Team Bath-MCTA: Home and Away
Originally published on: 05/04/11 15:37
‘Stop blaming things and start winning things’, reads a placard behind the door of the tennis office at the Team Bath-MCTA Academy. Inspirational quotes are a rare sight at the Bath University tennis complex and there’s good reason behind its discreet placement.
“They’re just words at the end of the day,” says Director of Tennis Barry Scollo matter-of-factly. “It’s easy to talk about philosophies and motivational quotes and things like that, but we’re conscious to make them living things here.” Bringing words to life is an attitude practiced throughout the Team Bath-MCTA Academy, where Scollo and head coach Dave Sammel are not only developing aspiring young players within the walls of the south-west based International High Performance Centre, but a culture too.
Far from simply firing off soundbites, the duo are building a visionary tennis environment, one that correlates to their overall philosophy for achieving international success with British players. Each day Scollo, Sammel and their energetic team of coaches walk through the academy doors focused on their daily task: to produce attacking players that move through the ball. They do so in the most dynamic and interchangeable way – recognising the importance of strength and conditioning and keeping the demanding sessions interesting by incorporating various different sessions into their players’ daily routines.
One exercise has the academy’s elite boys crouching down and hopping around like caveman as they try to slap at each others ankles, while a later activity sees them trying out headstands and roly-polys as part of a fun-filled gymnastics session. It speaks volumes about the environment here that a group of young lads indulge in the task so willingly. It’s not luck that the players are so-well aligned with the academy philosophy, says Scollo, and though he believes the academy still has “a long way to go,” you can’t help but feel they’re on the cusp of something big. “I like to think we’re driving it in our own way here,” says Scollo. “I fully respect what other countries do – and they’ve had more success in tennis than Great Britain – but I think we need to find our own identity, our own culture. We need to do it our way.”
Officially opened by Tim Henman as an LTA Academy in 2003, the Bath Academy has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. Initially focused on starlets aged 16 and under, the University-based complex became a High Performance Centre under Roger Draper’s new regime three years later and began catering for the entire tennis spectrum, from mini-tennis through to professionals. By 2009, academy students were making breakthroughs on the international circuit, and their positive strides saw the academy become an International High Performance Centre last summer. “It’s been fantastic since then,” says Scollo. “Even more support and resources have come from the LTA, and we’ve been able to link in with the likes of Dave Sammel, Jim Edgar, Jez Green, Barry Cowan and Roxanne Sammel through our partnership with the MCTA.”
The academy has been able to draw upon the expertise of names such as Jez Green (pictured) and Dave Sammel
As Managing Director of the MCTA Group, Sammel has added a new dimension to the programme by bringing his tennis-touring academy to Bath. The South African, who has worked with a number of international players at Davis Cup and Olympic-level, initiated the concept at the Monte Carlo Country Club in 2006, but when the initial investor diverted his attentions – and finances – to motor racing two years later, Sammel took the academy on the road, managing for 18 months without a permanent base.“A touring academy is the fastest way to produce players,” says the 49-year-old, “but as a company, on a practical level, without a major sponsor, it is impossible to survive. That’s why the traditional academy model has stood the test of time – in a touring academy, if one player leaves and a couple of others get injured, it can destroy your business.”
Sammel met with Scollo in November 2009 to discuss the potential of basing the touring academy at Bath. It was a productive chat, if a little expensive.“Barry and I hit it off immediately,” remembers Sammel. “His ambition really impressed me. We met in a motorway service station on the M4 and our intended two-hour meeting turned into about five hours. We both got parking fines because we didn’t realise they film you coming in and out!” Two intensely passionate figures with aligned visions, the Scollo-Sammel partnership is very much a meeting of minds. “I really consider him to be at the height of his powers,” says Scollo, shooting a glance in the direction of the courts where Sammel delivers a typically enthusiastic pep talk to the academy’s touring professionals.
“With people of the quality of Dave and [Academy Head Coach] Jim Edgar here, everything that goes on court day in day out is of the highest standard. If they’re travelling, then I get to go on court – I’m really the cover, in a way.”Scollo isn’t a bad supply teacher. Not only did he hold a few ATP points and hover around the top 100 at ITF level during his playing days, he was selected as LTA Coach of the Year in 2009. But as you might expect from a man interested in actions over words, it’s not prestigious coaching honours that fill him with pride.
“It’s definitely the team that are now working together in the way that we do,” he enthuses. “It’s a fantastic environment and it’s a pleasure to come to work every day. I’m particularly proud that we’ve now produced eight players who have come out of the junior system into the first rungs of the professional tour. ”Among that number are under-18 national champion Richard Gabb, and Dan Cochrane and Miles Bugby, who both picked up their maiden ATP rankings points in October 2010.
Cochrane, in his sixth year at the academy, has seen his game progress particularly well in recent times, and he attributes a large part of that to Sammel’s arrival. “He’s an unbelievable coach, the best I’ve ever seen,” says the 18-year-old. “He picks up on things so well and there’s no beating about the bush. Straight away, he’ll tell you what’s wrong and what to do about it.”
Not only direct in his coaching methods, Sammel is equally up front in his expectations for player behaviour. The touring academy players can expect to train for 18-24 hours a week, including 5-7 hours of strength and conditioning sessions when they can fit the work in around tournaments. With such a heavy schedule, there is no room for bad attitudes. “I don’t mind feistiness, or a little bit of arrogance, but the players still have to have respect for other people,” Sammel says. “No-one is bigger than the academy. Once you have one rule for one, and a different rule for others, your credibility is gone. But we have a lot of fun here too. It’s a playpen – set the boundaries, and within them the players can do whatever they want.”
Matching the required attitude is crucial here. A player might have all the talent in the world, but – as Scollo puts it – if they don’t, or won’t, fit the mould, “they can go and be world champion somewhere else.” Keen to cultivate humble winning attitudes characteristic of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of the game’s finest ambassadors, Team Bath-MCTA Academy is on to a winner here, and Sammel knows it.
“We are creating a culture where players and coaches appreciate the privilege of training and coaching here and being able to play and coach at a high level and not feel entitled to what we have,” stresses Sammel. “We are not a tick-box organisation,” he adds, with a knowing stare.
‘Home and away’ featured in the January 2011 issue of tennishead magazine. To subscribe, click here.
Are you academy material?
Players at the Team Bath-MTCA Academy are generally chosen from the top 32 on the national rankings list, but selection is not always confined to that. Conversations with coaches, shared tennis values and the right attitude to training all play a part. “It’s up to me and the team to converse and say, ‘Yeah, I think we can really help that person to fill their tennis potential’,” says Director of Tennis, Barry Scollo.