Legendary trainer and tennis academy founder Nick Bollettieri spoke to full house last night at the historic Los Angeles Tennis Club. The 85 year-old Bollettieri was the guest of his protegé, former touring professional Anne White, a member of the club who is currently working on a documentary on Bollettieri with filmmaker Jill Mazursky.
Bollettieri is widely recognized as the first to create a tennis academy for junior players, including such elite players as Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles. He has also worked with Maria Sharapova, Daniela Hantuchová, Jelena Janković, Nicole Vaidišová, Sabine Lisicki, Sara Errani, Tommy Haas, Max Mirnyi, Xavier Malisse, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Martina Hingis, Anna Kournikova, Marcelo Ríos, Kei Nishikori, and coached Boris Becker for two years.
Bollettieri, remarkably fit and agile at 85, delighted the audience with tales of his early days in tennis. He grew up in New York, the son of Italian immigrants, attended Springfield College in Mobile, Alabama. After college and a stint in the military as a master parachuter, Bollettieri got his first job teaching tennis at a local park in North Miami to earn some money while going to law school at the University of Miami with help of his city-connected Italian uncles. Though he played tennis and was a successful high school athlete, Bollettieri decided he wanted to be the best coach in the world. He quit law school and made coaching his life’s work. In fact, he changed the industry, creating a tennis boarding school to train elite junior players at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Camp in Bradenton Florida. International Management Group bought the academy from Bollettieri in 1987, but Bollettieri continues to manage and play a pivotal role in the development of the tennis academy and ancillary programs.
As a coach, he prides himself on never trying to change a player. He prefers to offer tips.
“Slowly players are making changes without even knowing it,” Bollettieri explained. “Never let a child go home thinking they are a failure,” said Bollettieri quoting “Vince Lombardi who once said, I never lost a game, I just ran out of time.”
Bollettieri spent the next ninety minutes sharing tips and anecdotes about coaching great players, how the game has changed, why US men’s tennis is in the doldrums (Bollettieri says the sport has become too expensive, too exclusive; he provided scholarships), current players to watch, etc.
In addition, he shared lessons from his life:
- Never be jealous, it wastes too much energy.
- Don’t be ashamed to admit you are nervous.
- Take advantage of the first ball.
- Never retire, do something.
- Never use the words “I can’t.
- You can’t hit a ball you can’t reach.
- The best players don’t have any weaknesses
- Surround yourself with people who share your values.
Bollettieri invited everyone to join his website for more tips and to stay in touch. (It’s free but there’s a membership option.)
“I answer every email and question,” he said, further delighting the audience who had this rare opportunity to learn from a tennis legend whose career spanned the modern era of tennis.