IMG Academy - Bollettieri Tennis Program
By Roger Cox, Editor
The digital video of my strokes begins with footage of Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, and Andy Roddick as examples of the "modern game." I'd first seen this video on a laptop on court immediately after it had been shot, but now I'm viewing it on my home computer via a link in an email sent after I'd left. There's a voiceover by Roger Blackburn, the pro who shot the video, analyzing my strokes and pointing out the improvements needed to make them more effective. As part of championing the modern game, the IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy has also adopted modern technology to enhance its teaching.
I've attended the Bollettieri adult academy more than half a dozen times over the last 20+ years. I've seen it evolve from an afterthought to a well-oiled program enhanced by upscale lodging and limited on-site dining. On my most recent visit, the curriculum was better organized than ever.
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Traditionally, adults have attended this academy because they wanted their own version of the program the legendary coach Nick Bollettieri has long used to train aspiring juniors. That is still a reason to come. You can spend the day doing many of the same drills the 270 or so wannabe tennis kids who live here do while they dream of making the pro tour—or, more realistically, obtaining a college scholarship. But given that the pros and serious juniors have broadened their training to embrace strength and fitness training, the Bollettieri academy decided to offer adults the opportunity to take stock of their whole game, going beyond strokes to learn what they can do physically and mentally to play better. So the academy now supplements its basic 5-plus-hour-a-day adult camps with an optional "Pro Max Performance" program that addresses every aspect of the game, from technique and tactics to fitness, mental toughness, nutrition, and more. What hasn't changed is the demanding regimen, which makes this one of truly hard-core boot camps on the planet.
"Our program is more stroke technique and drills than playing," says director Chip Brooks, who took over the adult program in 1994 after 17 years of working with the Bollettieri juniors and traveling with pros, Boris Becker among them. "Our philosophy is we want to work within your style. If you look at all the players on the tour out there, they hit the ball in lots of different ways but there are some things everyone does, like preparation and recovery, so that's what we stress in our teaching." That and the "modern game." "The buzz now with adults is the modern game," Brooks notes, adding that it's what they've been teaching for 15 years. "When adults hear that, they think they have to change their grip; but they don't. It's just stance and preparation." The Bollettieri adult academy also adopts an approach called "System 5," which divides the court into five zones from deep behind the baseline to the net and then looks at how you alter your strokes and game depending on where you are on court.
On my last visit, there were four of us on court with Moroccan-born Mohammed Chaouqi: a Russian, whose daughter is in the junior program and who himself comes for weeks at a time; a New York City dermatologist; an Atlantan; and me. Chaouqi began by feeding a series of forehands to us on the baseline, and it was not long before he began to chastise us for walking rather than running to the end of the line. Throughout the morning he wove no-nonsense critiques of repeated errors with reminders about technique ("Load up on that right leg, Roger," he often told me as we worked on open-stance forehands). The drills were fast-paced, at times to the point of testing our endurance (the Russian, still on a distant time zone, occasionally held up his hand and stopped, having had enough). We took breaks for water and to pick up balls.
The routine was repeated in the afternoon, though we lost the Atlantan, who'd opted for half days, so there were more two-on-one drills and some playing situations. Although normally you have a different pro each session, we ended up with Chaouqi again. Toward the end of the day, each of us was subjected to a classic "kamikaze drill" as Chaouqi stood just inside the baseline and hand-tossed balls right and left forcing us to hit a forehand, quickly recover and scamper left for a backhand and back the other way, a series that went on for 20 or 30 balls at a time.
At different times, each of us was pulled off the court individually to be videotaped, then sent back with a visual image of what we need to be doing. "The people who come down know they are going to get a good workout," Brooks says, "and our staff genuinely cares about helping them improve."
Tennis Programs. Although the Academy offers half-day and single-day options, it makes sense to set aside at least three days in order to work on all aspects of your game. If you do, you'll have three options: Core, Accelerated, and Max.
- 3-day Core program: This program begins each morning with half an hour of dynamic stretching following by 2½ hours of intensive work primarily on technical skills and footwork, with a focus on a different cluster of shots each day. Then after lunch, the sessions address offense and defense, specialty shots, and tactics. At 4 p.m. when the sessions end, the courts are available for free play and matches. Video is included as is a daily lunch. (The Core program can be done on a daily and half-day basis as well.)
- 3-day Accelerated program: This expands the Core program to include a ½-hour private lesson daily, two one-hour sports massages, and breakfast and dinner. (Also offered as a 5-day program).
- 3-day Max program: This bundles all the features of the Accelerated program with a 30-minute nutrition session and a 1-hour mental-conditioning session. (Also offered as a 5-day program)
Courts & Fees. There are 56 courts at the Academy (35 hard, 17 clay courts and 4 indoor courts). Court fees: None.
Caveat: Don't underestimate the demands of a 5-hour-a-day program. (When's the last time you played for five hours let alone drilled?) Anything and everything you can do to get in shape before coming down will help. Make sure the shoes you bring are well broken in and comfortable.
The IMG Academy - Bollettieri Tennis Program is in fact one of seven sports offered at this 400-acre Bradenton site, allowing juniors to alternatively pursue baseball, basketball, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, or performance training while adults can choose among tennis, golf, and performance training.
Spa & Fitness Center. The IMG Performance Institute contains a vast array of fitness and workout equipment but its purpose is much broader. The IPI is a professional training center that focuses on enhancing athletic performance, not only for those who attend the various academies but also for professional athletes from a variety of sports. There is also a sports therapy center, which has state-of-the-art equipment for rehabilitation. And finally, there is a 4,000-square-foot Aveda spa which offers massages as well as health and beauty treatments.
And ... The Bollettieri Academy also has a second, quieter, adults-only fitness center and clubhouse overlooking the tennis courts. It has lockers, showers, a few pieces of fitness equipment, massage rooms, and a small lounge with a television and DVD player.
The once Spartan lodging at the Academy has been replaced by a series of brand-new 2- and 3-bedroom condominiums with kitchens. The second or third bedrooms can be rented separately, and every bedroom has its own flat-screen plasma television, coffee maker, in-room safe, and free high-speed Internet access. All are a short distance from the main clubhouse, which has a small swimming pool and outdoor Jacuzzi. Alternatively, you you have a broad choice of places to bed down locally, including several near the Sarasota-Bradenton airport. IMG Academies also has special rates for participants at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.
The adult dining room in the main clubhouse serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, all buffet style and focused on both quality and nutrition. Dinner entrees may include filet mignon, swordfish, sea bass, steak with mushrooms. Wine or beer is available with dinner. The desk in the clubhouse has a long list of local restaurants, complete with driving directions.
If you're looking for a demanding camp, one that will have you on court from much of the day, also check out the following:
- Saddlebrook Tennis (Hopman) at Saddlebrook Resort, Florida
- The John Newcombe Tennis Ranch, Texas
- New England Tennis Holidays at Sugarbush, Vermont Summer only
- Nike Amherst Tennis Camp, Massachusetts Summer only
- Total Tennis, New York
Rates and Reservations
The academy is available in two formats, Core and Total Athlete, with daily (which includes lunch), multiday and weekly, with or without lodging and meals. The basic program, or Core, runs 5 1/2 hours a day (though half-day options are also available). Range of prices below are for the Core program (see the website for Accelerated options), whose cost varies depending on the week chosen. Lodging is available on site and ranges from a single club room to four-bedroom villas. Other Bradenton/Sarasota lodging.
Tennis Academy: Jan. 6-May 25, 2013
Daily: $335-$385. Half day: $190-$230. 3-day: $885-$1,040. 5-day: $1,320-$1,615
5500 34th St. W.
Bradenton, FL 34210
Web Link: IMG Academy - Bollettieri Tennis Program
Seasons. Year-round; however, many adults scale back to a half-day program in summer.
Travel Instructions. The nearest airport is Sarasota Bradenton International (SRQ), 6 miles away.
General Tourist Information. Visit the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau website or contact them at P.O. Box 1000, Bradenton, FL 34206-1000; phone (941) 729-9177.