the game get a chance to play.  Getting this opportunity is unique and requires the coach to stay late on some very cold nights - appreciate this opportunity.

  • Notice that every player on the team from position #1 to the bottom are candidates to sit out some matches.  If you are in the top-12 and don't get to play, it's usually because you are too good or so that someone else on your team can get a chance and build up experience to make them a stronger teammate for you in future matches.  Be a good teammate and cheer them on.

How do you move up the line-up?  That's tricky during the season, especially in Oregon where it rains so much that challenge matches can be a rarity.  Challenges are one clear way, but you can also move up by impressing your coach in practices and matches.  By league rules, the coaches must put the line-up together so that stronger players/teams are higher in the line-up.  If you don't get a chance to challenge, "TCB" is the next best way.  "TCB = Take Care of Business".  Win your matches.  Win big.  At #2, the competition is much tougher than at #3.  But if you are winning 6-1, 6-1 at #3 and the person playing #2 above you is losing or barely winning, your coach will notice that.  But please don't be the player who is losing at #3 and asking to move up to #2.  Results speak louder than words.

Be aware that everything that happens during a season means something, but no single thing determines everything.  If you play a set against someone during practice, don't ask if it counts as a challenge or expect that the winner will automatically play above the other in the next match.  Or, if your coach tells you it isn't a challenge, don't slack off and treat it like it doesn't matter.  It all matters.  Remember that coaches are obligated to play their line-up in order of strength.  Everything you do in matches and practice has an impact on your coach's perception.

The District Tournament is its own beast.  Learn about it here.

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