On Saturday, Judy Murray received the 10sballs.com Coach of the Year Award, at the end of a fun-filled morning for families and kids arriving early at The Royal Albert Hall, where the Champions Tennis is taking place.
After receiving her award – a silver-plated tennis-ball can containing balls from the 2013 Wimbledon final (a special one for the family Murray), she spent a few minutes talking about the initiatives that made her the ONLY choice for this year’s award.
Murray has been indefatigable – take a look sometime at her Facebook and Twitter feeds because in amongst her now legendary grading of cakes of the world are many shots of her near daily trips around the country.
All her followers see is another day, more happy children playing and ejoyng sports, but there really is so much more to that, as she explained to me.
“I’m a huge believer in getting kids to enjoy being active at a young age because if it becomes a way of life at a young age, it is likely to stay with you. My main goal of course is to get more children trying tennis, and my whole thing is that if we make it fun for them in the early stages, you’re far more likely to get the retained in it, you know that they want to come back.
“A lot of the fun of course comes down to not just the content but the equipment, you know the type of things that you do, but is for the most part is actually down to the workforce. So a lot of what I’ve been doing over the last two years is going round the country in my van full of equipment with another coach (Kris Soutar) and my little programme’s called Tennis on the Road.
“Basically we take the van into places where there isn’t any tennis, or very little tennis, but where there’s a desire in the local area to have tennis and we train up a workforce of often volunteers, because in many areas remote and under-privileged areas in particular you don’t have tennis coaches and you don’t have money.”
Tennis has long been since as a sport for the elite, but Murray has been working hard to ensure that this is really not the case.
She continued: “Sometimes you don’t even have courts so we show them how to make the best use of whatever space they have available, whatever that is. But we train up teachers, parents, club members, students, fifth and sixth year pupils, coaches of other sports, development officers, and we show them how to deliver fun simple starter tennis so that many more children can get the chance to try it.
“I’ve been doing that now for almost two years, and it’s been incredibly successful and incredibly fulfilling for me.”
Anyone who has followed any of the Murray clan in any way shape or form is by now familiar with a lot of the stories of the boys growing up, and how the games Judy found for them to play as children have been at the core of the programme.
“I do a lot of stuff with balloons. Balloons are cheap, they don’t hurt anybody, they’re big, the move slowly, so basically you can build up tracking skills, catching and throwing skills with a balloon from a very very young age.
“My Tennis on the Road progamme is just in Scotland, we have terrible weather and hardly any indoor tennis facilities [so] we use a lot of balloon stuff because obviously you can use them indoors.”
I was a scaredy cat when I was a kid so probably nothing would send me running (ha, probably a good thing!) more than a balloon, but there are of course many other toys and objects that can be used.
“I do things with balloons, do things with bean bags, do things with racquet handling skills which we call tricks. Because really when kids play tennis for the first time, you have to remember that they’ve never had a racquet in their hand before and you have to be able to handle the racquet before you have any chance of hitting the ball.
“You also have to be able to throw and catch a bouncing ball and move to and from a bouncing ball, and nowadays sadly many kids can’t do that, so you’re having to teach them these basic physical skills before you have any chance of getting them to hit a bouncing ball over a net, with a bat.”
Obviously time has moved on since Jamie and Andy were in their formative years, and so the games have evolved too, as she explained further.
“My whole thing is really about designing or creating I suppose, the games, exercises that will do the teaching for you. so for example kids nowadays don’t do very much above their heads. In tennis we do a lot above our heads because you obviously have to serve, a big part of the game and usually the hardest thing to teach kids to do. So, one of the things that we use to teach them the motion of the serve and the smash is a game of piñata which is of course a party game.
“We rip up pieces of newspaper and we stick some wrapped sweets in amongst in and put it in a supermarket poly bag and hold it up above our heads attached to the handle of a racquet, and the kids come forward and they smack it with a racquet until it bursts and the sweets fall out. But it won’t burst unless you hit it quite hard, but actually the game teaches them the smash and we don’t have to tell them anything about how to do it.
“So that’s my point is that it doesn’t have to be about having tennis lessons, or spending a lot of money. Most of these skills, co-ordination skills, balance skills, agility skills etc. – they can actually be learned at home if parents will take some time to do it with them.’
It is not just about the kids though. The programme, as described above, also focuses on building a workforce. There is no denying a lot of this is done on good graces alone, but surely at the core is getting parents interested in keeping their kids active.
“When we go out in the van our last session of any day is usually between half [past] four and six and it’s always a parent and child session because obviously kids are out of school then.
“But the parents are what we see as a potential workforce, because they can assist at the cubs and the schools and the parks, but of course they can play tennis with their own kids because they’re going to be the first point of call – if a child enjoys tennis, they want somebody to play with them, so they’re going to make the call first.”
If I look at my own situation, I was encouraged to try anything I wanted, and was even taken to a few things I loathed (Ballet for example – I do NOT do tutus!). But one thing she said rang very true. Always active as a child and a former club track athlete, I spend most of my middle aged years lamenting not having time to hit the gym! But I know I have to. And I need to. And more importantly I want to.
Later in life I encountered an acquaintance who looked down her nose at me ever loving the concept of sport, and I always felt that was a sad state of affairs, to think that someone was simply ‘ungirly’ for being into sport.
Miss-Hits is Judy Murray’s latest venture, and just watching star-struck young girls coming to thank her for the morning’s session, including one adorable little one who was admiring the award, grasping it as she explained that the balls inside were from THE Wimbledon run, it is just as valuable a programme to laud.
She concluded: “Miss-Hits is an all-girl programme. It took us about two years to get it up and running but it is designed to get more little girls to play tennis by making tennis more fun and attractive and giving little girls more [of] what they want but also to help to create a bigger female coaching workforce at entry level, because I think that goes hand in hand with girls in the game and retaining girls in the game, because female coaches better understand little girls.”
Whether it be Tennis on the Road in Scotland, Miss-Hits, country-wide, or her work at the Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis, working with boys and girls who are sticking with tennis, there is no doubt that Judy Murray continues to be a driving force across tennis in particular and sport in general.
Add to that her considerable experience with the British women’s Fed Cup team and her boundless support for the British women, turning out to watch them on their tournaments around the globe, all around the year.
If we had to sum it all up in just one word – Inspiring……..