5 December 2022

João Cunha e Silva talked in our podcast about the development of his tennis academy in Lisbon, Portugal. He shared what makes his facility unique for professional players. We learned that four things are standing out: 1) Devotion of him as a Head Coach, 2) Empathy between the coaching team and players, 3) Beautiful location by the sea and 4) Very good price-to-performance ratio in comparison to other countries.

Stan: Ok, we have João Cunha e Silva with us, welcome João.

João: Hello.

Stan: I'm happy I have you here as Cunha e Silva Academy, which you are the director of, will be our new partnering academy. Located in Portugal, close to Lisbon. So João, why don't you tell us a bit more about your tennis career, how you began with coaching and how did you get to start your own academy?

João: Hello, it's my pleasure to be here. So things went quite naturally. I was a professional tennis player until the year 2000 when my daughter was born. So I decided with the family that after big injury that I had also on my right knee with three surgeries. After that there was a nice time to finish and start a new life as a coach in our academy. So I was number one junior in the world in 1985. I played 17 years as a professional tennis player. I was 108th as the best singles ranking, six years on the top 120, six years top 100 doubles ATP player reaching 72nd place.

ACA_JCS_Joao_Cunha_e_Silva_5c74882b60.jpg João Cunha e Silva, the Director and Head Coach of the academy.Source: Cunha e Silva Tennis Academy

So then I started here at Oeiras, Portugal in the year 2000. Since then, well, many things have... many good things have happened. We have been helping in performing many Portuguese and foreign players. Three of them (two boys, one girl) top 100, many many many TOP 200 and several ones with very good results on the junior circuit too. So well, we are in a good cycle again. Also during 2008 to 2012 [I was] supervising a second team. I was director of the High Performance Center here in Portugal and now I'm fully, 100% dedicated here at Oeiras and that's it. We are helping many young players. Again, we're [focused] onto professionals, some of them come and go. And I'm full time here.

Stan: Nice! So why don't you say more about your academy? What facilities do you have, courts and everything around? How many coaches are in your team and yeah, what daily life in the academy looks like.

João: Sure, so our headquarters, as I said, we are here at Oeiras [Lisbon]. We are about 5 minutes from the sea. Unbelievable, nice area. We have the tennis structure with 11 courts, 7 are just for the academy. We have... We are the only club in Portugal - actually the only structure - to have the three surfaces available, so we have very nice clay courts, synthetic grass - 3 courts - and the 2 GreenSet. So we have a gym inside so we have everything ready to perform at a high level and any level of normal tennis school. We have almost 300 general players around the 35 at the Competition Center, starting at 10 years old until the professionalism. And I have seven more coaches working with me. Four of them are just on the Competition Center, the other three on the standard tennis school, one more with mini tennis.

ACA_JCS_centre_court_51d8319fb2.jpg One of the nicest centre courts you can play in Portugal.Source: Cunha e Silva Tennis Academy

So yeah, but at the end this is the team and well, a standard day at the competition center is with the practice from... tennis practice from 9am to 11am minimum, they can go [even] more. Then from 3pm to 5pm with the fitness coach with them between or after the afternoon session. Most times it makes sense, [but the fitness] can be before 9. But this is very individual of course, and well then we have several tennis classes for everybody and also for the youngsters. We also have sessions at the Competition Center from 5 to 7 and from 7 to 9 in the evening.

Stan: Very good. And how your personal day looks like, are you most of the time on the court with competition players or are you overseeing all the players around? Of course you as director, you have many administrative things to do, so how do you combine [it]?

João: Oh, I have many hours. I'm almost 8 hours a day on court actually. But I pass around 13 to 14 hours at the academy. So the other part of the day of course is in the office. I have a person almost full time with me. My wife is also in the office, so of course it's a big help. And yeah, I like to be on court. So I supervise the things, but most part of the day, between 6 and 8 hours per day, [I'm training] on court too.

Stan: That's quite a portion of work and also of coaching. You spoke about the number of players in your academy, what's the structure of the players? You mentioned from 10 years on, even like mini tennis. How many kids do you have in different categories and how many of them are Portuguese? How many of them are international? Do you have some kind of percentage for us?

João: Well, we have many of both, either Portuguese and foreigners. Actually a lot of foreigners are coming to visit us, but also to live in Portugal. We have Russians, we have Japanese, we have English, we have Swiss [players], we have many people, not just kids. Also players from 16 years old up. We have an Australian professional player and the kids coming and going, players sometimes staying with us for several weeks or months.

ACA_JCS_Pedro_Sousa_1f447e7687.jpg Pedro Sousa who reached highest rank of 99 ATP , is one of the players the academy helped in their career.Source: Cunha e Silva Tennis Academy

For example this year before the French Open, Wimbledon, we had Luca Udvardy [from Hungary], the girl that was runner-up later in the Wimbledon Junior tournament. Her sister, for example, Panna, was before the pandemia working with us for a bit while, so she is now [ranked] 70 something in the world, she just won the [WTA] 125 in Buenos Aires. And well, sometimes many players pass here to practice with us. And of course we have many Portuguese regular players of good level, as I was saying, starting with 10 years old, [then] under 12. We have some good kids from National Team U16, too. So, that's our reality.

Stan: Ok, nice. So what keeps you going in your daily work with the young players? What is your motivation you are trying to give also to your coaching team and what would be the biggest asset and benefit of your academy if you can compare it with other academies or clubs? What do you think is the highlight of your academy in terms of facilities, in terms of coaching team? What would you say?

João: Well, for sure three or four things that make the difference. First of all is to have a person like myself on court daily, working and devoted to the players with big motivation because it's something that I like to do very much. I've helped many players but I'm still very devoted and very motivated to... the passion is [still] big and I think everybody feels and recognizes once they are over here.

A second one is that all the team that works with me were ex players, so everybody [is] quite young but very ambitious and very devoted. [We have] very good sparring partners too, that they really know about the circuit they played themselves, they have been working with me for years. Almost all of them were my players before. And so there is a very good empathy between us and the methodology is respected by everybody. So this is very important.

The location... it's unbelievable and once you are here you understand what I'm speaking about. We are 20 minutes far from the Lisbon airport, [which is] actually in the middle of Lisbon Town. And [also close to] the very recognized area historically in Cascais. So, as I said before, [we are located] about 5 minutes drive from the sea, it's 20 minutes walking distance, so it's [pretty] unbelievable.

ACA_JCS_seaside_a29ed19ca0.jpg Beaches are just a couple of minutes away from the courts. Perfect location for year-round training.Source: Cunha e Silva Tennis Academy

And last but not the least, the relationship between the cost and the quality of work. I think it speaks by itself and once... everybody says that sometimes they don't know Portugal yet that well but once they come, once the players are here, everybody says that the [price-performance] ratio is very good.

Stan: Perfect, I think it was a great introduction of your academy. I thank you very much for your time and I'm looking forward to our collaboration.

João : My pleasure. Thank you.

Stan: Thank you.