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Nick's Medieval Village 12/20/2008 - 12:14 AM

Nickandgabe_3

photo by: Manuela Davies

by Pete Bodo

It's about 4 pm, and the nor'easter is spending itself outside; it's strange, but fewer than 24 hours ago I was basking in the warm Florida sunshine at the IMG Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.  Nick, Gabe Jarramillo (Nick's second in charge and the second-longest serving Bollettieri aide) and I were in the coaching tower, a tall structure made of pressure-treated lumber, standing between the academy's "stadium court" and the field of 14 courts on the other side. Ivo Karlovic was on the stadium court; the players on the other premium courts included: Kei Nishikori, Phillip Simmonds, Philip Bester, and a host of other up and coming players, including the recent Orange Bowl singles champ (India's Yuki Bhambri).

Bollettieri factoid: the courts are assigned daily on the basis of ranking; the better your ranking, the closer you are to the coaching tower. Right now, Karlovic and Nishikori have most favored status. But bear in mind that, as Gabe made clear, the assignments aren't based on the ATP tour rankings, they're determined by the informal academy rankings. "When you come here," Gabe said, "You leave your 'official' ranking at the door."

The anecdote is useful to understanding Nick Bollettieri and his eponymous academy, although that distinction is academic. For Nick is the academy, and vica-versa, which is probably the first and most important component in understanding how he has succeeded so wildly, for so long: his fingerprints are all over 11 current or former no. 1 players, of either gender, although not all of them (Boris Becker is but one example) came through the academy's system. His most recent no. 1, as I wrote in my ESPN post earlier today, is Jelena Jankovic - a Bollettieri protege through and through.

So the academy is an organic entity, and it has always operated by its own laws and logic - a sure proof that it's the product of an individual, not a business plan, or a specific, empirical theory of player development. It's not that those bloodless and theory-driven approaches aren't valid, or that large-scale or even nationally supported developmental programs can't be productive (just look at France) - it's just that nobody -not even the French - has even come close to approaching the sucess of the NBTA, and some have failed miserably in trying to do so (does anyone remember the vaguely Orwellian, Australian plan hatched by the Australian Institute of Sport?). The NBTA, unlike the French Federation's program is an out-and-out autocracy, a self-sustaining, autonomous state on the international map of tennis, ruled and shaped by one man - Nick Bollettieri.

On Wednesday, I spent the entire day with Nick, for a day-in-the-life piece that will be published in the April issue of Tennis. I won't go too deeply into the specifics of that day here, except to say that it began with Nick and I meeting at the gym on the NBTA "campus" at 5:15 (Nick rises punctually every day at 4:20 am) and ended after 6 pm (which is on the short side for a typical Nick day). That evening, I had dinner with Nick and his wife, Cindi, and some of her kin. Nick and I then watched Blackhawk Down, which I'd never seen, to test out the new Surround Sound system that Cindi had installed at the house as a Christmas present, to go with Nick's giant and extremely sharp flat-screen TV.

In the course of our day, I watched Nick evaluate a somewhat desperate junior girl whose secret hope was to earn a non-existent scholarship, and saw him work with a succession of players including an 11-year old girl, a pair of boys in their early teens (just two of the kids who are at the academy, full-time, but not in the "Elite" pro program), a Venezuelan girl who might be good enough one day to, say, represent her nation in Fed Cup, and two promising women pros -  Michaela Krajicek and Sabine Lisicki (memo to WTA: both of these girls serve huge and, purely as physical specimens, made me think they might be to the WTA what Terrel Owens is to NFL receivers).

But instead of pulling one of those experiences and describing the training session, I'm going to dig a little deeper into the nature of the academy. Let's start with Nick.

Bollettieri is a uniquely American individual. He has no aspiration but to be judged by his degree of success in his chosen occupation (in America, what you do trumps who you are, or where your family came from). His personal style rubs many people the wrong way, and some of his quirks and habits are legendary and, to some, somewhere between mortifying and off-putting (the reflector he uses to work on his tan is never far away, nor is a good brag about something he's recently accomplished). Nick almost begs to be underestimated; he's easily mistaken for a snake-oil salesmen, especially Europeans and intellectuals of every stripe. But those "American" traits - the overt enthusiasm, the extroversion, the lack of polish and general ignorance of (although "indifference to" might be a better phrase) cultural things, they're just the superficial manifestations of deeper, more useful and powerful attributes.

Those qualities include an absolute belief in, and fidelity to, his mission; a sharp, canny, practical  mind; an extraordinary degree of focus; enormous reserves of discipline, and an almost scary degree of energy (The man is 77 years old, and he still jackrabbits around the court). Put most simply, Nick is a man of action, not reflection; a doer, not a ponderer. His philosophical inclinations are almost non-existent, and he's eternally forward-looking (this is especially baffling to people who most value their history and traditions). The latter may help explain why Nick doesn't appear to age in any meaningful sense, and perhaps even why he married eight times. He speaks of Cindi (his present wife) as if she were his first, which I think tells you a lot beyond the fact that it isn't easy being married to Nick Bollettieri.

Many institutions reflect the personality of their founder, but few I know of it do it as comprehensively, or have so obviously benefitted from it, as the NBTA.  For there is no magic formula to explain the success of the NBTA, except in the sense that there is a magic formula that went into the making of Bollettieri. The academy is the sum total of one man and his vision, although "vision" may be too abstract to apply here. When the NBTA was purchased by sports marketing giant IMG some years ago, what they really bought is Nick Bollettieri, not Nick's system or philosophy of player development, except in the most fundamental sense.  I'm not sure how the academy will go on when Nick decides to call it quits, and true to the type of man he is - an empire builder, a man of the action, not theories - I'm not sure that Nick himself knows, or cares, except insofar as the academy will be his legacy. Hail, I'm not sure Nick can even imagine the day when he's no longer prowling the grounds, barking instructions and dispensing compliments, warnings and advice.

Steve Tignor and I took this trip together (he was there to interview Jelena Jankovic for a profile). We were joined by the talented photographer, Manuela Davies. While we were sitting in the airport on our way home, Steve made an interesting observation: He said he detected a real "military" vibe about the academy. It was an astute observation and it represents a pretty radical departure from our present sporting gestalt. Nick was a paratrooper, and he has a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the Armed Forces (I can't imagine him sitting through a move like, say, Love, Actually, yet he was utterly absorbed in, and moved by, Blackhawk Down). This is a man with a lifelong belief in discipline, sacrifice, self-denial and clean living; he brings those values along to the court.

At one point during our visit, Manuela said that she's unsure if, in the event the choice came up, she'd be comfortable having children of her own attend a place like the NBTA. Fair enough: not every youngster is cut out for the Marine Corps, either, and some are absolutely unsuited to it.  Some people recoil at the idea of putting their kids into a program that's so regimented, competitive, and demanding. But there's a reason that Nick seems to have little trouble populating his program, and it isn't because all his campers have nut-jobs for parents, or have a one-dimensional ambition (to win a Grand Slam). Many people believe in and respond to Bollettieri's views, but they are less likely to get loud about it than his critics, simply because they're like-minded - meaning, more interested in action, work, and attaining goals, rather than pondering, experimenting, and, to use the seductive trope or our time, "finding themselves."

Many of the youngsters at the NBTA have their sights set considerably lower (college-level tennis) than his "star" proteges, and they appear to enjoy the vigorously physical and performance-oriented nature of the academy. One thing is for certain: Although some of Bollettieri's proteges have struggled, dropped out, complained (Andre Agassi did so, rather famously), very few of them repudiated Bollettieri in the long term (including Agassi), and a good number of them look upon their time at the academy as formative, in a positive way. The academy, like certain branches of the service, consists of self-selecting elitists who have something like their own code and don't much care what the outside world thinks of it. It would be impossible for a kid who's not cut out for life at the academy to survive there for long, no matter how ambition-crazed his or her parents may be.

The elitism of the academy may be best reflected in the men - fittingly enough, all his pros seem to be men, and Hispanic ones to boot - with whom Bollettieri surrounds himself. There's an air almost of a secret society about them. During a lesson, there may be three or four Bollettieri aides on court - video-taping, feeding balls, standing on the sideline, chin in hand. When there's a break in practice, they confer, heads together, their voices indiscernible. They aren't merely developing a player - they're planning a campaign.

Bollettieri inspires great loyalty in his assistants. Julio Moros, who's been with Nick the longest (close to 30 years, albeit with a break here and there), Gabe Jarramillo, Carlos Gomez. . . each of them puts in long hours without complaint, and I sensed that, like the best of leaders, Bollettieri doesn't ask his men to do anything he isn't willing or able to do himself.

The academy itself evolved in a curious, idosyncratic way, both as an organic representation of Bollettieri's personality and as an elitist enclave. From the outside, the entrance, with its guardhouse, spotlights and whitewashed walls, is evocative of any of Florida's numerous "gated" communities. But once you're inside, some of the differences are notable. The typical gated community in Florida offers plenty of the kind of  "privacy" that to many (including me) smacks of isolation, and even a kind of anti-social loneliness. But on the NBTA campus, the facilities are crowded together, and there's usually enough activity - much of it the ordinary comings and goings or resident students and staff - to create a general sense of community. This makes the academy something of a society; it's a self-contained, self-sufficient, self-regulating place, like some walled Medieval village in Europe.

If that's an exaggeration, it's not by much. The training facilities, housing, offices, and courts are clustered together in a confusing complex riven by small lanes and walkways. You can get turned around and momentarily lost quite easily. This feeling of concentration could be put down to the demands of growth, but I think it goes deeper than that . Once Bollettieri became a success, he could have found any number of backers to transform or even tear down the place and start over on a larger playing field. But perhaps instinctively, and with a distinctly un-American reverence for what has rather than what can be created, he chose to keep his place tight - to expand within rather than beyond the boundaries he established.  He thereby fostered the one thing that can soften the blows that are delivered to so many, so routinely, in a competitive environment - a genuine, inherent sense of community. This provides a hedge against the feelings of isolation an alienation that can so easily take root where a sense of shared hardship and sacrifice is lacking.

At the same time, the academy is de-centralized, and atomic. There is no central gathering point. Nick rarely sets foot in his tiny office, except when he wants to show off the pictures of former players and friends that cover its walls. The academy is not the office, the clubhouse, the pool or the Starbucks coffee bar - it's wherever Nick happens to be, at any given moment. And as Nick is never in one place for all that long, the practical effect is that the academy is everywhere, in way that has nothing to do with bricks and mortar. This is something that no army of MBAs, bank officers, or developers could ever hope to re-create. The academy has some  of the same, eccentric properties and additions you would find in a grand Victorian home occupied by one family for a long period; it's easy to see how an investment banker or developer might want to blow the whole place up and start over, oblivious to the fact that in so doing, he would kill the genius and spirit of the place.

Take that coaching tower - if you were designing an academy today, you would probably incorporate a balcony or viewing area into a grand clubhouse, overlooking the stadium court. But at Nick's, there is no grand clubhouse. More significantly, I haven't heard of any schemes to create one. Although the facility has all the obligatory, high-tech bells and whistles (a state-of-the-art gym, an elaborate video network), and Nick has kept apace and even ahead of the curve when it comes to training and teaching technique, the real heart of the academy is the coaching tower - a stark, unpainted, wooden structure that screams "Texas football", not mint juleps on the veranda at six. This targeted, Spartan approach undoubtedly struck many of the old guard as ghastly when the game began to navigate the shoals of the Open era, but it has won the day. And much to Nick's credit, he never did abandon or significantly alter his vision once he had successfully elbowed his way into the territory of the "haves" in tennis. This is a man who has remained true to his vision and never lost sight of his goals.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure how that kind of genius can be bottled, or passed on to successive generations. There will never be another Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy for the simple reason that there will never be another Nick Bollettieri.


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Comments
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Posted by NP 12/20/2008 at 12:28 AM

Um, isn't Karlovic a bit old-school to be at the NB Academy? Maybe Nick wanted him to come show off his 140-mph serve for the students?

Posted by Master Ace 12/20/2008 at 12:33 AM

Speaking of Nick and his expertise, did Serena go to his academy and got fine tuned before the Australian Open recently as she was returning from injury?

Posted by NP 12/20/2008 at 12:36 AM

Correct link to Pete's latest ESPN entry:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?entryID=3782125&name=bodo_peter

Posted by 12/20/2008 at 01:28 AM

I've always wanted to watch Black Hawk Down!!!

Nick Bollettieri's academy created JJ??? Jacko's going to be worshipping Nick from now on! LOLL.

Posted by Maha (Happy Holidays!!!!) 12/20/2008 at 01:33 AM

Whoops... headless was me. Annoying typepad.

Posted by Pspace 12/20/2008 at 05:04 AM

Pete, thanks for the detailed description. I've always been curious what the NBTA looks like from the inside. Do they let tourists in?

Posted by mina 12/20/2008 at 05:41 AM

"what you do trumps who you are, or where your family came from"

i love this line! to me its not arrogance,its will and ambition... nice post pete!

Posted by Pspace 12/20/2008 at 06:09 AM

Batman Begins?

Posted by Marian (walks in boxers on the court) 12/20/2008 at 08:09 AM

Good morning,

Nice article (they do show NB's academy on TC often enough)!

Jewell is gonna like the Medieval village part :)

Posted by aussiemarg{rafa nadal,no 1 player,long may he reign} 12/20/2008 at 08:18 AM

Pete thanks for taking us inside "the academy",gee I totally agree with Steves' likeness to its military format,but hey its works,the no 1 players that have come from Nicks Place,is a pure testatment to his coaching methods.Must remember to leave my no 1 status when I enter Nicks doors.

Posted by yello fuzzy 12/20/2008 at 09:42 AM

happy holidays everyone
Seems like NBTA seems to be outsourcing for its talent. And is it really about talent or more about $. Lots of potential talent in america, ( inner-cities and rural areas) that will never benefit from any of Nicks wisdom(and superior staff and facilities), because of the the affordability issue. Everyone complains about the future of american tennis, but like our economy we have outsourced ourselves into a hole. Nick and the Gilberts of american tennis are loyalists...to the dollar.Capitalists never die, they just make more money.

Posted by Jay 12/20/2008 at 09:45 AM

Good stuff, Pete. When I heard you were going down there, I admittedly rolled my eyes--thinking, of course, that I already knew everything there was to know about Nick. (What has he not shared??) But the academy itself remains fascinating, and I guess that means the man himself still is, too. I was wrong. Why does that keep happening to me?

If I'm looking for a comparison to put Nick's achievements into perspective, I search no further than the Evert Academy. Have they produced one pro of note in recent years, in ANY year for that matter? Does anyone even train there, or has Chrissie scared them all away with her icy daggers? There, they need to up the Q rating and recruit a Williams Sister. Whoops, that's probably not going to happen.

Posted by tennis player 12/20/2008 at 09:46 AM

man i wish i went there!
that would be so cool...but my parents are 'academics obsessed.'

Posted by Asad Raza 12/20/2008 at 11:10 AM

Very true, Pete. Nick B. has seemed to go from an early reputation as a bit of a svengali to a really respected and well-loved old guard member. In way, it's kind of the same journey made by his most famous pupil, hunh?

In an indirect way, this makes a good companion piece to Steve's piece on the Wimbledon final--Steve called it proof that power-baseline tennis can be as amazing and elegant as any other kind. And for a long time, Nick B. was the primary exporter of the power-baseline style that so many tennis classicists (there are still some around here) believe was "ruining" the "beauty" of the game. Federer and Nadal, while not coached by Nick, prove otherwise.

I like to believe that if you keep doing what you really believe in and love, I think people come around to you a bit, even if at first you're seen as the barbarian storming the gates. Hey, always remember Cavafy's poem: society needs barbarians.

Nick B. was incredibly nice to me when I randomly approached him at the U.S.O. a couple years ago. When he heard I was writing about his former protegé, Arias, he lit up, gave me his cell phone number and we later sat by the big fountain talking for an hour, while he entertained constant hi's and What's up Nick?'s.

Posted by Griff 12/20/2008 at 11:20 AM

I just read about Filip Krajinovic,yet another Serbian tennis wonder at NB academy.He's 16 and currenty 589th in the ranks(atp ranks,not academy:)).Already defeated a top 100 rival,Robert Kendrick this year.

Posted by tina 12/20/2008 at 12:31 PM

Not on topic, but just saw that Davenport, after committing to the AO, is pulling out - pregnant again!

Will be back to discuss "Uncle Nick" later - as well as Filip Krajinovic, of course.

Posted by adicecream 12/20/2008 at 01:29 PM

Thanks for this insight into Nick B. I have never been a fan, but this article showed me that for the right person, the academy is a reasonable option. No child of mine though!

Posted by Maha (Happy Holidays!!!!) 12/20/2008 at 01:57 PM

Anyone here????!!!

Anyone ANYWHERE???

What's WRONG with TW today???!!! Noone's here!!!!!!! Not on the previous posts, not here, nowhere!!! AAAAAAAGH.

It's a curse! A curse I tell ya, a CURSE!!!!!!!!!

*clutches face in horror*

Posted by Maha (Happy Holidays!!!!) 12/20/2008 at 01:59 PM

Anyway... gotta sleep... sigh.

Bye, nobodynessness.

Posted by Andrew Friedman (aka Rolo Tomassi) 12/20/2008 at 02:52 PM

Hi, Pete - Really enjoyed this look at Nick B. Like Asad, I've had great run-ins with him at the Open - he's always happy to talk tennis - if everybody were so passionate and accessible, the sport would be a lot more fun for all involved...

Posted by Annie 12/20/2008 at 05:17 PM

Hi folks. interesting article, pete. couple of questions: how many students attend the academy? is it a year-round arrangement ie do the kids go to school there?

Posted by Annie 12/20/2008 at 05:18 PM

married 8 times?! that speaks volumes.

Posted by tommy 12/20/2008 at 06:08 PM

Bollettieri being married 8 times is the ONLY topic of any interest regarding that tennis academy.
It's just like Bodo writing about Sesil and not Olga Poutchkova.
Pete doesn't want to do human interest stories.

Posted by jeff in rochester 12/20/2008 at 06:59 PM

I look forward to the coming article in Tennis. I was in one of the first adult camps that Nick had around 1985. It was great because they did not downsize the drills then and we even could have match play against the juniors in the PM. I remember going through a few then asked for the best they could give me.........I didn't care if I was crushed. The instructors said they could not give me the best as he was with Nick at the Junior French Open............they told me his name and I told them I never heard of him...........some guy name Andre!!!

Posted by Annie 12/20/2008 at 07:35 PM

Jeff: nice story!

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 12/20/2008 at 07:58 PM

Ha Jeff, great little story.
And yes, I tink there is a great deal of snake oil salesman to Bollettieri. But there's also a good deal of substance, and it is this substance that has made him and a dozen or more of his students so successful.

Posted by Christopher 12/20/2008 at 08:46 PM

7 divorces seems very sad. But 8 marriages bespeaks an eternal optimist.

In some ways I feel about NB the way I do about Richard Williams: both of them bother the heck out of me in lots of ways, but they've also managed to do something truly extraordinary with methods that almost everyone dismissed as ludicrous before the successes became apparent. The world is a much more interesting place with people like this.

Posted by aussiemarg{rafa nadal,no 1 player,long may he reign} 12/20/2008 at 11:12 PM

Jeff Gee,Andre didnt do too badley did he,Andre one of my all time fav players,gee tennis died a bit for me,when Andre retired.

Posted by Maha (Happy Holidays!!!!) 12/21/2008 at 02:39 AM

Anyone HERE???

Posted by 12/21/2008 at 03:03 AM

Hi AM! I feel the same way about Andre. I just loved the guy, even when he acted liked a jack*** in his earlier days. In Andre's more recent reflections on his career, he certainly gives credit to Nick and admits that he was too immature to handle the NBTA at the time, and in fact he did not even want to be there and seem to try to sabotage his training in the form of adolescent acting out.

Pete, thanks for this article. NB is really a compelling figure. Has he ever written memoirs? I imagine he hasn't had much time for that, and as you describe him, maybe not much interest in reflecting, but it would be an interesting read.

Posted by Jenn 12/21/2008 at 03:03 AM

That was me, headless, at 3:03

Posted by aussiemarg{rafa nadal,no 1 player,long may he reign} 12/21/2008 at 03:27 AM

jenn yes,Andre to me dosent get the credit he deserves,he is the current holder of all the grand slams,of course without Mr.Gil.Reyes,Andre would I believe,never did what he did,to come back and capture the no 1 player in the world,win RG,is a credit to his will,he once said of Gil,he made me a better person,Andre will always remain one of my fav players,also a great human being,his work today is endless.

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 05:50 AM

"This is a man with a lifelong belief in discipline, sacrifice, self-denial and clean living; he brings those values along to the court." (quote from pete's article on NB)

I'm not sure exactly how"sacrifice" and "self-denial" translate into being on your 8th wife but the world is full of unfathomable mysteries......


Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 05:52 AM

hello everybody and or anybody out there. i made the comment @5.50 am as a sort of gut reaction to what I was reading without even greeting you. Sorry! I didn't even finish pete's article so now I'm going upstream to do just that.

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 06:18 AM

Ok,I finished the article . Do the control tower and all the references to a military style institution conjure up a complex more reminiscent of a penitentiary than a tennis academy? ... After reading this article I would have to say that NB is not my sort of guy.

I'm also not sure what Pete means by "what you do is more important than WHO YOU ARE". If we are to understand this according to NB's coordinates, this would mean that success in what one does justifies everything. From which we would have to conclude that the lives of certain people who were inordinately successful and effectively über efficient at eliminating human beings of a particular race were admirable. They too claimed to worship at the altar of discipline,sacrifice and self denial. What they did and the spirit in which they did it were more important than who they were as individual human beings.

If I were a citizen of this country in the North American continent, the U.S. of A. ,I would not be so complacent about Pete's claim that this is a national trait,nay a national belief.
On behalf of many fine and wonderful people from the U.S. whom I know personally or of whom I know,I object.

Posted by Laura 12/21/2008 at 06:24 AM

MAHA!!!!!!!!!!!
If you are around now or later. I am watching the film Spirit with Matt Damon on the BBC!!!!!!!!!!!! Bryan Adams music too!!

Anyway off back to the film now.
TW is deserted today!

Posted by jewell (bored with washing up after 130 wedding guests) 12/21/2008 at 06:28 AM

I guess it depends on who you are sacrificing, Gabriela - perhaps some of the wives weren't tennis fans?

I really like NB, I usually read his blog during the slams, it's always interesting. :)

Hello, btw. :) - I am having a break from washing up and lurking on the other thread.

Posted by mina 12/21/2008 at 06:44 AM

hello...anyone here?

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 06:45 AM

haha jewell: yes,of course. I am sure that that paragon of discipline and self denial Henry VIII also felt most morose when having to sacrifice each succesive wife to the next one-all for the good and greater greatness of Great Britain,of course!

I'm sure that NB is a veritive oracle and pundit on all things tennis but why make more claims for him than that? I'm not interested in the guy as a fount of moral wisdom.

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 06:46 AM

MINA!! I have just left you a message on the wall of FB: How are you? I'm returning to the other thread where I left jewell and laura....

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 06:54 AM

I thought i wrote something...

Posted by jewell (bored with washing up after 130 wedding guests) 12/21/2008 at 07:00 AM

I really think that Pete is only trying to get across the meritocracy of America, to be honest - I didn't get the sense that he was making any stronger claim than that.

By 'who you are', I thought he meant the kind of thing that absolutely obsesses Britain, for example - "Oh! Bollettieri! Is that the Lincolnshire Bollettieris?" and the polite nostril flares when one commits the terrible sin of saying, for example, "Pardon?" instead of "What?". Just look at the snide newspaper treatment of businessmen...

In other words, success should be regarded as success, and appreciated, no matter who your parents are or how long your family has lived on the same estate or where you went to school or whatever. Anyway that's what I thought was meant.

Posted by jewell (bored with washing up after 130 wedding guests) 12/21/2008 at 07:08 AM

My comment disappeared...

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 07:24 AM

jewell: I understood that that was what he meant with the "who your family is or where it comes from".

Yes,I did take "who you are" to mean something entirely different. Perhaps your interpretation is the correct one and I have got up on a high horse about nothing. If so,I'l gladly scuttle off it and wipe all the egg off my face....

However,I still can see no relationship between a man who has obviously indulged himself all his life with no other end in mind except his own pet theories,hobby and well being and the words "sacrifice and self denial and discipline...." Unless,of course,what is meant by them is that these are things which he imposes on or requires from those who wish to be involved in his life.


Posted by TENNIS.com 12/21/2008 at 10:00 AM

Jewell, thanks for articulating what I was trying to do, you were spot on. Gabriela, with all due respect, I sense a kind of reflexive hostility and cynicism powering your thoughts, and you are entitled to them. But I wouldn't want to have to defend the position that there isn't a "typical" way Americans live or view the world - nor Spaniards or Frenchmen, for that matter. This is why people write history and sociology, both of which at their highest level traffic in ideas rather than mere facts and statistics, and attempt to interpret people and cultures. And hey, one man's penitentary is another man's paradise. I hated mathematics, for example, but I understand, appreciate and value the mathematicians ability and zeal for his field. I never tried to make Bollettieri any "more than he is", but would you deny that he - like many of us - can be representative of his culture, or some other larger organism in which he functions and of which he is a product. You probably also represent your culture in many ways in your attitudes, opinions, habits and even the way you express yourself here, but of course it would be foolish for anyone to draw generalizations or firm conclusions from such limited data. . .

Posted by Pete 12/21/2008 at 10:05 AM

Pete - Sorry, that's me above, this new Typepad forces me to log out as a blogger before I go on as a comment poster. Go figure.

Anyway - Maha (and any others), I can't email you directly, but please do not use red-meat posts like this as in IM vehicle. It's not fair to the people who wish to comment on and engage in dialogue relevant to the post. It's also basically disrespectful of all the effort put into these posts and this attempt to hold a tennis-related dialogue. Most of the time, unless the OT house is rockin'., a poster's first comment at a red-meat post should be relevant to topic. Otherwise, you're interrupting.

Posted by Pete 12/21/2008 at 11:19 AM

And Jeff - good story, and I'd love to hear (by email, if you don't want to share it here, your thoughts on your experience at the NBTA in general. . .

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 11:54 AM

Pete: I would never argue that there ISN'T a typical way of viewing things peculiar to each country or culture. While stereotyping is often maddeningly unfair to the individual, it does have its basis is some part of the truth. I think we agree about this.

What I WAS questioning was whether NB was a good (i.e. "true") representative of the standard,characteristic viewpoint of the collective psyche of the USA. Are his character traits the ones most admired by the people in your country? It has nothing to do with my supposed hostility and/or cynicism. (Will you allow me to point out in this aside that like many of your fellow countrymen you are perhaps too fond of attributing anything you don't immediately understand about/ or agree with to "hostility" and "cynicism"(especially if the source is European)? Can we say that this too is simply more evidence that there is a "typical" way that citizens of the U.S. view the world? )

Jewell explained to me that what you meant by a person's deeds being more important than what he "is" was meant to imply that what a person does with his life is more important than what he starts out with and where he comes from. I had taken "who he is" to be a more philosophical statement,meaning something very different...To put it bluntly,I had understood that you were saying that a person'sprofessional success was more important than his moral worth. I thought you were saying that the worship of success is a character trait unique to the USA. If anything,I was defending the people of your country from what I thought was a moral slur cast unjustly on their character.

I replied to Jewell that if she were correct in her assessment of what you had meant and that if I were wrong , I would acknowledge my mistake and eat humble pie. It would seem that Jewell's is the correct interpretation and that I got all hot and bothered (not exactly the mark of a cynic,right?) over nothing. You were not making a case for "the end(success) justifying everything". I thought you were.It would appear that you were not. I was mistaken.My apologies. I hope they are accepted in the spirit in which they are tendered,repentantly and with respect.

As a person who floundered through math all through my academic career,I can empathise with you heartily. Let's celebrate that unhappy failing we have in common and not our differences.

Please do not interpret this as an act of hostility, but do you really think a medieval village and the obeissance due to a feudal lord which informs its existence and designs its infrastructure make for an apt parable for a success story USA style? I thought that that was precisely what people had gone to the New World to escape from. Am I wrong about this too?

I sincerely hope that I have not struck a discordant note again. There is no hostility. There is no cynism.This was meant as an apology for having misunderstood your initial premise.

As to the watch tower or the coaching tower,C'mon ,Pete,where's your sense of humour? A guard tower presiding over a walled in complex? The word penitentiary leaps to the fore. Even the photo at the top could be from any of a dozen of prison movies made in Hollywood that the whole world is familiar with. I know all the inmates at NB's are there by choice. It's no gaol. But you wouldn't even grant me my little joke.

Finally.may I put in a word for Maha ? Your reprimand of Maha is a bit severe. You do well to remind us of post etiquette but singling that child out specifically when many of us have often been just as guilty is a bit harsh.

Finally,thank you for taking time to address me specifically. Your attention and time are appreciated.

Posted by Pierre 12/21/2008 at 12:16 PM

Gabriela, your attempt to link Bolletieri with "certain people who were inordinately successful and effectively über efficient at eliminating human beings of a particular race" is quite a stretch. Your reasoning isn't even internally consistent: the whole idea that "what you do is more important than who you are" is counter to the notion of eliminating other human beings. It looks like you are trying to paint Bolletieri with some outlandish accusation based on the fact that you dislike something about him.

Bolletieri has a fascinating story, having at one time trained as a paratrooper; this would certainly explain his discipline and maybe any paramilitary flavour to his facilities, which is actually a common theme in many organizations that attempt to train or manage young people.

One of the most interesting questions about him is where along the way he obtained his tennis knowledge. He has been characterized as promoting a certain style of play, favouring the forehand as a weapon, but the players he develops display the whole spectrum of styles; aggressive baseliners, defensive players, serve and volleyers.

I think he is beyond the point where his effectiveness as a tennis coach can be questioned. You could even argue that the maturity shown by many of his proteges speaks just as highly of his effectiveness as a teacher. I wonder how much someone like Agassi learned from Bolletieri, and how much credit he gives him now.

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 12:28 PM

PIERRE: Was NOT trying to link NB with those people at all. I just felt that IF Pete was making a case for SUCCESS being the end all ,the prime raison d'ètre for everything that, by the same token, one could make a case for those people to whom alluded . Of course NB is not even remotely like one of them. I was referring to a dangerous moral premise which I thought (MISTAKENLY!!!) that Pete had made.
(I have only read the first line of your post so I wouldn't know what else you have to say . Will read it now...)

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 12:32 PM

PIERRE:( I have just finished the rest of your post)

That NB has a fascinating story and that he has an amazing wealth of tennis knowledge is not to be disputed(nor did I)

he has certainly been able to tap the skills of many players and bring out in them those talents which make them top tennis athletes!

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/21/2008 at 12:34 PM

Pierre: i believe that pete in his article goes some way to answering the questions you have asked about how Agazzi feels about NB

Posted by Lexa - FUZZED 12/21/2008 at 01:04 PM

Well, Pete - you've got us eagerly awaiting your upcoming NB article!
If nothing else, the guy is an iconic example of how in this land of opportunity someone who knows next to nothing about a profession can, through hard work, homework, and serendipity, rise to the top of that profession. This doesn't usually happen in other more tradition-bound countries. I've never been an NB fan, when I blog about him I always say so, and I don't think he's earned much respect for his tennis smarts among other successful coaches (will you be writing about that in your coming article?) but we must absolutely credit his motivational and promotional talents. But I could never see him manufacturing a Rogi or Rafa.

Posted by Pspace 12/21/2008 at 01:45 PM

gabriela, I refer you to the movie Batman Begins for a demonstration of admiration of these qualities. The pretty heroine says:

"It is not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you"

Batman agrees! Need we say more? :) Regarding, widespread acceptance, oh well. No generalization works in all cases.

Posted by jewell (finished washing up!!! - and I only broke 2 plates) 12/21/2008 at 01:50 PM

Hey again, just caught up with these. :) Have not really got time to do them justice, but a couple of quick add-ons...

Gabriela, I really value all your comments, you always make me think and I like that. :)

I'm not comfortable with a rigid division being made between America as the Land of Opportunity and Europe as old, class-ridden, and cynical...and I do kind of think that distinction is in the background here.

Yes, those things are there, but they are not the whole story, and grand historical and sociological narratives can I think distort the details necessary to our understandings. For example, going back to Henry VIII, to say he was a brute who mistreated all his six wives in the pursuit of pleasure would not be accurate or a fair representation of the man. As Gabriela said, the stereotypes only have some basis in truth.

Posted by Maha (Happy Holidays!!!!) 12/21/2008 at 02:45 PM

Pete!!! I never went OT here!!! I mean... my first post was about the academy creating JJ!!! :(
And the other two were wondering if anyone was there, cuz TW was deserted :( :(
I never meant to be disrespectful; I read every post put up, and do appreciate the effort put into it.

Posted by jb (is it tennis yet?) 12/21/2008 at 02:55 PM

Pete - this was fascinating. Definately makes me wish to be a fly on the wall at the NBTA, but i guess I'll have to wait till April, eh? And thank goodness YOU were able to shadow him, but really, i pretty much don't do ANYTHING at 5:15 except head off for bed...

It does make you wonder about the future of Nick's academy at the (hopefully) far off time when he isn't there to infuse it with his energy and vision. Nick seems to be one of those few truly unique, irreplaceable people.

Am i correct in taking from this that while Nick is without a question a great identifyer of talent, and a tennis coach, he's been less successful at teaching his coaches to go out on their own? There must be coaches that worked with him at the Academy and have gone on to successfully coach players on tour. Do you happen to know of any?

Also, just as an aside, i find it somewhat amusing that there's some that see 8 marriages as an indicator that Nick isn't into self-sacrifice and discipline. Sounds more like his 'personal' life has taken the back seat to his tennis life to me...

And Jeff - nice contribution, care to share any more about your time there? :)

Posted by Andrew Miller 12/21/2008 at 03:54 PM

"it's just that nobody -not even the French - has even come close to approaching the sucess of the NBTA"

I like what Master Bodo wrote, but the above sentance is my only bone to pick. I would say the Spainards have eclipsed the NBTA's success for the single reason that they monopolized the french open: Ferrero, Nadal, Costa, Moya, etc and so forth. It was a Spaniard who ended Courier's reign on the dirt, and a Spaniard who prevents Federer from being crowned greatest of all time (before his moment it seems). It almost seems that the Spanish quest to dominate Paris is either a tribute to one man's failure to win it and his sister's mission to capture it again and again (That would be Emilio and Aranxta Sanchez-V), or to a general repudiation of any kind of training methods that come from a military backdrop. From what I can sense, the rise of Federer and Nadal is proof positive that the old era of slam and bam tennis is not sufficient for today's court - perhaps Nishikori is the greatest of all time in Japan, and Karlovic's certainly the most formidable serve the world has seen since Pete Sampras, but at the end of the day, the scoreboard says one thing:

Bolletieri is no longer the answer; and perhaps the answer has always been more nuanced. There are reasons Andre Agassi left the academy - one of which was that he could not stand it, and Bolletieri himself said the academy was, more or less, just not enough for Mr. Agassi.

That seems to lend itself to another modality....which is to say, that in tennis, it's the exceptions that rule. It's the german player far too powerful for his age; or the Swede who, lacking a forehand, was eager and ready to hit a volley; the Swiss south african whose friend/sometime coach died, giving him some purpose to do what he could in the time he had; the Austrian whose career was shattered in a sunny Florida city before he was convinced to use a makeshift bench to practice on the court while his body prepared; the Spaniard who grew up lefty, despite being a righty, thereby combining a right handed mentality with a lefthanded advantage.

There are the exceptions. Those exceptions have dominated tennis.

So much for the rules...

Posted by Pspace 12/21/2008 at 04:26 PM

Andrew Miller, great observations all around. I agree in large part, except that I don't think NB preaches slam and bam tennis. From what I've seen from his coaching videos, he's quite conservative in his baseline tactics. The basic idea is to keep the ball going cross court, until you get an opening down the line.

The problem against the top players today is that you can't afford to give them too many balls, as they are very aggressive with their placement. Federer and Nadal often eschew the Bollitieri wisdom in terms of their forehand shot selection. I believe this is a large part of the reason that Andre struggled against Roger - too many balls played CC well within the lines. Such risk taking is probably outside the domain of large-scale coaching, because it lends itself to inconsistent play.

I believe that the NBTA is prolly a good place for players aged 16 and under to work on consistency. But, they do need to leave to add explosive elements to their game.

Posted by Lexa - FUZZED 12/21/2008 at 06:00 PM

Andrew Miller and Pspace, I agree with you. This is the predominant pattern among NB's students: the ones who became great achieved their greatest glory AFTER they left him, and you only leave a coach if you think your chances are best elsewhere/you've outgrown him. That's pretty telling, I think.

Posted by Andrew Miller 12/21/2008 at 06:42 PM

Pspace that is a great observation about the cross court and "too consistent" placement of Andre Agassi versus Federer, allowing Federer to win every subsequent match since November 2003 against AA. I never thought of it that way, in terms of how Agassi's style played into Federer's weapons, but you have done it, and I think Lexa's point that most of the players become great after leaving Bolletieri is true! Certainly, NB is a huge force in tennis, but he is not the only one, and not necessarily even the most important one. For starters, Andy Murray, who was more or less the biggest thing in tennis in the latter part of the season until Djokovic' triumph in China, did the majority of his important training in Spain; and, one of the bright spots in the WTA, Marat Safin's sister Dinara Safina, herself did quite a lot of work in Spain (Safin does interviews in Spain as well). The Williams sisters, themselves likely the most dominant pair of sisters the planet have seen in tennis, had little to do with Bolletieri (the exceptions, yet again).

That would suggest a seismic shift in tennis, and I think both of you are right about raising these questions and making the discussion a lot more nuanced. Bolletieri might be a presence, but he is not the predominant force - just a formidable influence.

If Federer is anything as you suggest Pspace, he hones in on patterns and demolishes them (the vast majority of the time). Big serves to the backhand side from Roddick? No problem: Federer recognizes the placement is not as good as it should be, identifies the pattern, and takes away Roddick's advantage. Too much cross court from Agassi, with too little depth? As you noted and I did not recognize, that just permits Federer to begin toying with Agassi.

That said, I think a younger version of Agassi would have been more formidable vs. Federer, or a younger version of Sampras, or even Lendl or Becker or Edberg!, but it is what it is: can't get it all as a fan (we get a lot of good things as it is), and I feel as though we're lucky that at least they had some overlap (Agassi went 0-10 against Nadal [lost two] and Federer [lost 8] since November 2003; that's not including Agassi's three early wins against Federer).

Posted by Pete 12/21/2008 at 09:28 PM

Great comments,everyone, and thanks for taking such pains to articulate your point of view, Garbriela. Not to belabor the issue, but I did not so much want to extol or embrace Nick's MO as much as define an put it into perspective. Having said that, I do admire it, and its's partly because of something I didn't touch on: I don't think the the success of so many NBTA alums is due as much to Nick's coaching ability as the environment he creates and the demands he makes. Others have said that, but often forget the necessary addendum - that Nick really (really) does know how to coach, too, as I will try to make clear in my article.

And to whomever suggested that Nick is mostly a good example of a "capitalistic" mind at work, you could say the same of, oh, John Lennon, who became spectacularly rich because he pursued doing what he most loves to do and the means to do it, which meant making records and money to further his career and ability to be heard and make a mark in music. I see no substantial difference between the two men in that regard, odd as the comparison may seem. Let's keep the cart in front of the horse. Besides, Nick has given remarkable amounts of potential profit away to many causes, including his camp/foundation to help fight childhood obesity.

And Maha, I'm sorry if I came down a little hard on you there. . .

Posted by Maha (Happynessnessness) 12/22/2008 at 12:46 AM

Thanks Pete :)

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 12/22/2008 at 02:41 AM

Pspace and Andrew Miller - thanks for the observations on tactics. :)

Posted by gabriela valentina 12/22/2008 at 04:19 AM

I'm glad this space hasn't shut down yet so that I can say that I found Andrew miller's first comment very informative and that Pspace then drove him to elaborate even more and that all together it has been an eye opener.

I agree with jewell on what she does find a bit uncomfortable in the reading between the lines of Pete's article.

Thanks Pete! truly! You sure do know how to pick what things to write about- the topics that make everybody sit up and take note...Now I know why you call them "red meat".

(ha,ha Does that make me a ravening vulture or hyena then?LOL)

Posted by 12/22/2008 at 08:12 AM

VERY off topic(please don't shoot!!) but a Merry Christmas to you Pete and to all your staff and helpers and contributors who make all this fun possible!!

Posted by Tom in Smalltown 12/22/2008 at 07:19 PM

"Unfortunately, I'm not sure how that kind of genius can be bottled, or passed on to successive generations. There will never be another Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy for the simple reason that there will never be another Nick Bollettieri."

As an educator, I've read many a book by many a "teacher of the year" that claimed to have the solutions for getting out of the educational swamp. Heck, I've even worked for good teachers gone administrative who put us onto educational answers galore. It's interesting that even the best teachers can't soak us in their aura and make us like them, no matter how many books they write, no matter how many copied techniques the administrators make us implement in the classroom. We can learn the science of the art, but no two artists will ever produce the exact same product no matter how similar their styles. Long live...

Good article.

Posted by Sandra 12/23/2008 at 09:32 AM

7 divorces and 8 marriages = clean living?

Posted by Nancy J 12/23/2008 at 06:14 PM

The most annoying thing about most of Nick's grads are their tendency towards load grunts. Even Andre.

I've been doing some reading about Steffi Graf lately, and I seem to remember that one article mentioned that Steffi quietly spent a short bit of time at Nick's. Is that true? If so, when?

Posted by Nancy J 12/23/2008 at 06:19 PM

One thing I found of interest during my "reading" about Steffi (and some Andre), is that Mike Agassi seems to have a bone to pick with Nick because he says that growing up Andre learned a serve and volley game, and Nick retooled Andre into a baseline game. In more than one article that I've read, Mike would have preferred Andre to maintain the style of his youth.


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