Coaching Tip Tuesday: Writing College Recommendations

It was five years ago in December that I was a high school student spending my winter vacation preparing college applications. One of the tasks I remember agonizing over was whom I should ask write my college recommendation letters. After careful consideration I chose a couple of professors who knew me well along with my high school tennis coach, who also happened to be my biology teacher, next door neighbor and the woman who paid me to babysit her kids. (I grew up in a really, really small town.)

My high school tennis team and coach at the state tournament in 2010.

While many of us are in the midst of the holiday season and years removed from the college admissions process, high school seniors across the country are gathering materials for regular-decision college applications due in January and February. If you’re a high school tennis coach or even a private tennis coach of a high school senior, you may have to write a letter of recommendation for that player. Your input can be incredibly important in determining that player’s admission to the university of his or her choice. If you haven’t yet been asked to write a rec letter by a senior player to whom you feel you have a close relationship, ask him or her if they would like you to write one. If you’re working on writing that rec letter or plan to start soon, here’s some tips for tennis coaches to keep in mind.


  • Help the admissions counselors who will read the letter get to know the player’s personality. “Admissions officers see hundreds of letters and encounter the same clichéd phrases and trite euphemisms again and again,” wrote high school teacher Andrew Simmons in an article published on earlier this year. “Instead of bragging on behalf of the student, I want to render human the person admissions officers may view as a collection of letters and numbers, to say what those grades and scores cannot.” Simmons said he often talks about a student’s personal journey, even if that includes a negative first impression, in order to write a more honest narrative that highlights the student’s growth, not simply his or her achievements.
  • In terms of listing off achievements on the court — don’t. No admissions counselor wants to read about the details of a close match or skim through win-loss records spanning four seasons. Instead, for example, if you’re a high school coach, highlight the player’s leadership and teamwork. If you’re a private coach, you could talk about the player’s dedication and time management. Again, discussing a player’s personal journey is important. For me, the strongest and most interesting letter would include one or two engaging anecdotes that highlight the player’s principal character traits.


  • Finally, make sure all letters of recommendation you write for your players are eloquent. You want to provide your players with the best material possible to help them get into their dream college. Get someone to proofread everything you write, and if you don’t consider yourself to be a strong writer, ask for help drafting or editing a letter. The extra effort could end up making a world of difference in the life of one player. (I have a friend whose boss said she landed the job based on one professor’s awesome rec letter.)

I remember clearly the day in late spring of 2010 that my high school team won our regional match to move on to the state tournament. I remember it well because it was also the day I found out I had received full tuition to attend my first-choice college. My high school coach was there when I jumped up and down with excitement upon hearing the news. Perhaps soon you’ll be congratulating your own players or students on their college acceptances. And they’ll have you to thank for not only writing rec letters, but also molding them as individuals.


I grew up in a tennis family with three younger sisters as doubles partners. If you enjoyed a blog post of mine or want to know more, feel free to email me at Thanks for reading and staying connected with MyTennisLessons!
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