Nick Bollettieri: How do I spot potential? It all comes down to passion

There's no tennis coach in the world, not even me, who can make a champion unless there's talent to work with. You also need other fundamentals: a pool of players for competitive tension, top-notch facilities, excellent coaches and a clear, comprehensive programme that goes from grips to Grand Slam-winning strategy. Plus the best academic education, physical conditioning, diet and pastoral care to ensure you're producing healthy, rounded people. And you need to instil a mentality that dictates working to dropping point, and the dedication of every waking moment to your goals. That's the basics covered.

There's no tennis coach in the world, not even me, who can make a champion unless there's talent to work with. You also need other fundamentals: a pool of players for competitive tension, top-notch facilities, excellent coaches and a clear, comprehensive programme that goes from grips to Grand Slam-winning strategy. Plus the best academic education, physical conditioning, diet and pastoral care to ensure you're producing healthy, rounded people. And you need to instil a mentality that dictates working to dropping point, and the dedication of every waking moment to your goals. That's the basics covered.

Next come the four factors that I believe differentiate the simply good from potentially great. First, true self-belief. Second, the ability to accept support. Third, adaptability, by which I mean being capable on your worst day of still giving your best. And fourth, passion, which you either have or you don't.

People always ask me how I spot potential, and ultimately it's about that X-factor: Passion. I saw in it Monica Seles as a girl, so small that a puff of wind could have blown her off her feet but so intense that she played every point as if her life depended on it. I saw it in Andre Agassi, all teenage pigeon-steps but eyes that spoke of gifts bestowed by The Man upstairs. I saw it in little Maria Sharapova, nine years old but with ice in her veins.

You can't be right all the time, but if you have confidence, and convey it, self-belief is self-perpetuating. How else can I explain why Serena Williams chose to come to me for a week before each of her five Grand Slam wins in 2002 and 2003? What could I teach her, one of two of the finest female athletes in history (the other is Venus) about playing tennis, except advising a bit of work on her serve, her volleys? She arrived saying she was tired of being No 2, I convinced her it didn't have to be that way.

Accepting support is crucial and I now know how best to be supportive. You listen. Andre taught me that way back. "Have you ever listened to anyone in your life?" he once asked me. "No, not really," I replied.

"Well you should try it," he said. "You might learn something." I tried it. I learnt. It makes you a more effective teacher.

So to adaptability, for player and coach alike. Champion athletes have bad days and still win. The right training, to breaking point at times, helps. And the coach needs to be adaptable too, to address the paradox of needing to treat every student differently, but every one the same.

The same in terms of attention and detail, whether they have $50m in the bank or zilch. Different because no two players are alike.

At one point my resident students included David Wheaton, who rose to be world No 12, and Jim Courier, Monica and Andre, who all made No 1. David's mom was a born-again Christian who stood on the sidelines and prayed on every shot. Jim was a workhorse, a battler.

Monica, the Postage Stamp, stuck until she got there, practising a single shot for 12 hours at a time. Andre? Jeez, I thought: "Will he even show up today? And what will he wear?" But I got to know what made each of them tick and I wound it up.

I'm a lousy businessman. I had to sell my academy to IMG in 1987 because I was going bust, I'd given too many scholarships. Do I regret that? Never. I want the best from myself, I want the best from my students. I want them, like me, to give every hour of every day to their goals.

I'm 74 next month, which I figure means I have perhaps only 50 more years at the frontline. But still you have to treat every day as though it's the only one that counts. That's what drives me. Life can be gone in a fraction of a second. I've known that ever since my brother, Jimmy, died in a freak accident, aged 14. Do what you believe in. But do it today. It has to be today.

Nick Bollettieri will be writing for The Independent throughout Wimbledon

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn