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#AskNick: Teamwork Is As Important As Anything Else

Throughout my life I have been subjected to a multitude of skeptics and doubters. Early in my career, I chose to believe in myself and pay no heed to the non-believers. In fact, the criticism prodded me to do things that people thought impossible. But, I also knew that my goals and visions had little chance of success without a capable team around me. Each member of my team had specific responsibilities that, when blended with the contributions of the entire group, produced a successful result.

I came to understand that Teamwork is often the key to success – even though the end result might be credited to a single individual. The best definition of Teamwork was offered to me by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels. They believed that “Teamwork requires training, practice and Trust – Each member counting on one another to Perform.” When we realize that these pilots fly jet fighters at 500 MPH - that come to within three feet of one another, it’s clear why trust and belief in one another is such a critical element to success of the group. And “Teamwork” isn’t a part-time activity; each member represents the team all the time.” That means Every Single Time and each time with 100% effort and focus. Imagine that fighter pilot thinking that his teammate had a bad night or had too much wine with dinner the previous evening. This doubt might be the cause of a catastrophe! This is life and death, man! No doubt or insecurity allowed!

I can remember when Boris Becker was asked to take over the coaching responsibilities for Novak Djokovic. The pundits were quick to question why Novak needed a new coach after reaching the pinnacle of the sport. What could Boris possibly add to the arsenal of the number one player in the world? But, the old adage that “players don’t make good coaches,” has been proven false time and time again. Names like:

• Jimmy Connors
• Stefan Edberg
• Ivan Lendl
• Darrin Cahill
• Martina Hingis
• Lindsay Davenport
• Jim Courier
• Paul Annacone
• Justin Gimelstob
• Brad Gilbert
• Amelie Mauresmo
• Todd Woodbridge
• Mary Joe Fernandez
• Alex Corretja
• Patrick McEnroe
• John McEnroe
• Peter Lundgren
• Larry Stefanki
• Billie Jean King
• Magnus Norman
• Tony Roche
• Martina Navratilova

These are just some of the former top players that are coaching top-level players.

Ultimately, Boris decided to join this elite circle of former champions. Eyes wide open; Boris accepted the job with the clear understanding that he was becoming part of Novak’s “Team.” To prove his willingness to participate as a member of the team, he relied heavily upon the advice of Marian Vadja. Marian has been Novak’s coach for several years, but decided to take a step back from the primary coaching responsibilities to spend more time with his wife and children. Marian knew Novak’s game better than anyone and provided valuable advice and recommendations. Boris convinced him to remain on the team and provide his sage advice, if only during the Grand Slam events.

Although not every world-class tennis player can become a great coach, they possess experiences that the average individual can never imagine. Entering a stadium filled with 20,000 screaming spectators, each fan with elevated expectations for the players, is not for the feeble hearted. Boris, having had this experience several times, is well equipped to help Novak control his anxiety and produce his best tennis under these stressful circumstances. Understanding your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses – and exploiting those weaknesses is another vital quality in winning. It’s not the big things, like the guy’s backhand stinks; nobody’s backhand stinks at this level of the game. It’s the nuances. It’s the little, predictable things that an opponent does that produce errors. These are the things that Boris will notice, and point out to Novak; things most club players would never see.

Boris seems to have found that coaching at the world-class level provides exhilaration reminiscent of his playing at that level. In a very real way, he has been reborn as a coach with an uncanny wealth of knowledge and understanding of the game. The courts, the locker rooms, and the roar of the crowd – all seem eerily familiar. He’s been here before. The first time he was a teenager - anxious, nervous, full of questions. Now he’s a mature adult - confident, sure of himself (if not a bit cocky) and certain that he can keep his young champion on top of this mountain. I was with him and know Boris. I’ve worked with and coached him. I believe that his experience, thoughtfulness and determination will make him one of the great coaches in our game.

P.S. Boris gave me one of the greatest compliments of my career. He acknowledged that I saw the little things. That I offered suggestions about small adjustments and simply walked away. The champion in him took care of the rest. Good Luck, Boris. You’re a champion – on the court and in the players’ box!

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About Nick:

In 1978 Bollettieri founded the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, now known as IMG Academy, the first full-time tennis boarding school. He has coached 10 World No. 1 players including Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Venus and Serena Williams, Boris Becker and Maria Sharapova. Along with his success as a coach, he has received countless honors, among them induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, United States Olympic Committee National Coach of the Year award and the ITF Lifetime Achievement Award. Bollettieri is widely considered to be one of the most influential people in the sport’s history.

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