Mackay: Legendary tennis coach serves up aces of life lessons

I hate to lose. And that is how Nick Bollettieri became my friend.

When I was in my early 20s, I gave up my dreams of becoming a professional golfer. Actually, I am a pretty good golfer, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be the next Arnold Palmer. Eventually I decided to seriously pursue the game of tennis. And I wanted to be really, really good.

I headed to Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico, in the early 1970s for some lessons with Nick. From the moment I gripped my racquet, I knew the ball was in my court. He worked me harder than I ever thought possible. As a coach, Nick is feisty, combative and one of the greatest motivators I’ve ever met. He always delivers more than he promises.

For those not fortunate enough to have worked with Nick, I am pleased to share news of his terrific new autobiography, “Bollettieri: Changing the Game.” You needn’t be a tennis lover to benefit from his story. Nick is a master motivator and one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet. He has dominated the field of sports training for five decades and is still going strong.

What makes an icon? What makes a one-in-a-million coach? What fuels his intensely competitive spirit? And what on earth keeps this 81-year-old so invulnerable to the challenges of a few decades?

The answers to all those questions start and end with one single trait: He has always been determined to be the best he could be. Nick could have entered any profession and he would have been a superstar.

The clinics he has conducted around the world are legendary. People of all ages and skill levels flock to his academies, now part of IMG Academy. Nick has coached and developed 10 No. 1-ranked players: Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Boris Becker, Monica Seles, Serena and Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, Maria Sharapova, Marcelo Ríos and Jelena Jankovi.

Nick does double duty as a coach, both for the player and the parents of his prodigies. He defines the complex relationship: “The player can’t be successful without player/parents/coach understanding each other’s roles.”

He founded the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in 1978, the first full-time tennis boarding school to combine intense on-court training with a custom-designed academic curriculum.

Teaching such a diverse group of students at so many skill levels requires a multidimensional approach. His secret? Find the idiosyncrasies of each individual and then work from there. His methods have been the secret to his success for 55 years of teaching.

Nick’s total package blends technical and strategic on-court training with specialized performance physical training and mental conditioning. His goal is to go beyond training just the physical aspects of the game. He aims to prepare his students for a successful life off the court as well. His college major in philosophy creeps into lessons and long-term thinking.

Nick was a pioneer in the field, which means he took the arrows that go along with the territory. His vision wasn’t shared by his peers (if he actually has any), and the critics didn’t hold back. Then they saw his results. The noise eventually died down. As Nick says, “You don’t coach skills. You coach people.”

Nick demands the best from his students because he only gives them his best. He doesn’t settle for average from anyone. Nick produces champions because he is a champion himself, and his students are the big winners.

He has established fabulous inner-city youth programs for minority youth. Nick understands that they don’t pay off on effort; they pay off on results. In my own hometown of Minneapolis alone, InnerCity Tennis touches the lives of about 5,000 kids every year, as well as the 100-plus volunteer senior citizens who, as coaches/mentors/tutors, build an intergenerational rapport with these children. The program focuses on the development of these young people in specific characteristics such as responsibility, respect, teamwork, enthusiasm, integrity, perseverance and service.

By the way, it is the only board that Nick has ever agreed to serve on, even though he has been asked to join hundreds.

Nick’s story is well worth the read. Just as with his coaching, he doesn’t hold back.

Mackay’s Moral: Nick Bollettieri is a game-changer — he serves up aces from which we all can learn.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.

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