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Judy Murray Tennis Icon To Receive Lifetime Achievement Award For Her Boundless Growth Of The Sport

By Alix Ramsay

How to describe Judy Murray? A mum? Well, yes, obviously. A tennis coach? Clearly. A workaholic? She must be. A frustrated ballroom dancer? Mmm, possibly.

For all her many, many talents, donning sequins and high heels and gliding across the floor with effortless grace is not at the very top of her list of achievements. That said, in 2014 she did survive for eight weeks in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing despite dancing with “all the flexibility of an ironing board” (her words, not mine).

This week, though, she is to be honoured for her first love, for tennis. At the UK Coaching Awards to be held on Wednesday night in London, Judy will be presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her 30-year coaching career. Her boundless energy and enthusiasm has inspired kids and coaches around the world to play tennis, to teach tennis and to love tennis. She has developed programmes and schemes to get everyone playing the sport she and her family love. Oh, and while she has been doing all of this, she has raised two world No.1s in her two sons, Jamie and Andy.

The former Scotland No.1 and winner of 64 domestic titles, Judy has set up a range of programmes over the years, all designed to get as many people involved in the sport as possible. Miss-Hits is for girls aged between five and eight, allowing them to play and learn in an all-girl environment. With the emphasis on learning through fun, it has brought thousands of girls – and their parents – around the world to tennis.

Then there is the She Rallies scheme, developed with the LTA, which has given more girls and women the opportunity to play tennis in Britain.

The Tennis on the Road programme does exactly what it says on the tin: it take tennis and tennis coaching around Scotland. The kids get to play while the parents, teachers, volunteers – anyone Judy can persuade to join in – get help and advice on how to keep the kids playing and learning. Based around fun games, the ones she used to play with Andy and Jamie, the idea is to teach the teachers so that they can teach more people to teach. That way, more kids can learn to play for not a lot of money.

She launched the Judy Murray Foundation last year with the aim of raising money to bring tennis to parts of Scotland that have little or no facilities, be they in the inner cities or up in the Highlands. And, let’s face it, until the country had got to know the Murray clan, that tennis wilderness stretched across most of Scotland.

When Judy left school, she set her heart on becoming a professional player. But with no indoor courts in Scotland, no competition in Scotland and only limited opportunities for those in the rest of the UK, she had to set out on her own. So, at 17, she was travelling around Europe solo – no coach, no help, no nothing. When her money and passport was stolen in Spain and she needed the help of the British Embassy to get home, her dad, Roy, thought it was time to think again.

“My dad was just saying ‘look, you can’t do it by yourself’,” Judy said. “He had his own business, my mother had my two brothers to look after; it wasn’t as if one of them could come with me.

“I think a lot of my motivation has come from the fact that I didn’t have a chance, there was nobody to help me. It was very much because I’m from Scotland, I’m up here, there’s nothing going on up here and why shouldn’t the Scottish kids have the chance?”

From taking her first coaching badge when she was at university (she saw it as a way to make a bit of money at weekends to supplement her limited student bank balance), Judy went on to become the national coach of Scotland in 1994. Appointed by Tennis Scotland rather than the LTA (which is based in London), Judy looked at the blank canvas in front of her and got to work.

“I think when I got the job, because it wasn’t an LTA job, it was a Sport Scotland job and there was funding from Sport Scotland to do things the way I wanted to do them, obviously with some LTA funding as well, I went out of my way, I created individual programmes, created development squads, we took overseas trips for the first time, I took the kids to tournaments.

“I was actually able to run the programme the way I wanted to run it, right or wrong. And I went with my gut of starting with the younger ones. I started a development school for players aged between nine and 12.

“For all the tournament trips, we just packed them into a minibus and we would toddle off down south. And we would have the Scottish flag in the back of the bus and make it all a big adventure: “We’re off to conquer England”. That kind of thing. It was all good fun.”

That is Judy’s unique selling point: she makes tennis fun. There is plenty of time for sport to become deadly serious later, but to get kids started on the right path, it has to be enjoyable. It is the same with the coaches: not every coach has to look and sound like Ivan Lendl (even if he is a very good coach) – coaching can be fun, too. And if you get the kids and their teachers hooked early on, you will have an ever-increasing pool of talent from which some champions may later emerge.

“My philosophy is all about creating games and exercises that do the teaching for you,” Judy said, “because I learned from bringing up my own kids that they don’t want to listen to you, they just want to play with you. That’s why I say skills before drills. And make it fun so they want to come back – no matter what age or stage they are.

“I know that of all the kids that started at that time [in the 90s], virtually all of them are still involved in tennis at a very high level,” Judy said. “You’ve got Jamie and Andy who would be the significant ones, but nearly all of the others went to either university in the States or university in England on scholarships and are still very involved in tennis.”

So, how to describe Judy Murray? Tennis player, tennis coach, tennis mum, now a tennis granny – she is a one-off, a human dynamo who is always coming up with new ideas and new ways to get people of all ages, shapes and sizes to play tennis. Which is why, after 30 years of hard graft, thousands of kids introduced to the sport and a family collection of 10 grand slam trophies (and counting), UK Coaching are giving her the Lifetime Achievement Award. Just don’t ask her to dance at the do afterwards.

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