NEW YORK - When the coach demonstrates, you watch and learn. When he speaks, you understand that the words are measured against five-plus decades of dedicated tennis instruction. He's hard to ignore anyhow – with an Army Lieutenant's tongue, he dictates with pride to a crowd of fellow coaches and young players, aspiring to learn the craft the right way.
When he identifies 10 and Under Tennis as the medium of developing the next wave of American stars, you believe it.
Coach Nick Bollettieri arrived in New York City and the Tennis Teachers Conference ready to lead.
Who he is:
- Nick Bollettieri, American tennis coach, Instruction Editor for Tennis magazine.
Why he's speaking:
Nick Bollettieri is a Floridian institution, teaching the best in the country not only technique, but also an innate toughness that has vaulted talented players into Grand Slam champions. The list: Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, the Williams sisters and a few imported talents such as Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova.
In many cases, he gets the prodigies at malleable ages: Agassi at 13, Seles at 11, Sharapova at 9. He, above almost all - if not all - others in the game, knows what it takes to maximize a young player's potential.
"10 and Under Tennis - in the beginning, I thought it was a gimmick," said Bollettieri. "A lot of new techniques are gimmicks - but I've seen the results and I know its going to keep kids playing."
The idea that an 80-year-old, no matter how sage, can keep up with 8-year-olds is a hard one to imagine, but Bollettieri proves the adage that tennis is "the sport of a lifetime." The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla. remains the preeminent training ground for intense tennis and academics.
"I have (10 and Under) at my place and we apply it," said Bollettieri to the audience. "Its fantastic that kids have success right away - that hook is what will make them come back and learn proper technique."
Feature Idea: "Support Breeds Confidence"
Bollettieri emphasized the role in parenting as vitally important for keeping kids on track. "I dropped out of law school after three months in 1955 because I had a dream - I told my Dad, with a limited tennis background, I said, 'Dad, I'm going to become the number-one coach in the world.' He then made a tremendous remark - he said, 'Son, I'm going to support you - you're responsible for your life.' That instilled confidence in me. He listened, no matter how crazy things sounded, because most successful people embrace the unusual - he listened."
10 and Under Tennis was met with much resistance from a large cross section of tennis professionals - Bollettieri included - because it was thought that smaller courts, foam balls and shorter racquets made for a modified game; a good learning ground, but not real tennis.
However, as programs begin to phase out station-to-station drills and yelling at kids and warming to a more interactive, fast moving curriculum where play is constant, Bollettieri's opinion was turned when he saw kids hungry to play and play often. His endorsement should breed confidence within the tennis community.
"I had an opportunity through the USTA to watch a 10 and Under tournament in Cary, North Carolina two weeks ago - fantastic to watch, because I knew that these kids were going to come back in a competitive environment," said Bollettieri. "Children learn by visuals - they see success."
One of the tenets of the 10 and Under game is that the best way to teach is keep everyone moving and involved - no standing around.
"When you demonstrate an object or obstacle that comes in, showing goes much further than telling them what to do."
How to Improve: "Give it Five Years"
"Our goal should be to have a team of darned good 14-to-16 year olds in five years that'll represent the best in the world," said Bollettieri. "The first checkpoint is keeping the kids in the game, which (10 and Under) does - I also see the most athletic kids gravitating towards tennis more and more in those five years, staying around when they can play competitively fast. (10 and Under) teaches the techniques necessary to build the whole game."
In the meantime, instilling the winning mentality takes proper support from coaches, parents and providers.
"You're as good as your farm team, everybody!" Bollettieri said to the Grand Hyatt ballroom crowd. "In the 90's it took the Yankees about five years to build that dynasty heading into the next decade - we need sponsors and coaches for kids who show that ability to always keep refreshing the farm and put forth a winning team."