April 2005 -- Rick Macci’s tennis environment has changed along with the game over the years, but one constant has been his ability to develop natural talent – beginning with his own.
An 8-handicap golfer by the age of 11, this versatile young athlete couldn’t really afford to continue playing golf at a country club – or sustain his professional aspirations – after his father passed away when he was 10.
But there were a few tennis courts in his hometown of Greenville, Ohio, and he got himself a racquet. Without the benefit of lessons but bent on being the best player in town, Macci hit against the backboard at a nearby high school. He would shovel a path of snow off the tennis court in freezing weather and, wearing a hat and gloves, work on his strokes while his mom sat in the car with the lights on.
“I was very driven,” said Macci, who has been inducted into his hometown’s Hall of Fame for basketball and tennis. “I was self-taught and self-made in a lot of ways. Maybe those conditions were a positive and not a negative.”
Armed with the power of positive thinking and a keen ability to correct technical flaws, the 50-year-old coach sinks his body and soul into doctoring shots and building futures.
The only difference is that now the founder of the Rick Macci Tennis Academy works amid the oceanside resorts of southern Florida, teaching competitive juniors whose parents include former professional athletes and Olympians.
“Even though it can be a crazy business, especially when you’re dealing with a lot of the parents and some of the high-stakes things I’m dealing with, I still have that same passion that I’ve always had,” Macci said. “I’ve always been very much in the trenches.
“The best learning tool for any coach or teacher is to be on the court every day,” said the resident of Pompano Beach, Fla., who puts in eight to 10 court hours daily. “I learn every day, every hour, with every student.”
“Rick Macci is unquestionably one of the brightest teaching talents in the world today,” said USPTA CEO Tim Heckler. “One simply has to stand at courtside and observe his interaction with students to recognize his complete command of the game and his ability to turn out future champions.”
While the academy provides programs for all levels of juniors and adults, it is known as a Mecca for high-level player development, drawing candidates from all over the country. Even so, “We never take more than 40 students, no matter what,” to ensure personalized and quality instruction, Macci said. Also, parents are allowed on court, and even pick up balls, to help foster a family atmosphere.
Since he founded the academy in 1985, his students have won more than 112 USTA national championships and all four Junior Grand Slams, and earned more than $4 million in college scholarships.
In spite of the academy’s 20-year history, Macci said he feels like he’s just getting started. The academy, currently based at the Palm-Aire Resort and Spa in Pompano Beach, Fla., will move in June to the world-class Deer Creek Tennis Resort in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Macci said the main reason for the move is that the imminent construction of 120 condominiums is going to take out a good majority of the courts at Palm-Aire, and Deer Creek is a full-amenities facility with 14 brand-new, lighted courts.
Moreover, it’s possible that the Rick Macci Tennis Academy could partner with a tennis management company; there have been some discussions with his agents. He said this is something he would welcome as long as “I can still be me and do my thing.”
Macci also would like to delve further into television broadcasting. The USPTA Master Professional has already enjoyed the opportunity to appear in a series of “On Court with USPTA” episodes.
Macci’s interview and speaking engagements range from network TV shows to USPTA conventions and World Conferences. He also is a member of the USPTA Player Development Program Advisory Council.
This former USPTA national Touring Coach of the Year and several-time Florida Division Coach of the Year has secured a reputation as a master motivator and communicator, whether building a student’s game or sharing his expertise with a group of fellow teaching professionals.
Macci’s credibility is based in large part on his track record for developing future champions. He helped launch the careers of four young players who went on to become No. 1 in the world: Venus and Serena Williams, Andy Roddick and Jennifer Capriati.
“I’ve been fortunate to have some great athletes with a lot of talent come to me or somehow we’ve come together,” he said. His first prominent protégé, Tommy Ho, came to him at the age of 9 in 1985, when Macci was at Grenelefe Golf and Tennis Resort in Haines City, Fla.
It was after Ho, a phenomenally successful junior, that the teaching pro decided to establish his own academy.
Ho, who started out with a severe western grip, was a sign of things to come.
“I’ve seen the modern game develop for 20 years, even though it’s just getting talked about now,” Macci said. While he has worked with players who use the newer-style grips, stances and follow-throughs, he also teaches conventional fundamentals. “It’s all situational.”
Macci had Venus Williams hitting with an open-stance backhand in the early 1990s. “A lot of coaches thought I was crazy for having her do that,” he recalled.
“You’ve got to have a vision,” he said. “You’ve got to kind of know where it’s going. When I teach someone it’s always for the future, not for the moment.
“When Capriati came to me she moved like Evert – a real steady game – but I could see the game was going to get faster and quicker, so I changed that mindset and had her dictate and control the situation. Also, with Andy his racquet speed on the serve was the main item on the menu and developing a unique timing,” his former coach said.
“The real key to me if I get an athlete and I have them for four or five years at a young age, is that I expect them to be great and top 10,” Macci said. “What the coach expects, not hopes for, is a huge, huge, difference.”
Macci still savors the opportunity to coach a boy or girl wonder. Today, 6-year-old Sonya Kennin is his potential superstar in the making.
“I think she’s going to be incredible. She’s the scariest little creature I’ve ever seen,” Macci said of Sonya. “She has the potential to be No. 1 in the world. I know she has the groundstrokes that some day can take this girl to win the U.S. Open or Wimbledon.”
Macci previously landed up-and-coming champions at about the age of 10 and mentored them until the age of 14 or 15 before they moved on.
“I’ve never really had the aspiration to travel with someone around the globe,” he said. “I’ve always been more intrigued with baking the cake than putting the icing on it.
“I get more satisfaction out of building, molding and creating a weapon and developing a world-class game,” he continued. “Sure, you want to get paid for it and sure, you’d like to take it from A to Z. But because it’s such high-stakes poker, when you get someone with such incredible talent it’s hard to stay in control of the situation until they’re 18. These are very slippery slopes.
“What you try to do is protect yourself the best you can legally, do the best you can, and know in your heart you’ve made a difference,” he said. “That’s the way I’ve always felt about being a teacher and a role model.
“I can honestly say I get just as much enjoyment building the game for a 10-year-old as I do for someone who is in the top 20 in the world.
“I just keep on digging until I get the stroke the way I want it or the strategy the way I want it,” he pointed out. “Also, how I communicate to get them to understand quicker and faster is huge.
“I am a firm believer that people learn through word association – catchy phrases,” he said. This explains the brief but bold messages on nearly 200 bright yellow, tennis-ball-shaped wooden signs that are mounted on fences and other prominent places throughout the academy grounds. “Rick Macci’s Sayings” stress the necessity of thinking and acting like a winner.
Macci said USPTA Master Professional Jim Loehr, Ed.D., has easily been the biggest influence on his teaching philosophy. When he met Loehr in 1981, he was already talking about how important the mental process is to competing. Macci said he can relate because a natural competitive edge, including good visualization and calming skills, was always his greatest strength. And the best gift a coach can give a student, in his opinion, is how to compete.
Macci, who makes himself available to give private lessons to anybody, said the driving force behind his career is the desire to help and inspire others. “There are a lot of opportunities out there,” including broader motivational talks and helping fellow pros with their junior programs.
“I’ve got to keep my feet on the ground and do exactly what I do because that’s me,” he said.
The Macci philosophy
Students, parents and past guests of Rick Macci Tennis Academy in Florida have seen the motivational messages posted on yellow tennis-ball-shaped signs all over the academy.
Positive mental preparation is a cornerstone of Macci’s teachings. Students learn that the mind is a terrible thing to waste when it comes to competition. In other words: Get tough, get ready and go get ’em!
All 195 of “Rick Macci’s Sayings” can be seen at www.rickmacci.com by clicking on “The Macci Philosophy,” then on the first of three links at the bottom of the page.
This is but a small sampling of the coach’s everyday instructional sayings:
Everything starts with attitude – so why are you always negative?
Calmness and intensity – the ultimate combination in competition
Mental toughness is hitting three double faults in a row and then hitting an ace.
If your opponent’s serve is really fast, slow it down with your mind.
Rule No. 1 – run for every ball. Rule No. 2 – See Rule No. 1.
Hit out, out, out, and it will go in, in, in.
Prepare your racquet – yesterday.
Picture it in your mind before it happens.
If you keep pushing the ball, you’ll be a great 12-and-under player. Hit the ball.
Short, little steps mean big strides to being in position.