March 8, 2023

Rafa Nadal Academy and Athena Programs Offer Tennis Camp at The Lawrenceville School

TOP-NOTCH TENNIS: “There have been various local tennis camps, including Nike, in the past, but to bring the Rafa Nadal Academy Camp from Mallorca is truly something unique and special. We thought there was a need for a specialized tennis camp with proven methodology both on and off the court.” Marta Ramos is president of Athena Programs, which is partnered with the Rafa Nadal Academy in bringing the Academy’s special training program to The Lawrenceville School this summer. She is shown with a number of coaches from the Rafa Nadal Academy.

By Jean Stratton

Young tennis players are excited about a new upcoming opportunity this summer. The Rafa Nadal Academy Camp, in partnership with Athena Programs, will be on-site at The Lawrenceville School July 24 through July 29. The chance to improve their game and maximize their potential is awaiting them.

Headquartered in Mallorca, Spain, the Rafa Nadal Academy Camp now offers six locations at private schools in the U.S., including in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and now New Jersey.

“For me, it is very exciting to work with such a global brand like the Rafa Nadal Academy,” says Marta Ramos, president of Athena Programs, who, with her partner David Gray, founded Athena in 2021. “Also, as a Spaniard, I am proud to have helped expand the brand in the U.S. and to support U.S. youth tennis.”

A native of Spain, Ramos has lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, working in New York City, developing Spanish language immersion programs. In addition to its tennis and soccer focus, Athena offers academic language immersion programs.

So Much Joy

“I decided to found Athena Programs after COVID,” she explains. “I love tennis, and I thought partnership with the Rafa Nadal Academy would be an excellent association for us. Rafa’s tennis skill and focus on sportsmanship would appeal to young tennis players in the U.S., and we will be able to expose young players to the Rafa Nadal methodology. The focus is not about winning, but on working hard, sportsmanship, enjoying the sport, and having fun. This focus brings so much joy.”

Of course, Rafa Nadal is one of the greatest players to pick up a racket, winning 22 Grand Slam titles, including 14 French Open championships, four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledon titles, and two Australian Opens. He is also one of the most popular players worldwide, not only because of his exceptional talent, but because of his sportsmanship, respect for the game and other players, and overall graciousness. He is a role model for  many young players.

The U.S. camps have been very successful, reports Ramos, and she is looking forward to the six days in July at The Lawrenceville School, located at 2500 Main Street in Lawrenceville. It offers 12 new Har-Tru courts, as well as a tennis pavilion and seating area, on-campus field houses, two gymnasiums, and a well-appointed fitness center.

“It’s not every day that the Nadal Academy rolls into town, and to have access to their methodology right here in the Princeton area is very valuable. We are excited to offer this opportunity,” points out Ramos.

Strategic Play

The junior program is available to experienced male and female players aged 9 to 16, and also to adults. The youth camp will be held Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a tournament and award ceremony on Saturday.

The adult camp is offered Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. The two-hour sessions focus on a different aspect of the game, such as technique, tactics, mindset, and performance. Participants can select which area of the game they wish to improve, and register for each session or for one or two. Training ranges from improving minor aspects of play to strategic play to competing at a championship level.

The clinic is open to 32 experienced players of various skill levels, who will be divided into groups of four. Beginners (both adult and junior) may register for private sessions.

The junior camp focuses on groups of four under the leadership of one of the Rafa Nadal Academy coaches. This player-to-coach ratio allows for as much individual attention as possible. Participants are grouped according to age (9 to 12 and 12 to 16) and ability. The morning session includes two hours of tennis drills and instruction. This is followed by one hour of fitness and lunch. 

“In the afternoon, they will work on Building A Champion, a workshop  that will cover the values of effort, discipline, honesty, commitment, and respect, among others, which are the identity mark of the Academy,” explains Ramos. “Each day, they will watch a video, have a discussion about the topics covered, and work on a project as a team. Also part of the afternoon schedule is the tennis program Learning To Compete. This involves games and sets, and is coach-led. They emphasize the skills practiced in the morning.”

“Rafa Values”

A tournament is held on Saturday, followed by an award ceremony, she adds. “We give awards and prizes to the winners of the tournament, and we usually have three different groups competing. A special prize goes to the player who has displayed the best sportsmanship, work ethic, and ‘Rafa Values’ throughout the week. The winner receives a trophy with Rafa’s name on it.”

Fitness and proper nutrition are also stressed, she points out. “We emphasize the importance of fitness and good health. Tennis requires agility and speed and footwork. It is also a mental game. It necessitates focus, concentration, and commitment.”

An important aspect of the Rafa Nadal Academy training is its emphasis on perseverance and determination. As Ramos  says, “Rafa never gives up. He plays every single point.”

But — she adds — it is fun! The camp encourages positive interaction among the players. “They have to have fun too,” she says. “This is very important. They work hard, put in the hours, and we want them to do their best, but it has to be fun too. You can make good friends playing tennis, and you can continue to play for many years.”

Patience and Endurance

Referencing its methodology, an Academy statement reports, “We understand that modern tennis and the tennis of the future is played first with the eyes, then with the mind, next with the legs, and finally with the hands. In the camp, we will apply training systems geared in this direction to prepare you to anticipate and take the initiative of the game.”

Consequently, focus on “patience and endurance, effort and power, risk management and tactical knowledge, tolerance and fighting spirit, confidence building, and emotional control and problem-solving abilities” are all areas to be addressed.

Many of the Nadal Academy coaches have played and coached at the highest level in the U.S., and are familiar with U.S. tennis, junior tennis, and NCAA competition standards, says Ramos. She is very encouraged about the current status and future of the Rafa Nadal Academy camp in the U.S. and its partnership with Athena Programs.

“We are here to support tennis and complement and supplement what players have already learned and hopefully show them something they have not seen before, and in a fun and challenging way.

“There is also a cultural element. The Spanish approach and the approach developed by Toni Nadal (Rafa’s uncle) is honed through the years of working with Rafa and other pros on the tour. Juniors and adults will learn how to see tennis in a different way from how it is traditionally taught in the U.S. Players are excited to have exclusive access to Nadal coaches, and it is refreshingly different from what they are used to. In addition, it can be a great first step for players who would like to attend the Academy in Mallorca in the future.”

The affection and respect for Rafa throughout the U.S. camps has impressed Ramos. “I always knew how popular Rafa was here, but to see young players’ faces light up when they ask the coaches about Rafa or see how they try to imitate him when they play is special. He truly is a hero to them.”

And, she adds, they really take to heart Rafa’s counsel to: “Work hard, have fun, and make it happen.”

For further information and to register for the camp, visit