The opportunity for me to Study and Play in the USA came about after many years of traveling across Australia and other countries trying to edge one step closer to a professional career. I struck gold with a scholarship to play at Oklahoma State University aged 19, an experience that allowed me to experience 42 states of the USA.
An opportunity to compete in front of big crowds, and ultimately landed me a reputable Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing. After taking my one-year visa to work in the USA at a successful publications firm, I returned to Australia wishing to maintain a strong link with sport and marketing. It was this blend that led me to my Post Graduate degree in Secondary Education in Commerce and
subsequently teaching roles and the 1st IV coaching role at Brisbane Boys’ College. Since then, coaching some of Australia’s brightest prospects and teaching and mentoring have become my passions; all of which have enabled me to add to my role as founding owner of Study & Play USA. We are a family-run business that helps shape the opportunity for young Australians to study and play in the USA, combining their sporting prowess with an academic focus.
TCB: Hello Chris. Where are you originally from?
CB: I was born and bred in Brisbane, Australia, sharing the same practice courts with a good wave of Aussie players, including Pat Rafter.
TCB: How old were you when you started with tennis and who got you into it?
CB: I actually can’t remember my age, but I cannot remember never having a racquet in my hand. So I suspect I was barely out of diapers or ‘nappies’ as we called them here in Australia! We had a concrete slab wall in my back yard which was almost as wide as a full court and I would hit on it all day with my three older brothers, creating our own games and competitions which were very competitive. My Dad had a strong tennis background and taught us, along with most of North Brisbane, how to play.
"My new definition of ‘making it’ was molded in the dorms (of Oklahoma State University), in the classrooms, in the team bus, and up on stage receiving academic awards and at end of season banquets."
TCB: How did a young man from Brisbane, Australia end up playing tennis for Oklahoma State University?
CB: Quite a long story, but ultimately, the decision to play college tennis was a forced decision due to my family’s financial stress, caused by the required travel, coaching, and other various costs to travel the world trying to ‘make it’ professionally. It proved impossible for my family to keep supporting me, so college came just at the right time. As it turns out, I really needed to be in college; I wasn’t yet physically and mentally strong enough to play on the tour. The whole process to get to Oklahoma State was a short four-week process, so I didn’t go through the normal process of meeting dozens of coaches before making my decision. The deciding factor was the fact there were three other Aussies there at Oklahoma State, along with a long line of other Aussies before us who has played under then-coach James Wadley. So I felt comfortable taking this option and it was the right call.
TCB: In 2004 you founded your present company, Study and Play USA. How did this come about?
CB: After returning to Australia after my Oklahoma State experience, I wanted the world to know about this opportunity. Most players I was watching at tournaments were stressed, they were going through the motions, and I dare say they seemed not to have a plan B if their professional tennis careers didn’t take off. There was a gap we saw in the tennis landscape down under to help educate players and families about this amazing opportunity – to play tennis in the US whilst getting a valuable degree.
TCB: What is the Study and Play USA mission?
CB: Our mission is to create phenomenal opportunities for student-athletes, across all sports, to experience the best four years of their lives within the US college system where they can grow and individuals, as athletes and as students, setting themselves up for their most successful life.
TCB: What does a typical week look like for you?
CB: Hours upon hours are spent talking to coaches, getting a clear understanding of their values and what they are looking for in a student-athlete. Hours are spent talking with families considering the pathway talking through their questions, their goals, assessing their academic, athletic, and budget situations, and guiding them through the difficult eligibility process. Our team also spends a good amount of time developing and honing relationships with strategic partners with a view to educating as many student-athletes as possible about this pathway opportunity. As one of the biggest companies in this industry in the southern hemisphere, our weeks are full and we would not have it any other way!
TCB: How many students of yours have received U.S. scholarships? To what universities and colleges?
CB: We are approaching 700 student-athletes who have taken the US college journey via Study & Play USA! We don’t do what we do for the numbers, but it makes me happy to know that 700 student-athletes have been given this amazing opportunity through working with our awesome team. We have student-athletes at nearly all of the Ivy Leagues, through each and every division of competition, right through to the smallest junior college. It’s all about finding the right fit for coaches, and for our student-athletes based on their academic and athletic performances along with their family budget and other parameters such as coaching style, playing opportunity, climate, and much more.
TCB: What are the biggest challenges for you and your company?
CB: Certainly, the pandemic has challenged the world over. We are no different. Even pre- Covid, we have always understood that we are effectively facilitating a massive move for a student-athlete to the other side of the world, without their normal family support. But the pandemic has only heightened the need for us to support our student-athletes throughout their four years in college even more. Our constant challenge is to provide the very best service and advice to our student-athletes and their families, as well as manage the considerable growth we have been experiencing in recent years.
TCB: Your just-published book “Game Changers” states, 'Game Changer' is the story of one young Aussie tennis player's inspirational journey to redefine success and 'making it' in the most unlikely of places.” What are some of those unlikely places?
CB: Firstly, the term ‘making it’ always confused me as a kid because it was only associated with tennis success, and by success, I think the users of that phrase meant being a top 100 touring professional. Unconsciously, I think from those first moments onwards, I was on a mission to try to redefine that phrase so that it made more sense to me. I was determined to find another way where tennis could provide me with a career beyond tennis if that makes sense. Quite simply, that ‘place’ for me was Oklahoma State University. More specifically, my new definition of ‘making it’ was molded in the dorms, in the classrooms, in the team bus, and up on stage receiving academic awards and at end of season banquets. The whole experience being at college was just so formative and allowed me to walk out of the college as a better person, a better player, and a vastly improved student. I had just been educated far beyond the piece of paper I had in my hand. Above all, I had gained confidence to do whatever I put my mind to. So, as I was sitting at my graduation ceremony, reflecting on where tennis had taken me, to my mind, I had ‘made it’.
TCB: Have you played pickleball? Do you like it?
CB: I have never played. But in fact, I saw it being played in my home town only last week and it sure looked fun. I think I need to give it a try!
TCB: What is your tennis racquet of choice?
CB: I’ve been lucky enough to use Prince, Head, and many years ago, Spalding and Pro Kennex. But I am a player who relies a lot on feel, and the best feeling racquet in my hand would have to be Yonex.
TCB: Thank you, Chris.
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