It felt a lot like a breakup. When Kyle Joshua Dandan decided to walk away from tennis just a year after turning pro, the heartbreak hit him like a 100 miles-per-hour serve.
“It was something—I wouldn’t say mourn—but it was something I was down about for two months,” shares Dandan. “It was hard to accept. It’s like tennis was my wife and we had to break up. It was very difficult.”
As the country’s former No. 1 junior tennis player, Dandan had a charmed amateur career. Twice, he got offered to turn into a teen pro in Spain. But his family had to turn that down as his parents wanted him to finish his studies.
“At 15 I was already No. 1 and if you have a status like that growing up, there’s a part of you that wants to go professional,” says Dandan. “I was offered to stop school completely and turn professional in Spain. But coming from a conservative Filipino family, an academic family, my parents didn’t allow that, which I’m thankful for.
“They made me realize things like, say you do well in your first two years, but what if you get injured? What if your funding stops? What’s your backup if you don’t have proper education?”
There were no regrets about that decision. By the time he was about to go to college, offers to play in the United States came. Dandan chose Santa Clara University, a Division 1 NCAA school in California that offered him a full scholarship.
There, the 6-foot Dandan sustained his prolific form and quickly turned into the university’s No. 1 singles player for three straight seasons. In his senior year, the school honored him with the Male Athlete of the Year award.
“In Santa Clara, I played at the highest level,” says Dandan. “In my senior year, we broke a lot of records. With that kind of status again, I wanted to turn pro and see how it is, the pro life.”
While Dandan’s amateur career felt like a celebrated Grand Slam run, his professional stint, however, seemed like a match done in two quick sets.
“After graduation, I tried the pro life for about a year,” Dandan relates. “I was 23 and I loved it at first because who wouldn’t love to travel? I traveled across the US, Asia. But then at one point, I figured it wasn’t really for me. It got tiring, I lost the motivation. It’s a different ball game from juniors to college. Once you step into the pro level, I would say it’s 10 times harder.”
Dandan, though, hasn’t dropped out of the sports circle entirely. For the past years, he has been working off court as chief of the Philippine office of Added Sports, a sports management group founded by Singaporean Akshay Maliwal. The group assists Asian high school athletes in the US recruitment process and prepares them for the transition from junior- to college-level competition.
“I’m still very passionate about sports and I like helping kids,” the 27-year-old Dandan says. “I’ve experienced the whole recruitment process, going to the US to play college tennis. It’s one of the best experiences in my life and I want to share that with other kids.”
Think of him as the varsity version of Jerry Maguire. There are no promises of fame and fortune for student-athletes, though, as Dandan’s team only lays out the path to a solid collegiate career.
“We basically hold the family’s hand,” says Dandan. “We have parents whose kids are interested to study and play in the US, but most of them don’t know what to do. About 90 to 95 percent don’t know how to navigate through the recruitment process. So we guide them throughout the whole process.”
Over the past two years, Dandan has helped Filipino student-athletes in golf, tennis, track and field, rugby, swimming and soccer—from reviewing for the Scholastic Assessment Test to preparing recruitment videos—to get into the US varsity programs.
“We also suggest the tournaments we think would help the kids develop their rankings and their game,” says Dandan, who graduated with a degree in economics. “We have a huge database of college coaches and universities that we contact if we have someone who is academically and athletically eligible.”
Although Dandan admits the job can be very tedious, his new venture feels like a perfect match. “I’m just fortunate that I’ve gone through the whole process, so I know it first-hand,” he says. “I love helping kids more than anything. It’s a different satisfaction.”
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Kyle Joshua Dandan during his short-lived pro career. He knows first-hand how it’s like to get a solid collegiate career while trying to excel in academics in the US.
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