One morning, while prepping carts for a golf tournament, I overheard a statement from a mid-major Division I women's college tennis coach that I found rather shocking.
"We discover most of them at USTA events," said the coach when asked where the program did the bulk of their recruiting. "You won't find anything at high school matches."
With nearly 350,000 total high school tennis players, the level of competition is very much diluted. However, the United States Tennis Association, otherwise known as the USTA, hosts a multitude of tournaments for youth tennis players at virtually all skill levels.
For beginners, the USTA is divided into 17 geographical regions based on location within the United States. Many regional tournaments create opportunities for athletes to advance to broader events encompassing players from across the country.
There are multiple levels of tournaments based on skill level within the USTA Junior Circuit system. Level seven is the lowest of all the levels and is meant for intermediate athletes, while level one is the national championship level of the sport.
Not only does the USTA hosts a number of junior tournaments, the organization also maintains a ranking of the best tennis players in four different age ranges for both males and females.
The ranking system allows both fans and potential scouts to assess each athlete's performance in both single and doubles events. While the USTA does not currently have each player's biography and information regarding specific events uploaded for the new class of rankings, a plethora of other websites are constantly updating information on the nation's top junior players.
While the USTA provides a much more useful outlet for potential college coaches to scour for athletes, it also provides a path directly to the professional tennis scene for a select few players. With that being said, this route is reserved for the top-one percent of all players at the youth tennis level.
The Boys' Junior National Tennis Championship, sponsored by the USTA, is hosted on an annual basis in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The winner of the annual "Nationals at the Zoo" gains automatic entry into the next US Open Tournament. Previous winners in Kalamazoo include Arthur Ashe, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe, among a number of other tennis legends.
While the high school route may aid players of a lesser skill level in garnering the attention of smaller schools, the USTA allows for elite tennis players to truly play in the eyes of scouts across the globe.