I was a football player growing up but was introduced to tennis late in high school. Being a pretty good athlete, I managed to make my high school team. I also played on the college team at Spring Hill College.
After college I enrolled in law school at the University of Miami. I soon realized I needed to earn some extra money for my new family while I attended law school and started teaching tennis after school. It was 1957. I taught at a city-owned facility called Victory Park in North Miami Beach. I knew almost nothing about teaching tennis but watched other area pros teach to learn the grips, swing patterns, stances, etc. My lesson fee was $3 per hour. While teaching I learned that I had an ability to read people, connect with them, and motivate them. A few years later, two of my students showed exceptional talent. They were Brian Gottfried and Cheryl Smith. From that point I started to gain a reputation for being able to develop top players.
I am so happy being a coach and knowing that I may be able to have a positive impact not only on my student’s game, but also on their entire life.
Among the proudest moments of my career was when Arthur Ashe and I started the Ashe Bollettieri Inner City programs, as well as being the coach when Andre Agassi won Wimbledon in 1992. Then there was being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and being the first caucasian inducted into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame. Last but not least, creating the academy model of training and building the first, largest and most prestigious boarding tennis academy in the world, IMG Academy. I am also very proud of all the accomplishments of the students that have been trained at the academy and the impact we have had on their lives.
The most important qualities of a successful coach are to recognize that there are no two students alike in the world, to listen to their students, to always be truthful but also very positive, and to never let them leave the tennis court thinking they are a failure. The coach must also not only judge students by their wins and losses, but also by the effort they put into their game.
There are many ways to win a tennis match. It’s physical, mental, emotional – and great fun.
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