After 4 years living/working in Spain, it seems like a good time to surmise my thoughts on why Spanish Tennis has been so successful over the last 20+ years and continues to be a powerhouse throughout the world. I have not attempted this till now, as I have not wanted to throw out random thoughts – after 4 years I hope the thoughts carry a little more substance.
We could explore many intricate details, but I aim to keep this to 3 main points which are: Unconditional Effort, Accessibility of Quality Competition, and Rafael Nadal
Unconditional Effort sits at the heart of the Spanish Tennis Culture. In short: if you do not give unconditional effort at ALL times you stand out like a sore thumb – it IS what you do, it is the norm. This actually goes against the Spanish workforce and attitude to work ‘Mañana.. Mañana’, but is very clear for all to see.
An example of this was at a tournament this week in Seville. As with many matches on a clay court, you can have an easy scoreline yet a close match due to the difficulties in finishing points on the clay courts (especially in junior tennis). So what tends to happen is if a player is a little better than his/her opponent in all areas it leads to a relatively easy scoreline. I was watching one boy who lost the first set 6/0 in 45 minutes and in game 1 of the second set you would have thought he was winning the match. This is very typical at all events we go too at STA and extremely refreshing to see. Kids (in general) will naturally follow the crowd.
Accessibility of Quality Competition
In Andalucia alone, we have 362 tournaments in a calendar year. This works out to 7 events EVERY weekend throughout the year. This is a phenomenal amount of tournaments and makes competing without travelling big distances extremely easy.
In the National Events (Nike Junior Tours, Rafa Nadal Tours) they run a 128 Qualifying draw and a 64 Main Draw for each age group. This offers an opportunity for EVERYONE. Players enter an event if they believe this is the best for their development and if they want to play matches, they play matches! The key point: If you enter the tournament you get in the tournament
As I said above, the quality of matches is high, as players are fighting like dogs for every point. The cream rises to the top but has to work to do so. As tennis is more accessible to the masses (due to weather, facilities, and the number of tournaments/matches available) this leads to greater strength in depth across the age groups.
An example of this would be top 50 ranked UK Players who train at STA – they play local events in Andalucia 2-3 times a month. It is rare for them to win an event and is a great accomplishment if they do. In the National Events you can guarantee a quality opponent from the first match to your last.
With no easy matches, this leads to an ‘every ball, every match’ mentality. Once a player gets used to competing at this level of intensity week in week out, it becomes the norm.
2 important words in Spanish Tennis…Rafael Nadal
Rafa has set up his own National Tour of events. He has played an instrumental role in every small detail of the events. From the Wild Card Opportunity to the educational seminars that are in place for coaches/parents/players.
As mentioned above, these events run across the country with 3 National Events, the top 7 points winners advance to the finals in Mallorca The 8th Player is the one that receives a Wild Card based on the following criteria:
- Effort/hustle on court
- Sportsmanlike conduct
- Coach Conduct at side of court
- Parent Conduct at side of court
Rafa will not only be present at the finals but will play a big role of involvement in speaking to the players and passing on his philosophy on the sport. In last week’s event in Seville, he sent his Mum and Girlfriend to the event who were present the entire tournament. They chatted to all players and parents, and they ran workshops on the importance of the above areas (Effort, Sportsmanship etc). This really is taking ‘inspiration’ to a new level.
In my 4 years in Spain, I have heard many stories about Rafa and Uncle Toni who pass on information to other coaches/players and show a massive willingness to educate and also continue to be educated. Getting better never stops.
I want to leave you with a little slogan that Rafa has on all his stationary at the event
‘Juega al Tenis como Si fuera lo mas importante, pero se consciente de que no lo es’
Translated into English…
‘ Play Tennis like it is the most important thing, yet realise it ‘actually’ is not’
Success does not happen by accident…
Controlar los Controlables.
Director, SotoTennis Academy
Inspiring Excellence | Tennis Academy Spain