Renowned coaches honored at Team USA Coaching Awards

By Steve Pratt, special to

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Legendary tennis coaches Jerry Baskin, Nick Bollettieri, Robert Lansdorp and Jack Sharpe were each honored as Team USA Coaching Legends at the inaugural Team USA Coaching Awards reception held Wednesday alongside the ASICS Easter Bowl junior tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

In addition, Joseph Gilbert, coach of 2013 USTA Boys’ 18s national champion Collin Altamirano, was recognized as the 2013 USOC Developmental Coach of the Year. And the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) in College Park, Md., was named the 2013 Team USA Developmental Program of the Year at the awards reception, part of USTA Player Development’s Team USA initiative to work collaboratively with developmental coaches and programs across America.

“One of the things that was suggested during our Team USA Focus Group last December in Atlanta was that it would be great to have a Team USA Coaches Reception at the Easter Bowl and recognize our coaches in front of their peers,” said organizer Kent Kinnear, USTA Director, Player ID and Development. “We are really excited that this was able to come to fruition, and we’re looking forward to it being an annual event here at the Easter Bowl.”

USTA Player Development General Manager Patrick McEnroe introduced the award winners:

An International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee this year, Bollettieri founded the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in 1978 and has coached are a who’s who of Grand Slam champions and world No. 1s, including Andre Agassi, Serena and Venus Williams, Boris Becker, Martina Hingis, Jim Courier and many others. At 82 years old, he continues to teach and run his academy at the 400-acre IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

“I’m humbled when people say, ‘Nick is the best coach in the world,’ but I don’t think that’s true,” Bollettieri said. “I am the craziest coach in the world. Because it takes crazy people to do things that others say you can’t do. Most people in life want to do things they are comfortable with, but you can’t get any better. My dad used to say, ‘part of learning is failing.’ It’s not how you fall, it’s how you get back up.”

Lansdorp began teaching in 1967 and has developed a number of Grand Slam champions, including Pete Sampras, Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport and Maria Sharapova, using his renowned philosophy and emphasis on discipline. Lansdorp is a Southern California Tennis Hall of Fame inductee and continues to coach near his home in Torrance, Calif.

“Developing champions takes an enormous amount of discipline,” said Lansdorp. “I had a lot of ex-players there. And I thought about it later that no one thanked me for teaching them the strokes. And I started realizing it must be for all the other things I taught them on the court, and it’s about 90 percent discipline. I like consistency and I like placement and I like power. If you have all three, I think you can rise to the top. I believe in repetition and I believe in muscle memory.”

Sharpe has coached budding young players in the Chicago area for the last 40-plus years, many of whom have gone on to successful careers in college and on the pro tours. Now teaching out of Hinsdale Racquet Club, Sharpe maintains his status as one of America’s premier junior coaching experts.

“One of Patrick’s goals is to create tennis like it used to be in the United States when we dominated,” Sharpe said. “That’s my dream also. And the only way that dream is going to be realized is if we continue encouraging more younger players to do the coaching because it enlarges that pool of players who have the potential to be top pros.”

Baskin is regarded as one of the best junior development coaches in the country over the last 40 years. The 2002 United States Olympic Committee Tennis Coach of the Year and a 2004 Georgia Tennis Hall of Fame inductee, Baskin has helped guide more than 300 players to college scholarships and helped develop touring pros such as Brian Vahaly, Bobby Reynolds and US Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri.

“Over the years I’ve learned a lot watching Nick, and Robert and Jack,” said Baskin. “I’ve listened to their philosophies, their tactics and their techniques. I’m also a great listener to other coaches because you can learn something from other coaches.”

Gilbert, the owner and director of the JMG Tennis Academy at Arden Hills Resort & Spa in Sacramento, Calif., coached both the USTA Boys’ 18s and 12s national champions this past summer. Altamirano, the 18s winner, was the first unseeded player to win the 18s title in the 71 years the tournament has been played in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“It’s going a real good way for us and we’re really excited about the future,” said Gilbert. “Collin was an amazing story and Kalamazoo was something I’ll never forget. This gives you time to reflect and it’s good for us coaches since we are usually on the court and grinding it out. But this is definitely worth it to reflect back on what we’ve done.”

The Junior Tennis Champions Center, a USTA Certified Regional Training Center since 2008, trains more than 150 students full time and more than 1,000 during the summer camp season. The JTCC and its high performance “Champions” program led by Vesa Ponkka and Frank Salazar have produced Top 100 professionals such as Denis Kudla and Alison Riske, as well as numerous top college and junior players including 16-year old Francis Tiafoe, who became the youngest-ever Boys’ 18s singles champion at the prestigious Orange Bowl in December 2013.

“We consider ourselves a very strong team at JTCC,” Ponkka said. “We are always thinking long-term. We are training our kids from ages 8 to 18. That’s 10 years and that’s a long time. Our senior coaching team is extremely dedicated. One thing we won’t compromise is our trust. We take that very seriously. We have made mistakes, but we always learn from them. We have a no excuses mentality. It’s about the players and the coaches, and the coaches and the players. And the buck stops there. We have to train better, and with a passion for the long term, and good things will happen.”