Louisiana is not known as the mecca of the tennis world by any means, but it has produced one of the finest coaches the tennis world has ever seen. David Ayme, known as Coach "Red" around the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, has coached some of the games best players ranging from Boris Becker to Tommy Haas. Although Coach Ayme is now world renowned for his coaching expertise of upper echelon players, Nick Bollettieri's right hand man for the past 23 years wants his legacy written in a different light.
The tennis career of "Red" started out much differently than most. He was not a top 50 ATP Tour player like Brad Gilbert who made the transition from player to coach with ease. Coach Red started out like any other high school athlete torn between the love for two sports- tennis and baseball. He had no aspirations of turning pro or making millions in either sport, but similar to coaching, it was the pure drive for improvement that pushed him to play. When he was entering his senior year in high school, he chose tennis as the sport he would focus on and wanted to improve as much as he could to, "walk on to a college team." Being a Louisiana native, he had dreams of walking on to Louisiana State University and continuing his tennis career. LSU did not pan out for Coach Red but he walked on to Nicholls State University located in Thibodaux, Louisiana where he played singles and doubles for four years. When I asked him about his playing days, he said, "my goal of improving as a player was to help make me a great coach." Throughout college, he would spend his summers coaching at Steve Carter's Tennis Camp. Talking about his days at the summer camp, he said, "I just loved helping people become the best tennis players they can be." That desire for coaching and helping others brought him to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy 23 years ago.
"I was only supposed to come for one year, and now its been 23." It has been a good 23 years for Coach Red to say the least. After proving himself as a knowledgeable coach, Nick picked him to travel with some players competing in lower level professional tournaments. Coach Red spoke about his travels, "I loved it. I mean I was a young guy so traveling was fun. Seeing new places while helping these young players succeed was great for me." It was so great that Nick trusted him to travel with top players like Boris Becker and Marcelo Rios. The 6 month gig with Becker was interesting for Coach Red. "Every player is unique, and you have to learn how to deal with their uniqueness." Whether it was staying at the perfect hotel away from the competition, or eating at the right restaurants, Coach Red had plenty to tell about his adventures on the road. These relatively short traveling trips eventually led to a more stable job coaching Tommy Haas.
Coach Red coached Tommy Haas for eight solid years. Traveling to Grand Slams and Masters Series Events on a regular basis, he became a familiar face in the tennis world. Being interviewed during matches and highlighted in magazines, Coach Red had finally made it. For Coach Red though, "it has never been about the fame or recognition." That's what makes him such a class act. He explained to me that coaching for him is all about developing the complete player. That means mentally, physically, and a well-rounded person off the court.
Well-rounded is an adjective that perfectly describes Coach Red. As we were watching some young players at the IMG Academy, I asked him if he misses being in the limelight watching the likes of Becker, Rios, and Haas. With no hesitation, he said, "it doesn't matter if you are coaching young kids to put 3 balls back in row, or if you're coaching a top professional to win 3 points in a row to win a championship. Helping players reach their full potential is what it's all about."
An avid cyclist, Red suffered a near-fatal incident this year when he was struck by a vehicle. Professionally, it means that he can't travel with the pros who he coaches. Personally, though, it gave him a new outlook.
"You just have to truly live every day of your life," he said.
Coach David "Red" Ayme truly incorporates all the key characteristics that make up a great coach. He values both the player and the person and wants to build both. When I asked Red about the greats he coached, of course a couple top ten tour players came up, but more names were mentioned of people who succeeded as attorneys, doctors, etc. His passion for the game has led players from around the world into the top tier of tennis and life. "When I get a student coming back to me years later telling me how successful he has become in life, that is just as satisfying as sitting in any players box out there." This mind set is the reason The IMG Academy are lucky to have a guy like Coach Red!