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'Tennis is a worldwide game': How Chris Young has turned Cowgirl tennis into an international program

OSU WTen vs Oral Roberts 011220-9207.jpg

OSU coach Chris Young looks on during the No. 11 Oklahoma State vs. Oral Roberts women's tennis match on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020 at Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center in Stillwater.

What do 2 a.m. texts, 18-hour plane flights and flooring a Mercedes on the famous Autobahn have in common for Oklahoma State women’s tennis coach Chris Young?

Building an elite tennis program in Stillwater, of course.

Young has built the foundation for a successful tennis team by recruiting athletes both internationally and domestically.

Tennis is a sport widely popular around the world, and many of its top recruits come from countries thousands of miles from Oklahoma. Young travels far and wide to lure players to OSU.

Young’s current team includes players from Kazakhstan, Japan, Slovakia and Thailand, with the current team comprised of five foreign and five domestic players.

“I get to platinum status every year, I’m a frequent flyer” Young said with a chuckle.

Unlike in football and basketball, very rarely do tennis recruits have huge social media followings and high-name recognition. It can sometimes be difficult to find recruits who might be living in a faraway country.

Yet, some relatively new technological advancements have made discovering recruits a bit easier for Young. 

“With the internet and recruiting services that now exist in (distant) countries I can find players,” Young said. “I’ve also been coaching for twenty years so I network to find players.”

The internet is often what Young uses to start the process of bringing an athlete to OSU. 

“You can find players that have good results and you can reach out to them through Facebook or Instagram and let them know of the opportunity that exists at Oklahoma State,” Young said.

Bunyawi Thamchaiwat, a Sophmore tennis player for OSU, had her first ever interaction with Young through Facebook. 

“When I was in Thailand, I just talked with him through Facebook and that’s it” Thamchaiwat said. 

Even though she had never been to the United States, Thamchaiwat said she felt good about her decision to come to Stillwater and play for Young. 

“I hadn’t been to the United States, I hadn’t visited any college, I just talked with him and felt comfortable. I feel like he’s so nice, he really wants to help his players grow confidence, get better at tennis and become (better athletes physically). Thamchaiwat said.

Thamchaiwat smiled as she recalled one specific reaction.

“I had texted (Young) in the night, like at 2 a.m.,” she said, “and he woke up and texted me right after that, so I feel like, “Oh my God he really wants me to come (to OSU).”

Some physical recruiting trips are made to a country to visit an athlete in person. Typically, either Young or assistant coach Jaime Canamares will make the trip, but sometimes they will go together.

On a recruiting trip, there are four main objectives the coaches look to complete. First, see the athlete play and train. Second, meet the athlete’s coaches. Third, meet the athlete’s family in some way; sometimes an athlete will be training in a different country than where their parents live so the coaches will facetime the parents. The fourth objective is something that Young emphasized as possibly the most important.

“We want to definitely get to know the kids because the character of the kids is really important whether they are international or American,” he said. “We have a certain culture we want to keep here at Oklahoma State.”

There are some difficulties involved with long distance recruiting trips. 

Sometimes there is limited time to be spent in a country, a limited recruiting budget and even simple cultural things like trying to get to the correct tennis facility on time. These difficulties do not faze Young. 

“I think tennis is kind of the language that we all speak, and we all have a passion to get better and help (recruits) improve,” Young said. “We have something that hopefully recruits want and it is up to us to sell that vision to them.”

As for the language barrier, it is not as big of a problem as one might think.

“Most of the recruits know English,” Young said. “Obviously they are going to need a good strong English base to be successful as students.”

Translation most often comes into play when communicating with parents, when the recruits will translate for those who normally aren’t as familiar with English.

There are some fun parts to these trips as well. One particular memorable experience Young had was driving on the Autobahn highway in Germany. Although Young’s top speed will remain undisclosed, he is “Confident it was the fastest I have ever driven,” and doing so in a nice German Mercedes, who can blame him?

The Cowgirls’ coach enjoys immersing himself in new countries and cultures and hopes that the trips not only improve his team, but also improve his coaching ability. 

“I’ve been to Germany several times to showcases and different things and I’ve even taken some coaches with me and shared with them some of my experiences but I think going to new places, seeing new cultures, meeting new people it just helps you grow as a person and hopefully that makes me a better coach,” Young said. 

Stillwater has its perks but can sometimes pale in comparison to the huge college towns bordered by sandy beaches on the coasts of the United States. This is one of the reasons why OSU has recruited so well among international athletes, especially during the years where the program was rapidly growing.

“Tennis is a worldwide game, but typically American kids will want to stay on the coasts and so especially as our program was growing, maybe the top 10-20 recruits didn’t consider us,” Young said. “But we could go to another country and find a kid of equal talent and ability who didn’t care as much about the location or status of a school, they just wanted a coach that connected with them and a program that was going to treat them well.”

The days of not being considered by the top American recruits might now be over. As the women’s tennis program has seen growth under Young’s tenure, they have started to pull some blue-chip American recruits to Stillwater. The most recent example is freshman Alana Wolfberg, who left the sunny city of Orlando, Fla. to become a Cowgirl.

OSU has had three top-10 recruiting classes under Young, headlined by the No. 4 class in 2013 according to tennisrecruiting.net.

There is no secret recipe or magic formula to recruiting. There is not a golden ratio of international players to domestic players on a tennis team. Young takes a simplistic approach to recruiting that has proven to be effective.

“I think we want to find players wherever they are, I don’t have any kind of bias,” Young said.

“I think it’s great that we have a good mix. I think it’s good for the American players to have some different cultures to intermix and its good for the international kids to come here and have some American kids to help them transition.”

Sports.ed@ocolly.com