Next in our series of interviews with top tennis professionals, we were excited for the opportunity to interview Brian Gottfried, who won 25 singles titles, 54 doubles titles, and was a member of the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1976-1978, 1980 and 1982. Known for his dedication to practice and flawless technique, Gottfried achieved a career-high singles ranking of 3 in the world in 1977. He is currently the Director of Tennis at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, FL.
RM: Hello, Brian, thank you for interviewing with us. Can you tell us about the tennis program you are setting up at The Bolles School?
BG: At a lot of academies, school is secondary. At Bolles, it is very demanding. The academic requirements are tough and the tennis requirements will be tough, but it will be a college prep program. It’s going to be what they face in the next years if they’re going to play tennis in college. They need to get up early; they’ve got to do work in the gym. We’ll have early morning workouts three days a week to get them used to the next couple years in college tennis. If they want to go on [to play professionally], we hope to be able to provide that also, but we don’t want to say, “You’re coming here to play pro tennis.” It’s just too much of a long shot. It’s too difficult. Don’t lose the dream, but it’s a difficult world.
RM: Can you describe what the schedule of a high performance junior player should look like?
BG: It’s hard to say because it’s not one size fits all. Tennis is an individual game; therefore, people need to be treated as individuals. Some need more, some need to be pulled back. Some have that passion and drive and they need to be pulled back a little bit. I think it’s up to the coach and it’s important that the coach understands which kind of player he is working with and to find what works best for that player. Some need more playing, some like to drill. Some get bored by drilling, so you might work a skill and try to keep score. You can’t say this number of hours. You need a lot of time; it’s a skill where you need a lot of time. You also need to create that passion; and if you can, it is easier to get the time out of them. That’s a coach’s job, I think, to create that excitement.
RM: What is the role of a goad coach?
BG: Let them feel the enjoyment of tennis and at the same time try to work on those fundamentals. A player might have a few different coaches at different levels and I think all of those levels are important to develop a passion, create a good foundation, to learn an all-around game. It’s important to know what the tournaments are like so that the coach can help the player as far as tournament play, strategically.
RM: How much mental training does a player receive in your program at The Bolles School? Is that an important aspect of training?
BG: It is important. As somebody who has been through that, I can probably help. Questions that are asked of me a lot are “How do you handle pressure?” and “How do you not get nervous?” Those types of questions. A parent will say “how do you work with a young player?” or a young player will say “how do you work with a parent?” I can answer from experience.
RM: You’ve won so many titles, does it get easier or do you still feel the nerves?
BG: No, it’s always the same, they’re always there. It’s just that you know how to deal with them. You’ve dealt with them for so long that you know what you’re going to face, what you’re going to feel like, and you try to build from your success and what you’ve done. I’ve felt like this, and I did this and I won, so I need to take that forward. When I feel like this again, I need to remember.
RM: You are a legendary doubles grand slam winner. Do you believe players should incorporate this aspect more into their training and competition at the pro tour level? At the junior level?
BG: Well, I’m not so sure at the pro level because they have different reasons why they do or don’t do it. A lot of it is scheduling. I think players should do it at the younger ages for sure. There are very different shots and you learn how to serve and volley. There are different skills that you learn using the court differently in doubles.
RM: What tennis styles from your times do you think modern players should incorporate?
BG: Styles have changed, so players are obviously applying more spin and more extreme swings at the ball, but I think there are still some things from the older years: the slice backhand, the short slice, players can come in a little bit more to rush the bounce. It’s hard to play a chip backhand because it doesn’t have enough on it like it used to. You can take the return of serve early, rush the opponent. I think there are different ways to come in for different purposes.
RM: You were always known for your fitness and obviously you are still extremely fit. How do you keep in such great shape these days?
BG: God gave me a good body, I don’t know how else to explain it. I haven’t had many injuries. I love to play. I don’t spend much time in the gym; I play a lot and I run. If I’m not playing, I run. But I don’t do it on the same day anymore. I used to always run and play on the same day.
RM: I met with Fernando Gonzalez a while ago and I asked him to give me some tips for junior players. He told me he wished he had started running earlier. He didn’t incorporate it into his routine until he was 25, which he felt was too late. Do you agree?
BG: I started earlier than that, but then players like him would’ve spent more time in the gym. Back in the olden days, they told us to stay out of the gym because your fitness is distance, sprinting and jump ropes- that’s all you need. Looking back, I think it would be nice to have some of the advantages of today, some of the training methods. Make a little more use of the gym, do a little more upper body work for strength and flexibility, but we didn’t know that back then.
RM: What advice would you give to a junior player dreaming of playing professionally?
BG: One thing I like to say to young players is that they need to differentiate between practice and matches. In practice, they need to focus on themselves, their technique, what they are doing. In a match, they need to focus on their opponent and what the opponent is giving them. And is their game plan working? What’s the score? Did I win the last point? How did I win that? So more of the focus needs to shift to the other side of the court instead of just thinking about what they are doing. Junior players, lots of them, think “I’ve got to play well today, I’ve got to play well.” Not necessarily. You only need to beat the guy on the other side that day.