BRADENTON, Fla. – This is Rafaella Baquerizo’s first year at the IMG Academy. She arrived in Florida last August to attend the high school and practice tennis.
Every year hundreds of teenagers move to the United States from all over the world and come to IMG. The academy is a private athletic training institute offering tennis, basketball, baseball, golf, soccer, lacrosse and football programs.
Baquerizo doesn’t feel homesick, but sometimes everything seems hard because her family isn’t close.
“Being far away from home is the one of the most difficult things when you are here,” said Baquerizo. “You start missing your home, your food, your family and friends. But at the end of the day you have to think that being here is a great opportunity.”
The fame and the fortune of being a professional athlete can be very attractive to a young player in high school or college when they are trying to figure out what to do with their life.
According to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) approximately three per cent of male and female high school basketball players go on to play college basketball, and only about one per cent of those players turn pro. It’s the same in tennis.
“I have to work extremely hard,” said Baquerizo. “There are so many good tennis players out there so it’s not sure I will turn out pro…
“I practice three hours in the morning, one-and-a-half in the afternoon, and one hour in the evening. School is of course more important, but I care more about tennis.”
While only 15 years old, Baquerizo seems mature for her age. There are many criteria players must meet if they really hope to turn pro. The early bird gets the worm – starting young increases the chance of becoming a top-level player. Baquerizo started at age seven.
“My big sister played tennis as a hobby,” she said “I followed her and got into it. I’ve always like sport. I love soccer too.”
A coach who is honest, open and consistent will have the best opportunity to get athletes the best results. A good relationship is the most important thing between a coach and an athlete.
“The coaches really care about us, they are really hard workers here,” Baquerizo said. “It’s important to have good relationship with the coach. You have to listen to them and trust them. If you don’t, you don’t have fun.”
Before the Ecuadorean becomes a professional tennis player she faces many opponents and tournaments. In two weeks she is going to play to Costa Rica, Brazil and Bolivia.
“I have to play three more tournaments and after that the biggest goal is to play International Tennis Federation (ITF),” she said. “They have a junior tournament for under-18 players and thereby getting to the Junior Grand Slam.”