Saturday, March 19, 2016

The differences between college and the pros, by Beau Treyz

On the Rise contributor Beau Treyz has been slugging it out in the Futures over the past few months. For his second column, he discusses the differences he's found between his pro career and college tennis. Follow Beau on Twitter at @B_Treyz and his podcast at http://beautreyz.podbean.com/. 

Here’s the biggest difference between college tennis and professional tennis: in pros there is no lineup and there is no graduation date. Everyone is your competition, and no one cares about you. At most colleges the athletes have great facilities, capable coaches, a steady diet and the comfort of both staying in one place (campus) and being highly respected and liked around town. Futures level tennis players typically don’t have coaches, getting a practice court can be tough depending on the venue of the tournament, the food is hit or miss (again depending on the country you’re in), and, for the most part, the tournament directors don’t really care that you’re in their event. Fans are pretty much nonexistent, so getting energy from the crowd is no longer an option. Those are the basic, and obvious differences between the two; here's a more personal appraisal. Try this:

In college my biggest concern was keeping my scholarship and my spot in the starting lineup; I was not focused on improving. I knew how good the guys were on my team, and I knew what kind of recruits the coaches were going to bring in; all I wanted to do was outperform those guys. In my opinion that kind of thinking is deadly to a player’s improvement, and a trap a lot of college players fall into. But when your education is riding on your scholarship it’s hard to see anything else.

I felt like I was maintaining my level in college more than I was improving it. The pro circuit is like a cruise ship buffet: the competition ranges from young up and comers to college guys like me, to Djokovic and Federer. You never know who’s going to show up in the draw, you have to be ready to compete every match. I prefer this way of competing though because the focus is on improving and pushing yourself, not being comfortable playing your position on the team. If you’re just starting out then you have to qualify and then you get your shot at a main draw guy, and then if you’re too good for Futures you can take on the Challenger Tour and then the ATP Tour; there is no end to the competition out here, whereas in college I felt stuck. I felt like no matter what I did the coach already had the lineup set in his mind, so what was in it for me to bust my ass and still play #6? Out here there are no lineups and you can go as far as your skill and determination allow you to.

I’ve been in Egypt now for the past six weeks, and it’s been a nice change to being on the road. There’s an adequate gym here, it’s got a beach and swimming pools to relax in, courts are hard but not impossible to get, and staying in one spot does help you get comfortable and play better. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how to manage my game, my body, and my head when I’m competing for six straight weeks.I spent the first week of February lifting a little more than normal, but it left me sore and slow on match day, a loss. Bummer. One of my twelve weeks gone. Ok, the next week I did more running; doing 30-meter sprints I felt a little pull in my hamstring that hindered my flexibility and movement on court, coupled with a tough draw first round; another loss, another week gone. Shit. That’s two weeks and one thousand dollars down, a few lessons vaguely learned. So the third week I decided to spend more time on court and try meditating once in the morning and once before bed. I thought maybe I was distracted and getting my head straight would help me compete better. I gave it a shot. It didn’t really seem to help; was I even doing it right? The meditation app on my iPhone wasn’t the best teacher. I lost again. Fuck. That’s three weeks. Now it’s building on itself and almost one of my three months is gone and I haven’t gotten any rankings points and every adjustment I’ve made has failed.

But now I’m thinking, "I only gave each new adjustment a week to work ... what if I had spent two weeks lifting more? Would I be stronger now and have a better backhand because of it?" If something isn’t working right away, I feel like I have to change it; there’s no one out here to tell me I’m on the right path. So how long am I supposed to wait to see results? Do I relax more? Spend time with guys having a beer at night and talking, or should I go to my room and spend an hour every night stretching before bed, trying to focus on tennis all the time? I have to trust myself. But man, it takes time to know yourself and time is the one thing I don’t have enough of. I’m hoping these weeks will pay off before I get back to New York, but what should I be pushing for? Points or improving my game?

Another big change from being a Husker is that no one cares about me anymore. The Brazilian guy that I’m playing first round doesn’t even know what college tennis is, and I don't know what he’s been doing in Brazil. When the Nebraska Huskers played the Michigan Wolverines, I knew who they’d beaten, which guys on their team were injured, so going into a dual match I know a bit about what was coming my way. I got used to walking around campus feeling proud. I loved wearing that ‘N’ on my chest. People respected me for being a Husker tennis player. Out here I’m just another guy paying an entry fee. There are no fans at the events I’ve played; just other players who are waiting for you to get off the court so they can practice. They don’t care who’s winning unless it’s close or someone starts yelling and throwing rackets. Unless you make a scene you’re just another guy. Getting used to not mattering to other people has been ego-busting, but liberating too.

Being out here alone has given me a feeling of control and freedom that I never experienced in college. I can find the warm up routine, and the conditioning routines that work best for me instead of doing the generic ones the whole team had to do in college. And on the court, because I don’t have to represent anyone but myself, I can compete and behave any way I want; I don’t have to worry about rubbing my coach or teammates the wrong way. In college I won many challenge matches against guys higher in the lineup, but I never got to take their spot. I felt like there was a lot of pressure put on us, but the payoff was never really there. That was very demoralizing for me and even pushed me to transfer schools. I always felt that the guys who played at the top of the line up were “safe” from the competition of the rest of us; that no matter what we did, we were never really allowed to go after the guy that played 1. Now the gloves are off. If I want my shot at a guy in the Top 300, I have to qualify for it, but then it’s all mine. There is no protection from coaches out here; I feel no pressure to keep up a fa├žade like I’m a team player or that I don’t want my own goals to come true. As a professional I can compete as hard as I want every day and get exactly what I deserve, or at least close to it.

What has been the biggest adjustment for me going from college tennis to professional tennis is getting used to competing for myself. In college I felt really burdened by trying to impress the coaches and get myself into the lineup; I was constantly checking to see where the coaches were during practice and matches to see if they saw the last shot I hit. It strangled me. When I first got out here, I was playing so free; nobody knew me, nobody was watching me, it was liberating and I played well as a result. As of late it has felt like I’ve gone back to playing and being worried about my spot in the lineup; I’ve been uptight and irritable on court, instead of being focused on improvement and enjoying the freedom. So for these next few weeks I’m going to try and get back to how I felt in South Africa, where every time I got on court was exciting and challenging. I want to get back to the point where I’m sweating through insecurities and playing through my doubts, and overcoming them instead of falling to them like I have been doing lately. I need to remember that I’m out here for me and there is no coach who can take me out of the lineup or criticize my shot selection anymore.

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