For legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, it’s love of the game

Legendary tennis instructor Nick Bollettieri showed Cam Napior the finer points of the grip. — Photo by Michael Cummo

He came. He saw. He inspired. He thrilled.

International Tennis Hall of Fame coach Nick Bollettieri charmed all who shared court time with him at a series of clinics last week at Vineyard Youth Tennis (VYT).

Executive director Scott Smith, who previously worked for Mr. Bollettieri at the famous Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, planned the maestro’s visit, which included on-court instruction time. The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) boys and girls tennis teams, the VYT Future Stars, and the VYT Tournament team all had a session with Mr. Bollettieri. The second day was reserved for adults.

“It couldn’t have gone better,” Mr. Smith told The Times. “The kids loved it, the parents loved it, and I couldn’t have been happier.”

Mr. Bollettieri was extremely impressed with the Vineyard Youth Tennis program. “Overall in the whole United States,” Mr. Bollettieri told The Times, “I’ll bet you can’t find a better program that gives children an opportunity to not only play tennis, but to develop their character and honesty and teamwork. In all the travels I do throughout the world, I have never seen an operation where everything is given free like this — the racquets, the clothes, everything.”

Tennis parent Scott DiBiaso agreed. “We’re very fortunate to have this program with this level of coaching and a winter facility,” he said. “Whether the children plan to pursue tennis or not, they have the mechanics for life.”

Mr. Bollettieri spent time with VYT benefactor Gerry Deblois of West Tisbury, who conceived and underwrote the free youth tennis program. “You don’t find many like him, believe me,” Mr. Bollettieri said. “If there were more people with money who did things like this, we’d have a better country. It would keep a lot of kids out of mischief. This gives them hope.”

Bollettieri affectionately calls his former student Scott Smith, “Scotty.” “He’s a special guy.” Mr. Bollettieri said, “Scott has devoted his life to this place.”

Mr. Bollettieri’s coaching style was upbeat and positive with zero tolerance for distraction. When some children were talking amongst themselves, Mr. Bollettieri turned quickly. “Hey! Quiet!” he said. “Let’s concentrate and play the game.”

He told the kids to have fun, yes, but that they must focus as well. “Do your talking with your racquet,” Mr. Bollettieri told the chatty group.

There was no shortage of solid advice for both tennis strategy and life lessons. Mr. Bollettieri told the MVRHS varsity teams that his best two tips in 60 years have been to get your racquet back early and run for every ball.

“You’d be surprised if you run for every single ball how many balls you’re going to get.” Bollettieri said, “Every ball has a purpose, everything in life has a purpose.”

Addressing one pre-teen girl, Mr. Bollettieri branched away from the tennis tips. He told the young lady she was going to have boys start calling and friends perhaps asking her to do things she shouldn’t do. “You tell them your character is not for sale,” he said.

Asked what he thought of the high school teams, the longtime coach of tennis champions said, “Overall, quite good.”

It was not all serious. Playfully commenting on a child’s overhead form, he asked, “Son, have you ever seen the statue of liberty?”

Mr. Bollettieri has eagle eyes and he was able to quickly diagnose small adjustments in each child’s form that instantly generated a better result. And he knew when to leave good enough alone.

Describing one girl’s style to the coaches, he said, “She’s playing ugly: don’t change it, that’s her style. Look where the ball is going!”

Asked what all the best players have in common, Mr. Bollettieri said, “They refuse to lose. They find a way to win.”

Mr. Bollettieri added that a win “is not just dictated by score, it is also dictated by effort.” This, he said, is a strong take-away lesson for today’s young players.

Scott Smith said Mr. Bollettieri wants to come back. The one disappointment, he said, was that he sold out of all his copies of his book Changing the Game. Mr. Bollettieri said he would mail back signed copies for those he missed.

“It was a quick trip,” Mr. Smith said. Hopefully next time we can keep him a little bit longer so he can see more kids and get more people involved. It couldn’t have been more successful.”

Young Jack Lionette provided this assessment of the visit: “It was good. I liked it. He’s coached Andre Agassi, the Williams sisters — it’s pretty crazy.”