This is the first part of a three-part series of the exclusive interview Tennis World USA had with Stefan Ortega, Academy Director of the Academia Sanchez Casal, at their Barcelona campus. The Barcelona campus of the Academia Sanchez Casal (ASC), located a few miles away from the Barcelona airport, is like a world within the city with its non-imposing yet impressive edifices.
Walking around the campus building that also houses the Emilio Sanchez (ES) international school and its arrayed line-up of tennis courts – 27 of them spanning all surfaces from clay to grass (two artificially-built courts) and hard – many of which have an assorted mixture of youngsters going through their drills and coaching sessions, then, spoke to this writer about a sense of purpose as well as certain calmness about how things looked to be in place as though everyone knew what – and how – they were to be done.
If one were to perceive that this was an exaggeration – there is no way to transmit my experience onto others, except through my words – one also has to understand such work ethic is merely par for the course for an academy that has been operational, and successfully at that, for exactly two decades this year.
One reason for this success can be attributed to their unique keenness in passing along their training method to all students who enrol at their academy, both in-house and those who come for weekly training module. “What we try to do with these small groups (of students who) stay here for a short period of time, (we) teach them a little bit (of) our system, our methodology,” shared the academy director Stefan Ortega.
The unassuming veteran coach who is a known name in the pro circles that involves a lengthy coaching stint with Svetlana Kuznetsova, then, opened up about the “methodology” followed at the ASC. According to Ortega, the instruction technique is “based basically on the footwork”.
In addition, he added, “(We) try to play on the three parts of the court: defensive, transition and the attack”. All of this sounds simple. To focus on building the basics at an easily mouldable age which would enable a player in question to add more depth to his game as the years go by.
However, according to Ortega, here is where things are done differently at ASC with the coaches firstly seeking to learn more about the player, especially those who stay in the campus – in terms of his background and psyche – even before attempting to honing a child’s basic tennis skills.
Emphasising that this was “very important”, Ortega explained the rationale behind this was to ensure tailoring the manner of coaching to suit the individual needs of a player at the academy. “Because of the cultural background, some players react better with let us say, more positive methods, some others they like more discipline or they are more used to discipline.
Some others, they are a bit more chaotic in their thinking, they try different things,” Ortega listed. Regardless of how their minds worked, for Ortega, all that mattered was that each player joining the ASC had an attitude of “always willing to learn”.
Continuing, he observed, “Also, we try to teach them is give them some tools in order for them to learn how to dominate, first (their) emotions and then the acceptance when they get frustrated, how to deal with it”.
And this, Ortega said with a wide grin, is not only the first lesson given to the students of the academy but also one that is always imparted with a positive language. Photo Credit: Academia Sanchez Casal