“Oh, the evil is out there, and it is strong kids. You have to make the right choice every day, say no to drugs and alcohol and yes to life and all it has to offer.” You are standing behind tennis coaching legend Nick Bolletteiri and you can’t help but flash on the Yoda-esque way he is addressing the 40 eager Padowans sitting on the court in front of him.
At 86, after a lifetime in the sun, Nick even kind of resembles Yoda. Contemplative, funny, energetic, and full of deep thoughts and opinions, you smile knowing this is not just another day on the courts.
You are one of five other instructors who are volunteering for the day because, well, Nick asked you to. Actually local pro Felipe Monroy asked you to but you will be working with Nick teaching an adult group and a kids group while the master jumps in periodically bestowing his wisdom.
“It would be like if John Irving came to Sonoma and wanted you to help him with a writing class.” You explain to your writer wife who wonders why you are volunteering your very precious time on a Saturday. Nick is tennis royalty to you. He tells personal stories about the people you idolized growing up: Agassi, Sharapova, Courier, Becker, Seles, Hingis, The Williams sisters and even two of your biggest heroes, Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King.
Nick founded the Nick Bolletteiri Tennis Academy in Florida in the late 70’s with a crazy philosophy that changed the way tennis was taught. You see this in the directions he gives, “Good, now wrap your arm around on the follow through, really hit it, don’t be scared, hit it.”
This is not the “ready position, turn, racket back, step in, follow through” traditional way of teaching you grew up with. This is a “use the motion that works best for you then hit the crap out of the ball and make sure you win the last point” way of teaching.
You watch and listen, Nick is old school Italian. Calls all the women girls, talks about his 8 marriages, drops a lot of names but as you watch him with the students you see that the bravado is not empty. His students learn, your students are learning, you are learning, the guy is sharp and the information is right on.
And he’s funny, he tells the young students a personal tale about his dad’s new car that sets up a lesson on telling the truth. Then he turns around to you and explains the real story (the saucy part he omitted about the girls). His new book, “Changing the game” is filled with humor and deeper life lessons,
“It requires the ability to read others in order to bring out everything they have and motivate them to reach their full potential. This also means finding a way to blend all of their various talents and abilities into a winning package.”
Changing the Game p. 285.
You realize how closely his philosophy aligns with your own. After the clinics are over Nick signs a book for you and you ask him about how to get high school aged kids to fall in love with tennis. You anticipate a generic coaching answer: “Find their sweet spot. Show them how wonderful the sport is.” That kind of thing but Nick immediately goes in a different direction, “Take them on a fieldtrip to a children’s cancer ward. Let them see and understand how lucky they are.”
He talks about the importance of empathy and you leave the courts knowing you have learned much more than just tennis skills from your day with the master.