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

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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.

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'