Jeff’s desk

I have coached competitive junior tennis players for over 26 years. I have been a Provincial Coach for Alberta and a National Coach for Canada. I have coached some of Canada’s best junior tennis players and have travelled to many international competitions. During that time, I have been asked by many parents if they should send their child to one of those big-name tennis academies like Weil Tennis Academy, Sanchez Casel, The Evert Tennis Academy, etc. My answer has always been and should always be: it depends. There is no arguing the success that these large academies have had over the years. Players such as Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova have come from these academies and have made history in the sport. What we do not hear much about are the players that go to these academies and do nothing or, even worse, end up quitting. I attended a large tennis academy in Toronto (ACE Tennis Academy) and it was a terrific experience. So, in this blog, I am going to provide families with the information they need to determine if a large academy is the right fit for their child and what they can do to receive the same benefits of a large academy right at home.

Here are some of the pros and cons of big-name academies:

Accessibility to courts
Great setting, outdoor year-round
Competitive environment
Location/close to the action (Florida/California)
Diversity of competitors
Limited specialized training
Limited support for shy, introverted players
Cutthroat nature
Far from home  

Big name academies are usually located in warm environments where players can play outside year-round and have access to many tennis courts with different surfaces. Academies provide a place where juniors have almost unlimited access to playing tennis because junior competitive tennis is their main priority. The more juniors they have and the more those juniors play, the more likely one of them will end up with a big success. This does not mean that you cannot get the same kind of access at your local club. Parents and juniors must be organized and make sure that they call in or book courts online right when those courts become available. Most clubs in Canada do not have multiple surface types for their courts (clay and hard). However, it is easy for players to gain access to more than one club and thus gain valuable experience on the two major surface types used in competitive tennis.

Academies are usually named after former professional tennis players such as Evert Tennis Academy or Sanchez Casal. They are also named after famous coaches like Nick Bolleterri, Nick Saviano, etc. These academies boast some of the top name coaches in the world, but let’s be real, Nick Bolleterri only works with the best kids in the academy. This means that if your child is one of the weaker kids going into an academy like I was, then they are most likely getting coached by one of the weaker coaches. The coach that worked with me my first year at an academy was a squash coach!

Big name academies have a large number of competitive juniors training in their programs. This creates an extremely competitive environment. When you have 50 juniors training with each other every day, pushing each other to see who hits the best forehand, who can last the longest in a kill drill, who is the fastest or the strongest in fitness, you create an environment where kids push each other to reach high levels of tennis. The downside to this is that those environments can be very cutthroat in nature. Players that are not rising to the occasion can feel neglected and intimidated. In this environment, your children’s friends are also their competitors. This can be very stressful. At a big academy, you live with your competitors, eat with them, go to school with them and hang out with them. This can be very difficult for some teenagers to deal with, even more so for teenagers that have problems separating their tennis life from their personal one. Being far from home can also amplify these issues if the child relies heavily upon their family for support.

Although it is harder to create that ultra competitive environment in a smaller group, it is still possible. There are also major advantages to training in a smaller group, such as:

  1. Easier to create a sense of teamwork and belonging
  2. Because of the fewer numbers of players, no players get left behind by the coaches and bullying seldom goes unnoticed
  3. Easier to receive individualized training

We constantly say in the coaching industry that you must adapt your coaching methods to the players because not every player responds the same way to a certain way of coaching. On top of that, not all players need to work on the same thing. It is difficult to take special needs into consideration in such a large machine-like academy. They tend to focus on teaching the same lesson plan across all their courts because it is easier to organize many courts that way. This can limit the growth of a player because what Johnny needs to work on is different from Sally.

Academies are almost always close to the action. You see large academies in California, Florida, Spain, France, etc. These are areas where thousands of people play and compete at tennis and thus have an enormous selection of tournaments to chose from. In the state of Florida, you can find six different tournaments to play in almost every weekend of the year! The diversity of players that one is exposed to at the academies and the surrounding tournaments is a great benefit to players. The more different game styles a player competes and trains against, the better they can adapt to different tactics by opponents in tournaments.

On the surface, this seems to be a major advantage for the large tennis academies over local clubs. However, it does not have to be. With the money that a parent saves by keeping their child at home and training at a local club, they could pay to travel to Florida or California 20-25 weekends per year to gain the same valuable experience that players at the academies receive. Combine that with all the local junior and adult tournaments in your province and there is virtually no difference between the competitive opportunities of local academy juniors versus the big academy juniors.

The current price tag for a top reputable academy will run you somewhere between $45,000 – $60,000 USD! This includes coaching, school and room and board. This does not cover the costs of entering or travelling to tournaments. Also consider that these fees are just for the school year. Summer training will cost you extra. If these fees are not prohibitive for your family and your child is fiercely competitive and an independent learner, then sending your child to a big-name academy might be the right fit for you. On top of that, if you prefer to have nothing to do with your child’s tennis and believe that it would be a good growing experience for your child to live on their own in a boarding school environment, then you should consider an academy. Just make sure to investigate more than one because there are subtle differences between academies.

I really enjoyed my time at my academy. I grew a lot as a person and learned how to take care of myself and make friends quickly. But, if I am to be honest, I believe that I would have reached the same level of tennis if I had chosen to stay at home. It would have taken a little more work and commitment to travel but the result would have been the same. 

Jeff Spiers
Director of Operations, The Tennis Academy