In this article you can read more about the experiences of slamstox tennis player Stijn Paardekooper as a student-athlete in the USA! In 2019 he reached the quarter finals in the singles at NK U16, and became Dutch champion in the doubles. In 2020 he made it to the semi-finals in the double U18 with Brian Bozemoj. A few months ago, the 17-year-old tennis player started his career at St. Bonaventure. A beautiful private university in the state of New York where he combines Division I tennis with a study in Business Management.
In this interview, Stijn tells all about his experiences so far, what his team and coach are in the USA and how tennis in the Netherlands is compared to college tennis in the USA. You can read it all below!
Hey Stijn, welcome! We know you of course, but the readers don’t yet. Can you, to begin with, tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Stijn Paardekooper and I am 17 years old. I am from The Hague. I did high school at Dalton Voorburg and now I am a student at Bonaventure university. That is a private university, it is a smaller university with about 2,500 students.
Can you tell us a bit more about your tennis background in the Netherlands? Where did you train, how often did you train, what kind of tournaments did you play?
I trained at Leeuwenbergh. I trained every day except Saturday, which was a rest day. I trained an average of 3 hours a day in the Netherlands. I played a lot of JRT tournaments and sometimes ITF tournaments. I wanted to play more NRT tournaments this year, but because of covid I hardly got to play any matches.
When did you decide you wanted to study and play tennis in the USA? Was it a difficult decision and what was decisive for you?
It has always been a dream to go abroad and train and play matches. Then I heard about the concept of college tennis. I saw that a number of other good youth players wanted to make this step and from that moment on I started to get more interested in college tennis. Playing with 8 to 12 good players around you but also the facilities that the universities offer: it is almost impossible to imagine in the Netherlands. The level of the teams around us is also very high, which is you play many good matches. I also thought it would be great to study abroad. I made the decision in October 2019 to start working with Slamstox to find a good university for me.
“Playing with 8 to 12 good players around you but also the facilities that the universities offer: it is almost impossible to imagine in the Netherlands. The level of the teams around us is also very high, which is why you play many good matches.“
Are there many corona measures at your university and what was it like to start during the corona crisis?
It is quit alright actually. We have to wear a face mask both inside and out. But it can be taken off in the dining hall, my room or during training. Furthermore, we are tested before every match. At the university itself, there are fewer students per classroom due to the 6 feet distance.
As a Freshman you are now part of St. Bonaventure University. How did you experience your first months?
I started in the spring semester (most students start in the fall). So I left for the states in mid-January. In mid-December, a message came from the government that we were no longer allowed to train indoors in the Netherlands. And I started training in the US at the end of January because I first had to be quarantined for 5 days. So I hadn’t played indoors for 1.5 months. At the beginning it took me some time to get used to basically everything and to figure out my position in the team. Also what kind of teammates (character) I had and how the coach organizes the training. So it took me at least 2 weeks to get used to the atmosphere in the team and the way of training.
What was the decisive factor for you to choose St. Bonaventure?
It is a D1 university, they normally play (without covid) against a lot of good universities, which ensures that we play a lot of good matches. The connection with the coach was good and the university is academically highly ranked.
Is the campus as you expected in advance? And are there things that surprised you?
As we are a private school, the campus is smaller than other universities, theres only 2,500 students. It is a very beautiful campus. Lots of nature and excellent dorms and other facilities.
Can you tell us a bit more about the location of the university?
The university is located in the state of New York, in Orleans. The area is very quiet, lots of nature. It can get very cold in winter, last year it snowed here for 1.5 months almost every day. I think that a university in a big city would be very different, we can mainly be found on campus. But if you have a car you do have some options to go to.
You are now playing in Division I, which is the highest level of College Tennis! How do you feel the level is compared to the Netherlands?
Normally we play a match almost every weekend, but due to covid it is not possible to stay overnight this semester. Which is why we cannot play against some schools at the moment. For this year ‘Cleveland state’ is our best opponent, but normally we would play against schools like ‘Virginia tech’ and ‘Notre dam’. There are many good players in D1. The biggest difference is that you play against different players here for every weekend, while in the Netherlands you will encounter many of the same names.
“There are many good players in D1. The biggest difference is that you play against different players here for every weekend, while in the Netherlands you will encounter many of the same names.”
Do you feel that you are now more part of a team than in the Netherlands?
Yes, it is very cool to experience this. You see each other every day and you prepare for a new match every week. The atmosphere on the court during the matches is very cool to experience. The matchdays are also very nice, traveling with a team in such a big bus often ensures beautiful moments.
Can you tell us a bit more about your tennis coach?
He has been with this university for 25 years now. My coach is more focused on the tactical plan. He loves offensive tennis and wants his players to come forward. That way of playing suits me, so that was also one of the reasons that I chose this university. The doubles are played a bit differently here than I was used to in the Netherlands. The first chance to get on the net player, is often used. No bad thing. But that is why we often train this, several players have already been hit hard, fortunately me not yet. Furthermore, not much time is spent on technique during training.
We see in your roster that you are in a very international team. How is that?
I am very happy to have a team with many international players. I think that also helped us in the beginning.This semester we played against a team with only Spanish speaking guys, I’m happy that’s not the case in our team.
Which study are you following now and is it difficult that the study is in English?
I am following ‘Business Management’, the connection of the study to my secondary school in the Netherlands was good. In the beginning it is difficult in English, because you do not know some terms yet. But I’m used to it now.
Do you notice that the combination of sports and study is better in the US than in the Netherlands?
Yes it is better now, mainly because everything is on campus. So you don’t have to travel a lot. On my campus it is at most a few minutes walk. Another big difference is that there’s one head coach here, and his only focus is the team. In the Netherlands, your trainer also has many other individual players he or she is focussing on.
Can you give us an idea of your average day as a student-athlete?
We train from Tuesday to Sunday, Monday is a rest day. We played matches for the past 6 weekends, my Tuesdays look like this:
– 6.45-7.30 Lift/fysieke training
– 7.45-8.30 ontbijten
– 10.00-12.00 class
– 12.30-2.30 practice
– 15.00- 15.30 lunch
– 16.00-17.30 homework
– 20.00- lift/ fysiek
– 21.00 dinner
Have you made a lot of new friends yet? Are they mainly tennis players or also other student athletes?
I mainly hang out with the guys from my team. I only came to university this semester (spring), because most students arrived in the fall, I noticed that many groups of friends had already been formed. But in general, the athletes on your team are often the people you interact with the most.
Do you notice that student-athletes have a kind of ‘special status’ in the US?
Yes, we have a head coach, assistant coach and a physical trainer who are available for 24/7. We also have 24/7 access to all sport facilities. We have our own study room and our own gym for athletes. We get earlier access to choose our courses for the coming semester, because you can then adapt them to your training schedule.
“We have a head coach, assistant coach and a physical trainer who are available for 24/7. We also have 24/7 access to all sport facilities..“
Do you follow a healthy diet or do you sometimes enjoy a good American burger?
We are not on diet. But there’s plenty of choices such as rice, pasta, vegetables, potatoes, meat, sandwiches and fast food. The quality of food is considerably lower than in the Netherlands. Healthy eating is not difficult for me, I came here more for tennis than for my study.
What do you miss most about the Netherlands?
Perhaps a bit obvious, but what I miss most are my family and friends in the Netherlands.
Did you do anything special in the field of sports/study to optimally prepare for the USA?
In the months before I left, I was out of school, so I could fully concentrate on tennis. As a result, I was able to train a lot and hard. Which is why I was well prepared to play, that was important since the season started 3 weeks after I arrived.
How did you experience the process with Slamstox?
Good, Slamstox has good contacts with many high ranked D1 universities. They help you every step on the way.
What would you like to advise future student-athletes?
Start on time! If possible at least a year in advance. You want to be sure that you choose the right school. Take initiative in the entire process, Slamstox will help you a lot with this, but you also have to do a lot yourself!
Do you, just like Stijn, want to become a student-athlete in the USA? Or would you like more information? Reach out, and we will help you!