Courtside with James Bryce: IMG Academy Tennis Placement Expert Shares Advice for Student-Athletes


Earlier this year, Laurel Springs School partnered with the prestigious IMG Academy to provide student-athletes with even more academic opportunities to help hone a sharp competitive edge as they prepare for college and beyond. With Laurel Springs' top-notch instruction and flexible scheduling intertwined with IMG Academy’s high-caliber athletic programs, young student-athletes are placed on the fast track to success.

Through Laurel Springs and IMG Academy, students who are training, traveling, and competing can pursue their schooling in an asynchronous online format, allowing them to keep pace with high academic expectations associated with NCAA approval. 

The Laurel Springs experience can be tailored to an athlete’s individual academic needs to ensure they’re met equally in the classroom and on the court. 

To celebrate the partnership, we connected with IMG Academy's Head of College Placement for Tennis and parent-student-college coach liaison, James Bryce. James leads the charge in setting college placement guidelines for student-athletes and has overseen the college placement department for tennis at IMG Academy since August of 2019.

Because of tennis’ individualistic nature, especially for those students at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) levels, James explains how flexibility in an athlete’s academic schedule is crucial to long-term success in tennis. Juggling tennis and academics may mean balancing unexpected factors while on the road for tournaments — it’ll depend on location, weather, draw size, and win/loss time frame.

“Students need to be proactive and communicate with their teachers on their travel plans, but also teachers need to understand the different schedules of each sport,” James explains. “We always remind our student-athletes that deadlines have to be met and there is plenty of time on the road to study.”

As student-athletes adjust to the collegiate or professional world after high school, James says the most important non-educational, non-athletic skill to have is time management.

“Time management is the first thing we talk about in our college meetings,” he says, adding that students are advised to set themselves a timetable to manage training, studying, assignments, and tournaments, and “do your best to stick to it."

"I would even tell students to schedule their nap time and social life," James says. "This way you can be effective and not have wasted time.”

James formerly spent more than a decade coaching collegiate tennis at the Division 1 and Division 2 levels, notching 179 head coach wins.

Before joining IMG Academy, he made history as the Head Women’s Tennis Coach at James Madison University, where he led the team through its four most successful years ever recorded. Under his leadership, James Madison’s women’s tennis team climbed to number 56 in the national ranks and reached two conference finals.

Working as the assistant tennis coach at Mississippi State before JMU and head coach at Saint Leo University before that, James oversaw leading national programs and watched a team graduate from unranked to a top 10 spot in just three years, and notched six NCAA appearances combined between Mississippi and Saint Leo.

Working alongside countless athletes during his years in coaching, James says he has identified three positive areas of influence a student-athlete needs to be successful: athletics, academics, and their social/family life. When one of the three suffers, James says, the other two will also stumble.

“Before I start any conversation or meeting with a student, I always ask about family/social and school before even talking about tennis and college placement,” says James. “This is important for the student-athlete’s wellbeing, and it's critical they know we care more about them than just tennis.”

The tennis expert explains the importance of choosing a high school offering a rigorous curriculum in an athlete’s college recruitment prospects.

“Especially for American-based students,” he says, the opportunity to take AP or Honors courses should not be overlooked. “If NCAA recruitment were solely based on athletics, then the transfer or dropout rate at these colleges would be significantly higher.”

For instance, Laurel Springs offers more than 160 NCAA-approved courses as well as 230 college-prep courses to help shape students for rigorous post-secondary education.

IMG Academy is tasked with finding the right education fit for their participants—whatever their athletic talents, coaches and recruiters expect an academic resume just as robust.

James’ parting advice to an NCAA- or professional-bound student-athlete is to “control your controllables.”

“There are many factors day to day you can control and not control, do your best to control those that you can,” he says.

“For example, do the scheduled reading for a class (controllable) and you will be prepared for the pop quiz your teacher surprises you with in class (uncontrollable). Other controllables are being on time (or early), and being respectful to your peers, coaches, and opponents.”