Judy Murray: Why Tennis Is Great For Kids

Last week, in celebration of World Tennis Day, the United States Tennis Association organized the World’s Largest Tennis Lesson and set the Guinness World Record. In an effort to get more young kids active and in love with the game, British Fed Cup Captain and mom to US Open and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and doubles’ great Jamie Murray sat down to chat with Parents about her experiences in the sport and raising two tennis stars.

P: Having two boys in the sport and one so successful in the top of men’s singles, what does it take to raise a tennis champion? 

JM: I think, you know, in all individual sports there’s a huge onus on the parents to make things happen for their children. A big difference from team sports where the team or the club provides the training, they provide the fixture list [match schedule] and the kit [equipment], is that the parents have to make an awful lot of that happen themselves. The most important thing is to encourage your kids to try whichever sports take their fancy and to support them. For me it’s about making sure they’re having fun but also that they’re learning to try their hardest. It was the only thing that would not be acceptable to me, would be if my kids weren’t trying. Fortunately, we never had that situation.

P: Not only are you a mom, you’re a coach. How do you balance a push to realize their talent while keeping a sport fun?

JM: I don’t think it’s about pushing your kids. If you get to the stage where you’re pushing your kids to do something, there’s a good chance your kid is not giving their best shot for a reason. That is usually because they’re not enjoying what they’re doing. We always made everything a lot of fun. [My boys] were always around other kids, so it didn’t become a pressurized situation. Many parents buckle to the pressure of what their child is doing. From 1995-2004 I was the Scottish national coach and that helped me because I was looking after so many kids, I never got so caught up in what my own kids were doing.

P: With two kids in tennis, what did it take to juggle both of their schedules and also deal with Andy pulling ahead in singles?

JM: When they were young it was probably easier that they were doing the same thing. I think for me the great lesson in that is that you never teach kids the same. You have to be like the tailor. You try and prepare them for what their strengths are going to be. There have been a lot of challenges along the way of trying to do the right things at the right time because they were very different even though they’re playing the same sport. I always felt like that’s what my job was just to find the right people to help them at the right time.

P: As a mom—the support system—what were you feeling at the moment when Andy won Wimbledon and achieved that success?

JM: I think I had burst into tears and I had turned away because I knew the cameras would all be up our way. One of Andy’s first coaches was saying to me “You need to look, you need to look your son’s just won Wimbledon!” and I was all, “I cant’ look!” It was amazing. Just a lot of joy that he’d managed to achieve his dream, but also a lot of relief from the pressure from the whole expectation of the British public and media that for so many years it was all on Andy’s shoulders. It took a long time for it to sink in. I’m thinking, Gosh both of my kids have won Wimbledon titles [Jamie in 2007 for mixed doubles]. What is that all about? Amazing.

P: What do you do throughout the year to support Andy and Jamie emotionally and ease the pressure?

JM: The emotional support is very very important. I always go to the slams [main tournaments] because they’re the ones where they need the most emotional support. It’s not like I need to do an awful lot, but sometimes you just need somebody to talk to that’s completely away from your direct support to talk about your feelings—if you’re afraid of something or if you’re really excited about something or worried about something. I’ve just always felt you need to be there.

P: It is a demanding sport, it’s a demanding role as a parent. You were doing it on your own. What is your advice to single mothers who have kids with such big dreams?

JM: I think that anything is possible. I wasn’t a coach when my kids were small. I learned how to coach. I learned how to do massage. I went on a PR course. I did all sorts of different things at different stages in order to help me understand better what my kids were into. I couldn’t afford to pay people to do it, I didn’t have the money. So you have to learn how to do it yourself. I think it is all about supporting them and doing whatever you can to help them to follow the path that they’re going on, but only if they’re trying really hard.

P: What is it about tennis that makes it such a great sport for kids to start at such a young age and grow in?

JM: The thing that I like about tennis and apart from the getting active: you can have so much fun with it. The lesson for World Tennis Day for the Guinness Book of Records—to see 400 kids on six courts all at one time trying tennis and having great fun and making friends. The friends that you make in sport often are the ones who stay with you for all your life. The key with kids is to make sure they love what they’re doing, and so much of that love for the game comes from the people who introduce them to the game and who give them those first experiences. So the early coaches are so important. It’s not about getting the technique right at that stage, it’s about loving what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. Parents can be really crucial.

Learn why it’s important to keep your kids active through Physical Education and other activities:

We Need More Physical Education in Schools
We Need More Physical Education in Schools
We Need More Physical Education in Schools

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Photo credit: Jen Pottheiser

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