“Not all of the kids come here understanding what fight and grit is about,” says Mark Weil with conviction. “The kids come here as good fighters, but we want to make them great fighters.”
You might figure Weil as a drill sergeant, or a mixed martial arts trainer. But Weil, truth be told, is one of the most insightful tennis minds in the country. And his unique background has made his eponymous tennis academy a model of success in the competitive world of junior training and schooling.
“I like to brag because we have a 100 percent placement record,” says Weil, whose academy has sent every one of its graduates to a four-year college. “The most gratifying thing for me is sending these kids to the next level.”
The Mark Weil Tennis Academy has done just that for nearly 20 years. Since 1997, it has placed over 250 players in NCAA college tennis, from the Division I to III level. Its students have earned over $20 million in scholarships. Many Weil alumni have gone on to higher levels of tennis after college graduation—and the academy has helped train notable professionals including Grigor Dimitrov and Vera Zvonareva.
But while many tennis academies tout the exceptions as their raison d'être, Weil remains focused on the core of what his coaches do best—put players in the best possible position before attending college.
“I find that parents are the most anxious not about the wins and losses,” says Weil, “but more about where is my child going to go to college. And if they are going to be happy there.
“And so for me, that is a great journey, to go on with the kids.”
Weil’s unconventional approach meshes with his unusual background. He played college tennis at Northeast Louisiana University, where he cultivated his interests in sport and literature. After graduation, he went on to own a theater company on Broadway—before traversing the country to the first tennis academy on the West Coast
Today, the Mark Weil Tennis Academy in Ojai, CA, is a full-time boarding academy and private college preparatory school. It’s grown into a beacon for aspiring junior players. But like a trained actor, Weil and his team remain focused on the small details that lead to a great performance.
“There’s a certain commitment level and a passion that I look for in a coach,” explains Weil. “I’m looking for young people and good master coaches that really understand kids. And to let the kids see that they have passion, they love the game, and are also competitive.
“The kids know that, if he’s telling me to do this, I can trust him. That they care about me, not just about making a great tennis player for their name, which a lot of coaches unfortunately tend to a little bit. I feel like our coaches are more selfless.”
Weil’s roster of coaches include prominent guests such as Wayne Bryan, father of doubles stars Bob and Mike. Bryan is a firm believer in Weil’s approach to the sport, starting with how you prepare:
Bryan has called Weil Academy the “best academy in the world,” and his nephew attended the academy full time.
“I’m a huge Mark Weil fan,” says Bryan. “He has enthusiasm, he has charisma, and is a great leader. He’s passionate about tennis, and he cares deeply about the kids.
“He’s honor-bound to do his best to get them a college scholarship, and improve their tennis, and take good care of them. I really admire him really as much or more than anybody in all of tennis.”
Weil can’t sit still when he talks about his academy, which has produced over 100 junior national champions and 50 international champions since its opening.
Maybe it’s his background on stage. But it’s more likely that Weil’s passion to help promising players reach their potential is something he can’t easily keep inside.
“Taking a child from Vancouver, Canada or Mexico City who just has never been exposed to real gritty brawls, fighting-nasty tennis,” says an ebullient Weil, “and saying to them, ‘You know what, it’s OK. It’s OK to get out here and fight, fight and beat your roommate, and then you walk after and shake hands.'
"I feel like that’s part of our job—is to teach, show, mentor, behave."
Weil gets the best out of each of his students, which is often something they never knew they had. In doing so, Weil has built a thriving tennis “farm system.”
“It used to be where I had to bang the phones and knock on doors to get coaches to even sit up and look at our kids,” said Weil. “Now, they are coming to us.”
For more information on the Mark Weil Tennis Academy, go to weiltennis.com