The Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy
As a long time student of Spanish tennis training (Click Here for some of my articles), I was very curious about the newly launched Rafa Nadal Academy, which opened this last June in Rafa's home town of Manacor on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca.
Was this simply an effort to capitalize financially on Rafa's international fame? This summer on my annual trip to Spain I had a chance to visit and find out what the academy was like first hand. The answer is definitely no.
This is an impressive facility and also I believe a sincere, even heart felt effort on the part of Rafa, his uncle, and their associates to share their principles of player and personal development .
During my visit I had the opportunity to speak with both Toni Nadal and the academy director Marc Gorriz. I came away impressed.
Rafa himself acknowledges that the academy business is not an easy business and that many discouraged him from proceeding on economic grounds. His motivation seems to come from a desire to share his experience with others.
"The key to my achievements was more than just ‘talent'. It was the result of adhering to certain values without which I would not have had the consistency, discipline or the winning spirit to be successful. This can be taught, just as it was taught to me, and that's why we have built the Academy. I feel we should share that knowledge with young players.
There were also those who advised against building the Academy in Rafa's home town, Manacor, on the beautiful paradise island of Mallorca. Rafa's answer?
"I want to be a part of the Academy; I want to train there and share moments with my team and the students, and that would not have been possible anywhere but my home --Manacor."
The brand new facility, with more than 20 hard courts and 7 red clay courts, was mostly completed when I visited in August 2016, though small construction projects could be seen still ongoing, including the indoor pool. It's a massive, modern complex of concrete, steel, and glass, and it has a futuristic feel, as if the academy is destined to propel tennis training in Spain to the next level for the next generation.
In addition to the emphasis on young players, the academy also offers an adult instruction program. There are very attractive residential facilities, with separate world-class accommodations for adults, a physical therapy studio, multiple gyms (for juniors and a private gym for adults), indoor and outdoor pools, and a sports museum.
Somewhat surprisingly, the philosophy is progressive and modern to match the architecture. I had the unique opportunity to sit down and discuss the teaching approach with head coach Marc Gorriz, former top 100 ATP professional--and the legendary Toni Nadal--who is often present on site at the academy, walking the grounds with his watchful eye.
Uncle Toni's Philosophy and Influence
During our conversation, it was apparent that Toni Nadal had spent significant time shaping the curriculum and teaching methodology, and was intensely concerned with providing quality training.
The academy is acutely focused on the character development of its players, which Toni and I discussed at length. I've visited many elite tennis academies and it is refreshing to see values and character development placed front and center--rather than being secondary or not developed at all. Too many academies today seem to be breeding grounds for spoiled children.
According to Toni Nadal, coaches at the academy stress the following: respect and humility, effort and discipline, overcoming obstacles, commitment, tolerance, and responsibility.
For full-time players enrolled in the onsite international private school, these values are also integrated into the academic curriculum. My conclusion? If parents want an academy that stresses respectful behavior and reinforces a moral code, this could be the right place.
Toni explained to me he believes there are three primary keys to developing champions: technique, character, and propriety. The first two words seem familiar. Technique is the world-class skill necessary to succeed. Character is the embodiment of the core values of the academy.
But propriety? Propriety to Toni is tolerance, respect, and courtesy--including manners. But it is more. It means control of one's thoughts and emotions. Propriety is critical because without control, Toni believes, a player can never be consistent and reliable under the pressures of competition.
Most academies in Spain focus on clay court training and espouse its many benefits. Surprisingly, the Nadal academy is focused on training players on faster, hard courts, with clay court training as a supplement.
I asked Toni Nadal about this and he said, "The game at the pro level is getting faster and faster, and we believe our players must learn to adapt to the speed of the game."
Head Coach Mark Gorriz added that "most of the professional events on tour are on hard, and we want our players to be comfortable on that surface. If players need the clay, we provide that." Gorriz added that the academy has the option to build more clay courts in addition to the seven clay courts they have now.
The training system combines a mix of live ball and drilling with a coach. I observed mostly 2 to 3 players per court and coach, at most 4 players per court, a ratio that is half of some American academies.
The drills are often performed at a fast pace at high intensity with shorter reps focusing on tough interval training. This is in stark contrast to many traditional Spanish academies which tend to favor longer reps with slower tempo, stamina based drills, as I have discussed in my book, The Secrets of Spanish Tennis. (Click Here.)
Gorriz mentioned that his team uses less hand feeding than at many academies in Spain, preferring to feed with the racquet or to have the coach volley to the player.
In addition, both Gorriz and Toni Nadal believe in building players who are "adaptable and multidimensional." The academy emphasizes building all the shots including moving forward to the net to finish points and taking the ball early.
As is common in Spain, the coaches want the players to take the ball on the rise, but not too much so where the shot becomes a half-volley. Coaches stress being aggressive but letting the ball rise up to the hip level for contact.
Having visited many of the top academies in Spain, the training system definitely seemed forward-thinking and flexible. This reflects the personality and philosophy of Toni Nadal, who believes that, "every player is different and that a coach must be adaptable" and find the right way for the individual.
In this sense, the academy teaching style and philosophy is player-centered, rather than rigid and dogmatic, which can sometimes be the case with some academies, in Spain and around the world.
One very interesting component is the emphasis on players attending college. In fact one stated goal is to ensure that students have opportunities to go to university in the United States with a tennis and/or academic scholarship.
The website has a comprehensive overview of scholarships available in the U.S. Surprisingly this totals over 2,000 schools and is broken down by division for both men and women, as well as the number of scholarships per team. Obviously, the Nadals realize that very few players will go on to professional stardom and see tennis as part of an overall life plan for their players.
This is the very first year of operation for the Rafa Nadal Academy. It will be interesting to see how the academy grows and develops. It is certainly a major new player on the world-stage, with a fantastic facility and strong staff of coaches. The influence and presence of Toni Nadal can also not be underestimated.
Chris Lewit is the director of the Chris Lewit Tennis Academy, with locations in the New York City area. He has coached numerous nationally and internationally ranked junior players, including several current top American players. After playing #1 singles for Cornell University, Chris competed on the ITF and USTA pro satellite and futures tours. He is a member of both the USPTA and PTR, and a graduate of the USTA High Performance Coaching program. In addition, Chris has traveled internationally to study the game with some of the world's top coaches. This article was adapted from his book, The Tennis Technique Bible, one of several current publication projects. A leading expert on the traditional and progressive Spanish methods of training, Chris's new book Secrets of Spanish Tennis will be published in 2014 by New Chapter Press.
Click Here to learn more about Chris's teaching system, his book projects, and his teaching academy.
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