Toni Nadal has been instrumental in the development of his nephew, Rafael, into a world-class tennis player. I recently had the good fortune to study with him in Mallorca, Spain at the new Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy. Many of his values are espoused by other Spanish mentors of mine, including legendary coach Lluis Bruguera, while some of Toni Nadal's views are unique. I believe in a similar set of values and reinforce the same concepts to our players.
Toni Nadal's six core values
Toni states unequivocally, "Even if the world is finished tomorrow, I do the right thing—that's values. Values affect everyone and everything in the world."
Based on this perspective, he sought to create a model of the six core values most important to develop players:
The value of humility is very commonly taught in Spanish tennis, as I discussed in my book, The Secrets of Spanish Tennis. Humility can be exemplified by champions like Nadal, Carlos Moya and Juan Carlos Ferrero. "Humble is the way you have to be, period,” Toni says. He continues, "Everybody should know their place in the world. The point is that the world is quite big enough already without you imagining that you're big too."
Rafa himself has argued that humility is a key component to his motivation and competitiveness because his humility never allows him to overestimate an opponent and become complacent going into battle.
2. Overcoming obstacles
Toni believes that life in general has gotten faster, and that children and sometimes parents expect instant results and gratification … quick fixes. But for Toni, the things that have the most value in life are difficult and take a long time to achieve. Thus, having the perseverance to overcome obstacles is a very important value and overcoming challenges is what helps to build a strong character.
“Respect for other people, for everyone irrespective of who they might be or what they might do, is the starting point of everything,” Toni tells John Carlin in an interview for the book, Rafa. "What is not acceptable is that people who have had it all in life should behave coarsely with other people. No, the higher you are, the greater your duty to treat people with respect.”
Furthermore, Toni believes that if you respect others, you will be happier in life, and thus happier on the difficult journey towards becoming a champion.
Patience is a common value taught to players in Spain. For Toni, one must, of course, be patient on the court to develop one's strategy. Moreover though, in life, one must never become impatient on the long and difficult journey towards achieving greatness; patience is thus interlinked with persistence.
Tolerance, for Toni, is connected to the value of respect. For Toni, people in life who have a high tolerance of those around them are more respectful and peaceful, and thus happier in their life. But Toni also believes tolerance is an important character trait in champions on the court. Tolerance, in this case, means how a player handles the stress and mental/emotional challenges of the battle. Strong players are able to tolerate more stress and pressure than weaker players. Therefore, tolerance is also interwoven with the concept of self-control. Toni says, "Self-control is critical to becoming a champion. A player must control their mind, body and emotions. Without this, he cannot control the ball."
6. Fighting spirit
For Toni, the fighting spirit means being willing to "suffer". Sometimes he calls it "enduring." Toni believes champions must endure and suffer—they must fight to the end to achieve greatness. Rafa says, Toni taught me, "Endure, put up with whatever comes your way, learn to overcome weakness and pain, push yourself to the breaking point, but never cave in. If you don't learn that lesson, you'll never succeed as an elite athlete."
These six core values are the infrastructure around which one can build a champion's mind and spirit, one that dominates without making excuses.
Above all else, Toni says, "Champions must find solutions, not excuses. Whining and complaining never helped us win a match or championship.”
Players who embrace these six Spanish values will be better prepared for battle on the tennis court—and also for the challenges of life.
Chris Lewit, a former number one for Cornell and pro circuit player, coaches in the New York City area and also runs a high-performance boarding summer camp in Southern Vermont. He specializes in training aspiring junior tournament players using progressive Spanish and European training methods. His best-selling book, Secrets of Spanish Tennis, has helped coaches and players worldwide learn how to train the Spanish way. He may be reached by phone at (914) 462-2912, e-mail ChrisLewit@gmail.com or visit ChrisLewit.com.