Nick Bollettieri discusses crafting champions

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
When Nick Bollettieri decided to coach former number one tennis champion, Boris Becker, he didn't pay much attention to the techniques of the game or how he had won Wimbledon at just 17 years old. Instead, Bollettieri looked at how Becker trained and his mental attitude.

You must be mentally strong to be a champion.

Bollettieri, world-renowned tennis coach and founder of IMG Academies, spoke to cadets at this year's National Character and Leadership Symposium on how to be a winner for life. Bollettieri shared stories on his childhood, family and career in professional tennis to outline what it takes to be a champion.

Bollettieri said that you can't build a champion.

"I don't believe that you can make a champion," Bollettieri said. "I believe people have to have certain things and if they're with the right support team, have to develop those certain things that can get them to higher degrees."

Bollettieri has worked with ten No. 1 tennis players in the world, including Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova and Venus and Serena Williams. He said the first step to becoming a champion is to refuse to lose.

"No matter what the score is, it ain't over until it's over, baby," Bollettieri said. "It's how you deal with the unknown, adversity and also not showing the opponents any negativism."

Bollettieri's longtime friend and tennis coach, Brad Gilbert, used to play tennis so terrible that Bollettieri would cringe when he would watch him on the court. Despite his atrocious form, Gilbert had the right mentality to win.

"I would watch him play and wear three pairs of sunglasses because his strokes were terrible," Bollettieri said. "But he knew how to get into your head, break you down and got to number four in the world."

Bollettieri said that the same concept applies to the military.

"If you give a negative vision, the other guy and lady can read you," Bollettieri said. "The biggest thing is that you're part of the team and when one member of the team has to worry about the other member of the team doing their job, you can't complete the mission."

Not every day can be perfect. Bollettieri said that people tend to dwell on their imperfections rather than dig in to the facts.

"Agassi said it brilliantly, you don't have to be perfect to be a winner; all you have to do is be a little better than that person that day," Bollettieri said. "It's about being strong mentally and learning how to play the big points."

Tennis came unexpectedly for Bollettieri. He wanted to be a star football player and when that didn't happen, he joined the tennis team his junior year of college.

When something unexpected happens in life, Bollettieri asked cadets, how will you respond?

"If it happens to you, are you going to throw up the white flag? Or are you going to find a solution?" Bollettieri said. "Whether in the military, out of the military, as a parent,or as an educator, you must be able to adjust each day to the facts that exist and find a solution."

Failure is necessary. Bollettieri said that you have to fail in order to get better and that most people take failure as the end of the world.

"If you don't fail, you can't be a champion," Bollettieri said. "When you fail, you come back to do it a little differently, a little stronger mentally and a totally different approach."

After spending three days at the Academy, Bollettieri said that he thinks cadets have the right attitude.

"They're very sure of themselves but humble," Bollettieri said. "They're not sure in a way that they're cocky, but sort of set themselves almost equal, which I think is important especially if one team member is relying on another member of the team."

Bollettieri immediately sensed the team spirit, discipline and commitment at the Academy.

"Cadets are hungry for information and the coaches and teachers here live for this stuff," Bollettieri said. "It's not about me, it's about 'we' as a team here, and that's the difference."

Bollettieri said that the difference between a champion and a non-champion is that a champion takes action.

"The champions play the big points to win and the non-champions pray for the opponent to make an error," Bollettieri said. "Champions don't pray to win; they hit the ball to win."
Bollettieri said that the same idea applies in aerial warfare.

"When you're in the dogfight, you don't just go at the person that's there, play defense and go away," Bollettieri said. "You go right at it."