My name is Raphael Maurer. I am the owner and director of the Barcelona Tennis Academy, which started running in 2010.
The Barcelona Tennis Academy (BTA) is small and the atmosphere is family-oriented. There is a very close relationship between coaches, players, and parents. We offer personalized training programmes for players of all ages and levels. During training, there are usually 2 players with a coach on the court. Thanks to all of that, our approach to players’ development is very individualized. We treat every player with personal attention since we have time and space to get to know them well and build relationships with them, taking care of every aspect of their game, such as technique, fitness, and psychology. Knowing our players so well enables us to create for them personalized training programmes, tailored to their needs and ability. Our priority is to help them reach their best potential, which is a long-term process. That is why we attach so much importance to proper planning, communication, and constant team support. We have great involvement with social media, which allows us to have great communication with organizations and tennis players from all over the world.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I was born in Lausanne, Switzerland. Being a sports fanatic at a very young age, I chose tennis over soccer at the age of 13. Ranked # 2 in the country in the 14 & under age group, I won the Winter Cup (European Team Championships) for Switzerland alongside Michel Kratochvil (former top 50 ATP player). In 1993, I entered the National Training Center in Ecublens, Lausanne, where I started working with famous French Coach and French Davis Cup Captain, George Deniau, as well as Pierre Paganini, current Physical Trainer for Roger Federer. I trained there for 2 years with the best players in Switzerland, including Marc Rosset and Roger Federer. I traveled with Swiss players such as Michel Kratochvil, Martina Hingis, and Patty Schnyder. During my junior career, I won 8 medals in National Championships, including 3 gold, and had won over many current professional players including Juan-Carlos Ferrero. I also participated in some big international events such as the Orange Bowl.
In 1998, I was offered a tennis scholarship at Flagler College in Florida, United States, where I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sport Management with minors in Business Administration and Spanish. Later on, I also obtained a postgraduate degree in Sports Psychology from the UAB university in Barcelona. After my studies, I worked as a tennis coach in the United States, which then led me to want to open my own tennis academy. The business plan for the academy was created for a project in Portugal, but I ended up opening the academy in Spain, near Barcelona.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
Before starting my business here in Europe, I had studied and worked as a coach in the United States for about 7 years altogether. Then I worked in different countries, traveling across the world, including Hong Kong, China, where I started an academy named the Hong Kong International Tennis Academy. However, I missed Europe and decided to return in 2009. I spent one year in Portugal, where I had planned to start an international tennis academy, having written a business plan for it. I believed it was the ideal place because of the climate and the fact that nothing like this was in place. I stayed there for one year, working in small clubs in different areas of the country, but in 2010, after being more aware of the possibilities in Portugal, I realized that the Barcelona area in Spain would be a better fit for the academy.
In Barcelona there is more competition, more academies, so people could think that it would be more difficult to be successful. However, there is so much demand from all over the world, since tennis is so popular in Spain and is recognized for having the best academies and best coaches, as well as some of the best players in the world being trained in Spain. So it made sense to leave the Portugal project behind and start a new one in the Barcelona area. Looking back, I strongly believe that it was the right decision.
Barcelona is a great place to work because of the weather, the people, the culture. It offers a very relaxed atmosphere. Thanks to a great team of people involved with the academy every day, lots of exposure to social media, and an amazing location, the academy became successful quickly. It has already been 11 years that we have been working as an academy and despite the challenging times we are faced with, we are working on various new projects and we look ahead with optimism.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The year of the pandemic has been definitely the most challenging experience we have been faced with as an academy. It disrupted the way we had been working before, changed our plans and projects, and put a rapid stop to the rhythm, at which we had been proceeding.
Obviously, it hasn’t finished yet but at this stage, we can see some light at the end of the tunnel.
We have been truly grateful for the fact that we have been able to continue training since last May without breaks and have found a new level of appreciation for what we do. After losing something, even for a while, your perspective changes, and start viewing everything in a new way. Not only does it concern our work but also relationships as a team. I believe this tough experience has brought us closer.
Now we have started working on new projects, designing new training programmes, planning clinics and camps around the world to respond to the needs of the current times.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The most challenging aspect of starting a business in a foreign country is to understand the mentality of the people you work with and getting used to a different way of life. In addition, having a business that offers a service to clients from all over the world, it is challenging to build a team that will be passionate and flexible enough to adapt to all these different clients. The greatest challenge for me was to find the best people to help me run the academy. It took almost 8 years to have the great team we have today. This is the reason why I would say that some bad decisions and good decisions were made with the people who were hired to do the job in the different positions needed to run the academy (tennis coaches, fitness trainers, sports psychologists, administration, marketing, social media, etc). Each position filled in the past couple of years with passionate people was a good and important decision. We also made some good decisions in working with some agents in different countries around the world. These people are also adding to the smooth functioning of the academy.
The greatest obstacle by far was the arrival of COVID-19 in March of 2020. Since we only work with international players, we were strongly tested by this sudden worldwide pandemic. We had our best year in 2019 and things were looking great for 2020, so it was hard to see everything suddenly stop. We are still suffering from this a year later, but thanks to the great team we have and their flexibility, the business is surviving and we are excited to see the situation improve, looking ahead to a great summer in 2021.
When it comes to abilities and skills, I believe that communication and people skills are key in this business. Speaking 4 languages has definitely helped me a lot, but also being available at all times and caring for each one of the players who have an interest in the academy. Everyone has to feel like they are family.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
These days, being strongly involved in social media is crucial. We work a lot with Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. In addition, we have designed a good website, which is well-positioned on Google, in which we continuously post blogs. We also run marketing campaigns and send newsletters to all our contacts.
Through the years, one of the greatest tools we have to keep getting stronger is word of mouth. If people are happy with their experience, they will share it with others, which is the best marketing we can get. For this reason, we believe in offering the best possible experience and create a family-oriented environment for each player.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
What has inspired me most and helped me to become the manager I am today are not so much the books I read, but mostly all the experiences I have had as a tennis player and tennis coach. My travels around the world and exposure to different countries and cultures have been key for me to understand the needs and expectations of people from all over the world. In terms of books, all books on sports psychology that I have read have helped me be a more rounded person, which of course helps me run my business every day. Books like The inner game of tennis by Timothy Gallaway, Your 15th club by Bob Rotella, The new toughness training for sports by James Loehr have helped me grow as an individual.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
The most important thing to remember is that everything takes time. Building a successful business is not easy and requires a lot of hard work and patience. Be kind to others, be available to others, and show that you care. It is key to build trust with your employees and clients. If they believe in you, they will believe in your business.
If they believe in your business, they will get involved and become another piece of the puzzle, which will make it grow stronger. The biggest mistake I can see with start-up businesses is that the owner believes that once the business is in place, they can stay away from it and see it run from a distance, delegating all the work. I believe you need to be present at all times in some way if you want to make sure it succeeds.
Where can we go to learn more?
To learn more about my academy, please have a look at our website. In addition, here are the links to our social media;
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