For this blog I felt compelled to seek out a person who I personally believe is better placed than most to pass on advice to those parents whose kids excel at sport – Judy Murray. In this blog Judy offers her thoughts on a number of subjects but we began right at the beginning. From the off I wanted to know if she made a conscious decision to start coaching both of her boys, Andy and Jamie, from a young age.
“When the boys were small my first instinct was that I wanted them to enjoy sport as much as I did; sport has been a huge part of my life. My parents were both sporty and for as long as I can remember my mum and dad were always out in the garden playing with me and my two younger brothers. We played everything from badminton over the washing line to French cricket to football with jerseys as goalposts. We tried just about every sport growing up so I wanted my kids to be able to enjoy sport too. I knew enough about it to be able to develop their basic coordination skills just through play so for me it was never about coaching them, it was more about playing with them. As the weather is so bad in Scotland, I actually became pretty good at inventing all sorts of games where you could play indoors using whatever was lying around the house. For example, I would use old cereal boxes as a table-tennis net across the kitchen table and biscuit tin lids for bats. The ping-pong ball only cost 20p and if I needed the table, they would play on the floor and what I then discovered was that when you only use your hands and not your legs you very quickly develop great adaptability skills with your hands and upper body . I actually learned a lot by observing my kids and you realise what the games are teaching them and that they are learning through play that helped form my own philosophy on coaching further down the line but I never made any conscious decision to coach them when they were small. I had to learn how to coach later on because there were no coaches in our area.
Judy was perfectly placed to start coaching her boys having won sixty-four junior and senior titles herself during a successful playing career. Judy nurtured, encouraged and advised both from the moment a racquet was placed in their hands. Finding the balance though between being a parent and a coach must at times have been challenging so I asked Judy whenever the boys lost a match how important was it to be a parent first and a coach second.
“You have to be the parent first. I understood this was about the long-haul and if you want to help your kids to get better it’s not about the winning or losing, it’s about trying your hardest, being prepared to experiment and take risks and to learn from both defeats and victories. I was always able to put the common-sense hat on because I had loads of kids to look after once I started as a volunteer at our local club. I always understood that whole thing about big numbers and creating a fun environment. For the most part, when my kids were learning to compete at the club through the junior teams I was always looking after other children too and I think that really helped me to not get overly invested in my own kids. It’s very easy for parents who have kids in an individual sport to get overly invested; emotionally and physically, being there all the time and often financially as well. You actually have to make everything happen for them; you have to organise the coaching and the training, book the courts, enter them into tournaments, hang around for hours, sometimes days, sometimes weeks watching them play and of course you have to pay for it all. Andy played a lot of football when he was younger, up to the age of 14 he played just as much football as he did tennis and that was great for him because he was never over-invested in just one sport. He got so much out of football that helped his tennis particularly on the physical side because we had no strength and conditioning trainers in those days but football helped his endurance, speed off the mark and change of direction.
All sports need to help parents to better understand the whole journey and their role in the journey and how they can help them develop independence, resilience and work ethic and how to best communicate in terms of feed-back, praise and encouragement. It’s a really important part of how their kids enjoy the journey and develop. I also learnt loads from the other kids that I worked with when they told me stories about how their parents had made them feel on car journey’s home after they had lost a match. What we have to realise as parents is our kids pick up on everything from us so I actually learned over the years to become almost straight-faced and hide feelings slightly. When I was watching I would try to always give positive signs of encouragement be it a clap, a nod of the head or a smile. I would never tut or shake my head or give a heavy sigh as they hear everything and see everything and I would never walk away if things were going badly. That puts pressure on them that they don’t need when they are young. For me, it has to be all about creating a fun, learning environment; parents play a massive part in that too”
With both of the boys progressing well Judy had a decision to make. At the age of six Andy became Scotland’s youngest winner of a match at a ranking tournament. His opponent that day was four years older than him! Fast forward six years Andy won the ‘Orange Bowl’ a prestigious event on the junior circuit played out of Florida. Meanwhile, at the age of 11 Jamie was ranked number three in Europe in the 12’s age-group. They both had talent in abundance. There would though come a time when Judy knew a higher level of coaching would be required to take the boys to the next level. I asked her when that point came and if she found it emotionally difficult to let go.
Not really, I realised when Andy was twelve and Jamie was thirteen that it was more important to be the parent than the coach. I also realised that as a female and a mum it’s not that cool for the boys to be coached by your mother especially when she is the national coach and she’s looking after everybody else. When I started as the national coach, I didn’t have any staff because tennis in Scotland at that time was very much a minority sport. It was literally me and a basket full of balls and a block booking at the courts at Stirling University. I took on a young coach called Leon Smith (Current GB Davis Cup captain) who at the time was about twenty; he had dropped out of college and he came to me saying he wanted to be a coach. I had no money to pay him but I told him I could give him some work and create an apprenticeship for him where he could travel and work with some better players. He was like a sponge; he wanted to learn everything! He looked a little bit like David Beckham with the curtain hair-style and the diamond earrings and the kids thought he was the dogs-bollocks in a way that I would never be the dogs-bollocks so it worked really well.
I mentored him as he worked away with the players which in-turn meant I was always able to keep my distance while still being around. This is what I mean about having lots of people, it creates enough distance to allow you to keep your eye on things but it also allows you to be the parent first and foremost. I didn’t find it difficult and actually from that point on particularly as the boys developed and became the best players among their age ranges in Britain and then Europe it became about finding the right environment, the right coaches at the right time because they needed different things at different stages of their development. It wasn’t possible to finds those things in Scotland after they had hit their later teens. That’s another trust issue, you have to go out and find the right people and environment. Andy went to Barcelona when he was fifteen and Jamie went to Paris when he was seventeen once he finished school. Because, they played tennis so differently from each other, they needed completely different inputs and training environments. Again, this is all about finding the right people in the right places at the right time and trusting people to do the job for you because nobody will care more about what happens to their kids than their parents. That’s the hardest thing, finding the right environment; you have to go with your common-sense and your gut feeling a lot of the time. It’s not so easy when your kids have to go away from home but if it’s what they want to do and they are really buying into it then it’s their decision and you’re just trying to support it and make it all happen”
Big decisions had to be made as the boy’s talent and career naturally developed. Thanks to some eye-catching performances including winning the junior US Open in 2004 Andy was ready to turn professional. But for Jamie his route to success would take a different path. Judy was able to recognize this and took steps to ensure Jamie wasn’t left behind. I asked her at what stage did it become obvious that his skills were more suited to doubles and how she managed that transition.
“Jamie had always been successful in doubles in juniors and actually on the early rungs of the men’s circuit which was initially called the ‘Future’s Tour’ and then he moved to the ‘Challenger Tour’ and then up to the ATP Tour. He was generally speaking having more success in doubles than he was in singles. When you are on those early rungs of the tour its’ so expensive and it’s so difficult to make ends meet because you are paying out all the time: travel, accommodation, re-strings, food, physio and phone calls etc. If you are in the fortunate position to be able to pay for a coach to travel with you, you have to pay the coaches fees and all your coach related expenses. Nobody is making any money at that level so the important thing is to get out that level as quickly as possible and move up to the next level and then obviously on to the Tour where you have more of a chance of making a living. It was very clear to me in 2005/2006 that Jamie was going to struggle to come through on the singles side but his doubles performances and ranking was moving much quicker so I started to look at the careers of Bob and Mike Bryan for example who are the most successful doubles team ever. I looked at their prize money across a year, what endorsements they may have in terms of what brands are sponsoring them, what they might get paid in terms of Davis Cup fees and appearances. I started to realise that if you commit yourself to doubles there is a career there; of course you are sharing the prize money with a partner but the main thing was this perfectly suited Jamie’s skill-set and his personality. At that time there were no other Brits going down just the doubles route so I presented the whole idea to him and to Colin Fleming who was the Scottish guy he was playing with at that time and to Colin’s parents.
I told them that I thought this could be the way to go, that there is a career here if you commit and invest. The first thing was to find a specialised doubles coach to help them maximise what they had and of course you have to go out of the country to try and find that person. I did find that person, a Canadian guy called Louis Cayer who was working on the doubles circuit with an Israeli team who had won three grand-slams. I watched him coaching them at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2006, had a chat with him in the hotel lobby and asked him if he would have time to look at Jamie and asses what he thought. He asked for Jamie to send him a video; he wanted to know from Jamie what he wanted to work on and what ideas he had. I totally got that as it has to be about the player. If somebody else is trying to make it happen for you, which often happens with parents, it can often become more about them and not the player. Jamie sent Louis a video and Louis said that he could show Jamie a number of things that would significantly improve his performances. He said it was simple things; mainly positional and I asked him when he would be free to do that. It came down to me being able to bring Louis in for a six-week block through the grass-court season during May/June 2006 to work with Jamie and Colin. The cost of doing that in London pretty much cleaned me out but you want to give your kids the best chance, you can’t give one the chance and not the other; I absolutely believe investing in the best quality coaching environment that you can get that’s appropriate to your player or in my case my kids.
During that six-weeks I sent down a Scottish coach called Euan McGinn who now heads up the scholarship tennis program at Stirling University. If I could never afford another hour with Louis again, I had invested in somebody else who had the benefit of the six-weeks training who could then help the boys beyond that if we required it. Two weeks after the training Jamie made his first ATP Tour Final in Los Angeles and lost to the Bryan brothers. A year later, he won the Mixed Doubles at Wimbledon. This is just an example of finding the best people that you can that fits your player or child and going for it. Jamie’s road has been bumpier than Andy’s in terms of ups and downs and peaks and troughs but for the last five or six years he’s consistently been inside the top-ten in doubles and obviously won six Grand-Slams, A Davis Cup and been a World Number One.
If you are in a fortunate position where your child is excelling at a particular sport the level of coaching will play an integral role in the child’s development. There is an argument to suggest the coach can be deemed as an extension of the child’s parent. The working relationship between all has to be a well-oiled machine; all must sing from the same hymn sheet to ensure the very best for the child. Judy helps explain this role in more detail.
“There has to be a player/coach/parent triangle and it really has to be a partnership across all three. You need to invest time right at the start to make sure the lines of communication are open and clear in terms of what everybody’s role and responsibilities are. You can have a coach trying very hard to influence something on the court and that could be a technique, tactic or something physical but it could also be a type of behaviour; like being tougher for example. If the parents get it wrong at home where they treat the child like a mini god it doesn’t help the coach to instill the toughness and type of behaviour required on court. Everybody has to play their role and make sure they are all on the same journey together and coaches have to understand the parents are with the kids probably 95% of the time and the coach just 5% so the parents have a massive influence to help get it right but they also can have a massive influence getting it wrong if you don’t communicate. I see more and more now coaches holding parents at arm’s length, for example asking them to sit away from the court etc. For me, that is completely wrong because you have to bring the whole thing together. If you have that situation and you really are unhappy with what the coach is doing, ask yourself do you understand what the coach is doing, do you have enough knowledge and experience to understand it? You have taken the coach along for the journey so if you have tried to learn as much as you can about the demands of tennis and the journey it really shouldn’t be a big deal to communicate. I’ve had to deal with that with both of the boys many times when it comes to changing a coach. It’s not that the coach is doing anything wrong necessarily it’s just that maybe we have out-grown them or we require something different at a certain stage. You can remove a lot of that hassle if you have open dialogue and working as a team right from the start”
It’s obvious by listening to Judy that she very much advocates the importance of communication. No more so when she found herself in the awkward position of having to decide which son to go and watch when both are playing at the same time but in different locations. I was fascinated to know how Judy decided who to go and watch.
“I’ve had that many times over the years; my toughest time was when they were playing in a junior ITF event in Italy. I arrived late after my luggage got lost; I then missed my train and had to hire a car. I missed both boys losing their singles matches! Both were scheduled to play doubles at the same time but in two completely different clubs. Luckily, I had the hire car so I decided to watch the opening set from one. and then drive to the other club to watch a set of the other. That was a hard one as I knew I had to leave half-way through a match, I didn’t want the boys to ever feel that I was just getting up and leaving but they always knew I was going to watch their brother. It happens all the time at bigger tournaments including the Grand-Slams and especially at Wimbledon which always makes me despair a little bit” Judy laughs! “You would think that somebody would be looking at the schedule and seeing that the same names from Great Britain and not put them on at the same time! not just for me but for so many of the fans that want to watch! I have a new strategy now as I think the boys were finding it a little disruptive that one minute I am there and the next minute I have gone or pitching up in the middle of a match. My rule now is I go to whoever starts first and I stay until the match is finished and then I’ll go to the other one if they are still playing. Whenever the boys get asked about it as people have noticed that I’m not in the players box Andy will just say “she’ll be watching my brother” That would be the only reason I wouldn’t be there. We always agreed beforehand what we think would work best so it’s not so easy because you have double stress going on at the same time as you’re constantly watching the score-boards for updates of the one you are not watching”
As a kid growing up, I was blessed to have parents who supported me throughout as I attempted to make it as a professional football player. The sacrifices they made to make sure I got to football training on time and all the games without fuss could not have been easy for them. My late father in particular clocked up hundreds of miles watching me play. Never though at any point while watching on did he feel an urge to berate me from the sidelines. He always took me to one side and offered gentle yet firm words. Just the other day I attended a swimming gala here in Qatar after my eldest son Lennox was selected to represent his school at a local swimming event. During the second leg of a relay a mother of a very young girl stood by the pool and started shouting and screaming at her daughter to swim faster. It made for an uncomfortable watch! The mother’s face was contorted with rage like features. Other parents in attendance were obviously embarrassed for her. Personally, I felt there was no need for this type of behaviour so with that in mind I asked Judy for her own thoughts on parents who shout and bawl at their kids while watching on.
“When Andy played football, what I noticed first was how different the crowd was from those who would go to tennis. Parents would be right up on the sidelines, sometimes running along the side of the pitch almost in line with their kid whenever their kid had the ball. I have seen it in tennis as well because many parents do get overly involved emotionally when their child is playing. Kids can look up and can at times become embarrassed or feel pressurised; even fearful. So much of this though is education, it goes back to what I said before about sports working harder to support parents, to help them understand their role and how they communicate and the image they present. At times parents need to understand the impact their behaviour can have on the child. It’s possible that when the child was actually swimming, they were unaware of the parent behaving like that. What this shows you is that this could be all about the parent and what the parent wants; is it this whole thing of putting too much emphasis on winning at a very young age.
At this stage you want them to enjoy the challenge of competing and you need to help them understand it’s not about being the best and winning, it’s actually about being a little bit better than what you were in your last race and beating your own time. I think if you can understand that part it’s much easier for everybody to go on that journey together. It’s the same in tennis, 128 players start Wimbledon but only one person wins; 127 players lose! You have to learn how to lose and manage disappointment and expectation but I really believe strongly in sports helping parents to understand the big picture and how their behaviour can have a very positive influence on the child or a very negative influence on the child. That’s not just their own child as what you will find is that the other children will then become afraid of that parent if they see behaviour that they don’t understand or are fearful of”
At that same swimming event I noticed the child of a friend of ours crying uncontrollably after he came in last during his event. It was obvious the poor lad was devastated to the point he did not want to swim in the next race. His mum went over and offered words of comfort, whatever she said it had the desired effect as the young lad was up and ready to compete five minutes later. I was lucky that both my parents only offered comfort whenever I lost confidence in my own ability. I will never forget missing two penalties in a Youth Cup Final when I was fourteen years old; one during the game and another in the shoot-out. I was desolate. In the following days once, school had come and gone my dad encouraged me to take my brother Peter up to the local football pitch and practice penalties until I almost perfected my technique. I lost count how many penalties I took during that time but it must have been hundreds! Not long later I regained my courage to take penalties during a competitive match. I scored! For this part of the chat I asked Judy what tips she would offer to parents of kids who lose confidence while playing sport.
“This is all about parents taking the time to learn as much as they can about what their child is actually doing, whether that is a sport or any other hobby. You have to understand the demands of that sport or hobby and understand the journey that they are going on so that you can speak to them openly. If a child loses confidence it’s probably because they have lost at something or their score isn’t as good as first expected or even being dropped from a team. It is always about the parent being there to support, be it when the child has done well or when things are not going so well to make sure you are always there, to offer help or to help them improve whatever they need to get better at. It’s about being that constant and consistent support, it’s about being able to talk to them about it; it’s also about being actively able to do something about it. If they are losing confidence, they have to surround themselves with positive people who can help them to find a solution to the problem. Ask them questions as they will know the answer ‘what do you think has made you lose confidence, how does it make you feel, what do you think you need to do next, what would you like to be able to do that will help you’ whether it’s going out in the garden and kicking a ball about, throwing balls to them over a net or videoing their performances or getting a little bit of extra coaching or changing the group they train with or whatever it is you need to be supporting in the right manner. Kids rely on parents to help solve their problems for them.
Children will feel really bad if they think they have let the parent down and can feel embarrassed in-front of their peers because they got dropped from the team. That’s when the support network kicks in and that’s why you need to take everybody on the journey with you including family members and best friends so you can close ranks and help the child get back on the saddle. I have seen this so many times through the boy’s careers that when they suffer a disappointing defeat and the biggest blows are in the finals of Majors because they have worked so hard to get there and the biggest prizes in tennis are just a shot away and then you fall at the final hurdle. Those are the toughest moments for them to recover from. They are much harder than losing in the first round so that’s where your support network kicks in. You have to find solutions and ways to move forward, it doesn’t matter whether your child has lost a final at Wimbledon or whether they have been dropped from the local football team you do everything that you can to go out there, help them and do something about it. There are some great apps to help parents’ video their children. Show them, ask them what they see, ask them what they think, and ask them what they think they need to do better. If for example they say ‘I need to get faster mum’ it’s a case of going out with a stopwatch and timing them and show them the improvements they have made. For me the most important thing is to ask questions, if you can get the child to articulate how they are feeling and why they are feeling that way and what has triggered certain thoughts, get them to speak about it as the solution is right there in the child’s answers. Your role is to help them fine the solutions. You always feel better if you have a plan”
For my next question I took Judy back to my days in Bad Boys Inc and an incident which has always troubled me, even to this day. Just before Christmas 1994 we were asked to perform on the Des O’Connor show. This was a tremendous honour as Des’s show at that time was extremely popular and guaranteed to give us a hit record. I don’t know what happened on the night but we sucked, we were bloody awful! it was probably our worst ever performance on TV. The lads and I were devastated. What has always remained with me though is a record company executive telling us how brilliant we were in the dressing-room after the show. She lied! I was pissed off at her weak attempt to pander to our emotions; she should have read us the riot act! Des himself offered sound advice afterwards but told us we should have done better, he was spot-on! So, this got me thinking, had Judy ever been tempted to tell the boys they played well, when in-fact they played badly.
“I think what you always have to do is find the positives, that’s very important for parents not to just jump in and say what you saw them doing wrong. I think that’s a real failing of parents and coaches alike when they jump in and say from the off what needs to be fixed because they lost. I think you need to train yourself to be able to look at what went well, for example, ‘you served really well today, that wide serve on the deuce court was unbelievable, he really struggled to get that back’ I would nearly always ask the boys what they thought – ‘how did he make it difficult for you, how tricky was the wind today? What did you think was your best tactical pattern? You just need to ask a couple of questions and open them up so the child then talks to you about it all and then you can maybe pitch in. I think if you can play badly and win that is a skill! You are never going to be able to play your best all the time; you have to find ways to win when you’re not feeling your best or playing your best. I remember Brad Gilbert saying to Andy ‘you don’t have to play your best every day, you just have to play better than the other guy on the other side of the net’ As a parent you have to be careful not to praise and reward when the child knows they haven’t played great, you have to be consistent with it. If a child says to me, I didn’t play very well today I may say to them ‘well, you found a way to win and I thought you served really well’ ask the child what they think was good and what wasn’t so good. Get the child to tell you, it’s a much healthier way of getting them to analyse as they have to understand what’s going on, not just on their side of the net but also on the other side of the net. I’ve never been tempted to say to the boys they played well when I know they haven’t because my kids are both tactically incredibly smart and very aware of what’s happening on the court so they would see right through that in a heart-beat”
One aspect that I very much struggled with during my time in the boy band was the fame. I, like my colleagues were thrown into a world that we did not understand and more importantly did not know how to deal with when faced with certain situations. We had to learn as we went along. Don’t get me wrong it’s extremely flattering when one was recognised and I’m grateful for the opportunity but I found the whole ‘fame game’ unnecessary. In hindsight I wish advice was on hand from those who were there to supposedly look after us in regards to coping with our rising profile. For obvious reasons the Murray’s fame is on a scale way higher than I could ever have imagined in my day so I was intrigued to know from Judy if she ever looked for advice about how to deal with the boys becoming house-hold names.
“Yes, we did, in 2007 we took on a consultant on a part-time basis. He was a PR/media expert because we had been catapulted into this world where we had paparazzi following us at the Slams and we found ourselves in the papers most days. For Andy in particular being a young person growing up in public after Wimbledon 2005 it started to become quite tough and I think most management companies don’t have expertise on the PR or media side; for them it’s more about doing the deals and organising appearances. You can’t bring somebody in until you have enough money to be able to pay for that so right at the start when Andy broke through, we didn’t have any money to pay for anything. We were living hand-to-mouth and we had to prioritise. When he started to make a little bit of money in the summer of 2005 it was all about paying for a coach and the coaches’ expenses so he could travel with him. Luckily, he moved very quickly through the rankings so we added on a part-time basis a fitness trainer and then a physio to look after his body as the trainer is upping the training routines and the matches are getting tougher. I think also Andy learned a lot for himself because we would tape the TV press-conferences of various players who had way more experience, for example Roger Federer conducts his press-conferences in five different languages, Andy Roddick is very funny and very sarcastic and he’s also very smart. Goran Ivanisevic has wonderful people engaging skills.
Of course, you are your own person and so its not about copying , it was all about getting tips. We learned a great deal from our expert and a guy called Jonathan Overend who worked for BBC Five Live at the time. He talked to Andy a lot about how he could help himself better in terms of dealing with the media and what he tells them in relation to what is going on in the match. Jonathan explained if you don’t give them anything, they will just make things up but if you can articulate better the tactics and key moments in matches then you are in control of what they say because they can quote you which means they are now talking about your tennis and not your hair, or your spots or even your boring voice. You have to find people that you trust that you can learn from. That was probably the hardest thing for all of us to manage. I actually ended up doing a bespoke PR course for three days to help me understand it all better so I could help Andy and Jamie . This was all done before we brought somebody in because that was the cheapest way to do it. That was like another thing I had to learn to do because we couldn’t afford to pay somebody”
Forgive me for using the band as another example here but if I have one regret from my time with the lads it would have to be the fact that I allowed our performances on ‘Top of the Pops’ to slip by; all four performances have faded from my memory with time. Top of the Pops is synonymous with my childhood; I never missed a show so when we were asked to perform it was a huge moment in my life! I can now say without fear I took it for granted. Years ago, when Ross County made it to the Scottish Cup Final, I called my oldest pal, Derek Adams, who was the manager at the time and told him to take the whole day in; not to let a moment slip by as he would never know when another Scottish Cup Final would present itself. I told him no matter what the result he must take a moment to himself to take it in. To finish off my chat with Judy I asked her how important these moments are and why special occasions must not be allowed to simply slip under the radar.
“It’s easier said than done, I don’t think you intentionally let those moments slip by, it’s usually nerves or over-excitement; I don’t think that’s such an easy thing to do. If I go back to Andy and Jamie and we are talking about funny things that happened in junior tournaments they can rarely could recall them and they worry about that. I remember Andy talking to one of the sports psychologists about a moment from his childhood which he couldn’t remember and the expert told him it was perfectly normal because your brain can only retain so much. Of course, you want them to enjoy every moment, especially the big moments but nowadays with all the smart-phones and technology its a good time to encourage your children to record behind-the-scenes stuff because it’s so much easier to remember moments when you have them stored. Ten or twenty years ago we didn’t have that opportunity so it was all stored in your memory”
Just to conclude I spent a fascinating hour talking to Judy from her home In Scotland. There was a warmth to her tone when talking about her boys. It’s obvious to me she continues to burst with pride and rightly so. I sincerely hope you have found this blog useful and Judy’s words will find common ground with those of you who do need a touch of guidance when it comes to your child’s sporting career.
Thank you to Ally Begg and Judy Murray for allowing us to publish this piece on our blog. If you want to read more of Ally’s blogs then please visit https://allybegg.com/