By Roger Cox, Editor
The digital video of my strokes begins with footage of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal as examples of the "modern game." I'd first seen this video on an iPad 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 Jimmy Royalty, 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, which it calls its "Core Athlete and Athletic & Personal Development Program (APD)." The "Athletic & Personal Development Program" allows the student to add any of the following to their camp experience: Mental Conditioning, Physical Fitness Training, Injury Rehab/Therapy, Vision, Nutrition, and/or Sports Massage. 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 head pro Jimmy Royalty, who took over the adult program in 2013. "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." "We combine this style with a very fast-paced session, which makes this program one of the most intense in the world." "The buzz now with adults is the modern game," Royalty 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 Roger Blackburn: 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. Blackburn 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 Blackburn again. Toward the end of the day, each of us was subjected to a classic "kamikaze drill" as Blackburn 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," Royalty 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. Moreover, 3-day bookings include in-depth video analysis.
The 3-day Core program begins each morning with half an hour of dynamic stretching following by 2½ hours of intensive work. Those sessions begin with a demonstration of one or more strokes followed by drills and instruction focused on technical skills, footwork, point, and games. The pattern repeats after lunch (which is included). At 3:30 p.m. when the sessions end, the courts are available for free play and matches.
Courts & Fees. There are 55 courts at the Academy (33 hard, 18 clay, and 4 indoor). Court fees: None.
Caveat: Don't underestimate the demands of a 5-hour-a-day program. (When is 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 coaches provide water, Gatorade, fruit, and towels to help with dehydration ion court.
Spa & Fitness
The IMG Academy Bollettieri Tennis Program is in fact one of nine sports offered at this 450-acre Bradenton site, allowing juniors to alternatively pursue baseball, basketball, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, track and field, or performance training while adults can choose among tennis, golf, and performance training.
Spa & Fitness Center. The Athletic Performance & Development Facility contains a vast array of fitness and workout equipment but its purpose is much broader. The APD 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, and a few pieces of fitness equipment.
Situated conveniently near the courts, the Bollettieri Lodge & Villas provide accommodations ranging from guests rooms to three-bedroom kitchen-equipped suites. All are a short distance from the main clubhouse, which has a small swimming pool and outdoor Jacuzzi. Alternatively, 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 entrées may include filet mignon, swordfish, sea bass, steak with mushrooms. 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:
The academy pricing has two formats: refundable and non-refundable, for half day, full-day, 3-day, or 5-days program. The Game Changer Program is the same as the 3-day and 5-day program with an hour of private instruction added onto your daily program. The pricing itself varies with the week chosen, so visit the website for exact cost of the week you plan to attend. Lodging is also available on site and ranges from a single club room to three-bedroom villas. Other Bradenton/Sarasota lodging.
Core Program: Jan. 1-Dec 31, 2017
Daily: $379-$449. Half day: $229-$279. 3-day: $1029-$1249. 5-day: $1359-$1629
Game changer Program: Jan. 1 – Dec. 31, 2017
3-day: $1248-$1428. 5-day: $1828-$2098
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.