International Tennis Star

By Katie Hall

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Being an athlete in college may seem like the perfect life. A life of “special treatment,” tons of attention from your peers as well as professors, and receiving certain advantages that other students do not. The advantages that student athletes at CNU obtain include priority registration, their own athletic training facilities with strength and conditioning coaches (included with a chiropractor, doctor, and other trained professionals to help when students get injured or sick), athlete success mechanisms (mentors to help athletes thrive academically), study hall, and tutoring services all while playing the sport you love. Being a student athlete at CNU differs greatly from being a student athlete at a DI school, but it still has perks. Some student athletes thrive on these privileges given to them, however, for Sam, being a student athlete has just been a part of who he is and does not make up his entire identity. Sam Thompson is not only a student at CNU majoring in economics, he is an international student who loves the game of tennis.

Everyone you met in life has a unique story of their own to tell and Sam’s certainly stood out to me.  When having the chance to sit down and talk with him about being a student athlete here at Christopher Newport University, I wanted to know a couple of things. The first was, why out of every school in the world, was he drawn to coming here, in this small DIII University to play tennis. Secondly, I was very curious about the international recruitment process and what the steps were for an athlete like him to get noticed.

Tennis always played role in his life, starting when he was very young. He also had his older twin brothers to look up to, as well. They both went to American universities to play tennis. Sam made it very clear that the culture of sports in America is unlike anything anywhere else in the world. He talked about the infrastructure of the American sport industry and used football as an example- “Yes you have football leagues in the UK but it’s not the same…like in America, football is in every day life and you just don’t find that anywhere else in the world.” Sam also wanted to combine studying with a sport because unlike America, in England you can not take several different classes. You have to study one subject. While researching the two country’s educational systems I found many differences. In the US with undergraduate programs, we apply to the college’s admissions department and sometimes even have an interview with the University’s admissions department, however in the UK you apply directly to the college of the subject you want to study. This means that you have to absolutely know what field you want to study before applying. In the UK, emphasis is placed on your subject you have chosen. There is no room for you to study subjects that are outside of your field because the education system is based on getting a very in- depth understanding of one discipline. Athletics in a UK University are not seen as an important social activity. These universities usually offer intramural sports without the competiveness or “perks” of some American Universities. He wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to academically pursue but he knew that he loved the sport of tennis so America felt like a good option for him.

He explained to me that “In England if you want to go to a University you fill out papers and it’s a process, whereas the recruiting process in America is kind of like up in the air- in a sense where you didn’t really know what was happening or where you were going, it’s kind of like you’re living on the edge with no certainty of what’s going to happen.” Sam went through all the necessary steps in order to catch recruiter’s eyes. The way he described his recruiting process was simple, “For me personally, I put a resume of my sport (tennis) through an agency who marketed players to colleges.” He also uploaded a video on Youtube highlighting his skillset and many schools contacted him. He explained that there were schools in Mississippi, Texas, California, and a school in Maine that all reached out to him. “Once contact was established with universities, there were phone calls once a month to keep in contact, then it got to the point where I had to make a decision.”

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Recruitment for sports in college plays a large part in an athlete’s journey. Each school has a different recruitment process they follow to gain athletes. According to Sam, the assistant coach first reached out to him in an email explaining what Christopher Newport University was and provided him with background information on the tennis team. The process spanned over the space of about five months, where he exchanged emails and video message calls in order to get to know each other better. He wanted to give Sam the opportunity to ask any questions he had about the school, the team, or anything in general. After communicating with the assistant coach for some time, Sam then applied for admission into Christopher Newport University in January and the rest is history. He said that he chose Christopher Newport University because it had the best mix of what he was looking for in a school, including the size, location, and academic programs.

His very first experience of Christopher Newport was when he was driving down Warwick. He stayed in a pretty run down motel and had some hesitations, but once he got to the campus and walked around he developed a new perspective. “The recruiting process was a nerve-wracking experience because I put all my eggs in one basket and said “”I’m going to go to America!”” When asked the difference between the DI and DIII process he began to describe that with DI, you sign a form for the school you are going to attend and then you apply to the school through the athletic department, however with DIII you have to rely on your academics to get you in and apply through the academic section on the school’s website because applying through the athletic department is not an option. More differences between Division I and III is that within DI schools, there are many opportunities for scholarships whereas with DIII institutions, scholarships based on athletic ability are prohibited.

As for Sam’s future aspirations he sees tennis as a means to an end. “Tennis isn’t a huge aspect, I’ll always play it, but not at the level and intensity I play it right now. I see it as more of like a recreation thing.” As I got to know Sam it was apparent to me that he was the kind of guy who loves change, he claims that change is what makes him the absolute happiest. He does not see himself using his economics degree to sit in an office all day for the rest of his life because it’s something that would not fulfill him. Traveling and experiencing different parts of the world are on his to do list, but as for tennis-he will scratch that off his list after he graduates.

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