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

Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
News
(David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
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.

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor