Webchat with Judy Murray
Judy Murray was on centre court at MNHQ in July 2011 for a webchat. Best known as mum to tennis stars Andy and Jamie, Judy is no slouch herself as a tennis player - she won 64 national Scottish titles and represented GB in the World Student Games. She is a PCA Qualified Coach and has coached at all levels.
You asked her for advice on how to encourage kids to get stuck into sport, how she feels about watching her sons compete, playing against Andy, training facilities, the cost of tennis lessons, dealing with negative comments, and more.
Judy has created a programme called Set4Sport, which showcases easy ways for parents to play games with their children to help them develop the skills required for playing sport. The Set4Sport book is available to download for free from www.Set4Sport.com.
munstersmum: I was very interested to read Andy had a football club trial, and Jamie has a low golf handicap. At what age did it become clear that tennis was the sport for each of them?
Judy: Funnily enough, they were both about 15 when they opted for tennis. Up to that point, they were both playing more than one sport. When they were growing up they tried all sorts of sports and kind of settled on two each: Andy adores boxing and football, while Jamie loves golf and football.
SenoraTorres: I really enjoyed watching Andy and Jamie play doubles in the Davis Cup and hope to see them play together more in the future. Jamie once said that Andy's game plan is to wait for the other player to make a mistake and this is pretty much his game plan. Has Andy had to become more aggressive in his play, and has this changed his personality at all?
Judy: Glad you enjoyed the Davis Cup. It was a fab atmosphere and the boys loved playing in front of a "home" crowd. The support was amazing. Not sure I totally agree with Jamie because I think Andy has got a lot more aggressive over the last couple of years. Tennis is an individual sport and everyone has a style to suit their physique and their personality. Andy's game is not based on power - that's what makes him interesting, I reckon.
JonnoFandango: If Andy wins a major, what do think your reaction would be as soon as the winning shot is played? My partner (jokingly) says I'm dead inside, but I think tears might stream uncontrollably and I'd shout so loud that the neighbours may call the police. I really hope it happens for him - Novak, Rafa and Roger all know what he's capable of when he's in the zone. Also, if supporting your boys is top of your agenda, what activity comes next - what do you enjoy or aspire to achieve?
Judy: Jamie and Andy both have strong people around them on the tennis and management side, so I tend to go to about six tournaments a year and oversee all the boring things in the background. Outwith that stuff, I have set up a parent-child activity programme called Set4Sport, which has come to life through a booklet and a website which gives parents lots of ideas on how to play effectively and actively with their kids.
I'm a big believer in getting kids into sporty activities at a young age and developing the coordination skills that will allow them to take up whatever sport they fancy in later years. So the programme is aimed at parents with kids aged four to eight, and all the games are downloadable and free of charge.
They're all games I played with the boys when they were growing up and can be played at home, or in the garden, with everyday household objects. Dead simple and great fun. I've been able to do this in partnership with RBS who have sponsored the boys for many years now.
CarrieMumsnet: As someone who already struggles to keep up when playing tennis with my 10-year-old son, do you still manage to play tennis with Andy and Jamie?
Judy: The last time I played tennis with Andy was about 18 months ago. He clearly had nobody else to play with. As I haven't played competitively for about eight years, unsurprisingly I was struggling to keep up. He's smacking balls side to side at the rate of knots and I'm popping them back in the service box. He said to me: "Mum, what is the matter with you? You used to be good." I replied "...and you used to be 12."
TheGrimSweeper: How do you cope with emotions watching your boys and how this has changed over the years?
Judy: I find it a lot more stressful nowadays watching the boys because the expectations (especially on Andy) are enormous. When they were growing up and playing through juniors, for the most part it's just about having fun and trying to improve. I think it helped me a lot that I was a coach and could analyse the matches and the performances without getting too caught up emotionally.
TheGrimSweeper: How did you manage your relationship as a mum and more when the boys were growing up? Did you do any coaching? How did you separate your involvement in their tennis from being a mum?
Judy: I found a great young coach to work with the boys when Andy was 12 and Jamie 13. He was just learning to coach and was very keen to get experience. He had bleached blond hair and diamond studs in both ears. Very Beckham and very cool. So I mentored him to work with the boys and that allowed me to take a step back. His name was Leon Smith and he is now head of men's tennis at LTA and Davis Cup captain. Minus the earrings!
TiddlerTiddler: I would like to know how you balanced academics and school with sport for the boys. Did you have to take a decision at a fairly young age that tennis took priority? Eg, take them out of normal school?
Judy: My boys used to come out of school a bit from age 13, mainly because we just couldn't get indoor court time after 4pm as the centre was so busy with classes. It was also much cheaper off peak. So they missed art, RE and PE.
When Andy went to train in Barcelona, there was an international school on site and he continued to study maths, English and French from age 15. Jamie finished school in Dunblane and has four Higher grades. I don't think it's necessary to miss too much school at a very young age, but I guess a lot depends on circumstance and where the nearest training facilities are. Ours were only five miles away, but I had many other players who travelled up to 1.5 hours to come to sessions.
ceebeegeebies: How is it you can seem so calm when you're watching your two boys play? I am sure you must be so emotional inside, but you hide it well. And is it difficult to have to stay in the players box when one of your boys has lost on court and is sat there looking devastated? You must just want to go down and put your arms around them.
Judy: Haha, I'm not calm at all. I just hide it quite well. There's a whole load of nausea and a heart attack going on at the same time during big matches. It's important to always try to appear calm and positive because the last thing your child wants to see when he/she looks up is their parent shaking their heads, sighing or panicking.
The tennis court is a lonely place when you have just lost a major final, but you have to accept there's nothing you can do until the ceremony is over. Think Andy would throttle me if I ran on the court and hugged him - would seriously damage his street cred.
HandDivedScallopsrGreat: How do you cope with the negative (and sometimes sexist) publicity that's directed at you?
Judy: Well, you just have to accept that it's part of the whole deal. I reckon that if my kids had been girls, there wouldn't have been so much focus on how far I go to support them. The women's tennis tour is full of parents who coach their kids, but the vast majority of them are fathers. The mother-son combo is very unusual. But I don't coach Andy any more, not since he was about 12. So most of the apron-string comments are nonsense.
Shirl1811: I have two sons and if anyone was to criticise them I would get very defensive. How do you cope?
Judy: The natural reaction is to defend your kids, particularly if the criticism is unfair or unfounded, but sometimes it's best to just turn the other cheek and remind yourself that the people doing the criticism don't know them, so it's just their opinion. What matters is that you know what's right.
kipperandtigger: Can I ask you what the minimum age (or maybe height) a child should be before taking up tennis and what kind of racket they should use, and which company makes the best ones suitable for small children? My son watches older children and adults play when he passes the courts and is keen to try it, but he's not even six yet!
Judy: You can start mini-tennis from age four, though I remember the boys having mini-rackets (more or less a head with a handle) when they were three. The smallest rackets are 19". They then go up to 21" and so on. Any good sports store should stock the small rackets these days or you can go online to www.pwp.com for a good selection. I recommend Head. You can get mini versions of Andy's racket! I'd suggest a 19" to start with.
Notquitegrownup: I'd like to ask about the sport/school/life balance. Your boys have been very successful in their sport, but thinking about your own experience and looking at some of the kids and parents with whom your boys have played over the years, can you advise on how as a parent of a talented sportsperson you advise them so that you a) keep the dream alive but b) keep their feet on the ground, so that their lives don't collapse, if they don't make it professionally?
Judy: I think the most important thing is to try to create the right opportunities at the right time, regardless of whatever level your child competes at. It's up to the kids to take advantage of the opportunities, of course. But always to give support, to praise effort and desire to improve and work hard, as much as any outcome. And always to try to be realistic. Not every sporty kid can become a professional but they can become the best they can be if they learn to work hard and set goals. These are things that will stand them in good stead whatever path they ultimately choose.
Tennisfan: My DS is entering his first tournament this week - he has been beaten in his singles matches, and he seems to not be playing the game all that well. So although he hits the ball just fine and can serve quite well, he doesn't seem to win the points that count. Is he spending too much time on coaching and not enough time on how to win a game? He's 11 and loves the game, but has been very frustrated recently.
Judy: Try to get him to work out how to analyse strengths and weaknesses in his opponents. For instance, how do you make that opponent struggle or hit a weak shot? Then put the ball in to that area of the court, but be ready for the short ball, and know what you want to do with it. Other things you can try are to encourage him to watch tennis on TV and to be the commentator. That way he will address the tactical side of the game rather than the technical, which will give him a lot more focus on the strategy.
So for instance, something like "Nadal serves wide on the court to Federer's backhand. Federer hits the return short into the service box. Nadal runs up fast and smacks the ball to the other side of the court. Makes Federer run the full width of the court. He sticks up a high ball and Nadal smashes it away to win the point."
Talking out loud about what is actually happening, makes you think about how to play the point, rather than how to hit the ball.
TheGrimSweeper: How hard should an eight year old, who loves the game, be playing and competing? And how much is too much tennis? If it was up to her she'd play all day, every day. She doesn't love the training or technical stuff but adores rallying.
Judy: At age eight, the most important thing is to learn how to love the game. Sometimes the training and "structured stuff" removes that enjoyment of just playing freely. When I look back at Jamie and Andy at that age, they just wanted to play points and matches. For them it was about "how to play the game" rather than "how to hit the ball". They played in the men's third team at our club when they were between eight and 10.
It's difficult to say how much is too much because everyone is different, but I would say let her play as much as she wants to play and encourage her to try other sports/activities, too. If she develops good coordination skills at a young age, she will improve much faster in a few years. Look at Set4sport.com for ideas of how to help develop those skills in a fun and unstructured way at home and in the garden.
Poster: What would you be doing with someone like my son, who is so obsessed with tennis? He literally spends HOURS hitting a ball against the wall? He devises a draw of 128 players and then plays out all the matches, with the wall being the opponent each time. He has struggled with hand-eye coordination, so this has really helped that, and he is getting quite reasonable now but he is never going to be a champion tennis player! What would you do with someone like him?
Judy: It's great if you have a wall to hit against. Try varying the distance you hit the ball from against the wall. Put down some chalk lines and move from one to the other with each shot. So you could start quite far away from the wall (baseline), move to next line (mid-court) and then to 3rd line (net), then move back. This will help tracking of the ball moving forward and also moving backwards. Great for foot-hand-eye coordination. Also get him to try hitting with the other hand (left-hand if he is right-handed). Tennis is a two-sided sport so testing the non-dominant side improves coordination. And try to get him into a tennis club with a good coaching and competitive programme.
TheGrimSweeper: In your view, what happens to our juniors in the transition to seniors? How come so many aren't as successful? Is there an issue with mental strength, do you think?
Judy: The junior tour is a relatively comfortable environment because the kids know each other, and so do the parents and the coaches. When they move to the senior tour, it's quite a different scenario and can be very tough and very lonely. Only the strongest survive. Not every junior player can hack the life of a touring pro.
But if this is their chosen career path, you have to train them for it and that means being away from home, away from friends and family, in an environment of like-minded people (players and coaches) where they can learn to train and compete – HARD! I'm not convinced we have those environments in GB yet, so our very best kids need to locate overseas for several months of the year.
fivegomadindorset: My daughter is five, and has just taken up tennis and is loving it. Any tips for us as parents to help her and encourage her?
Judy: It's great that your daughter is loving tennis. It's one of those sports that needs a partner, so parents (and older siblings) are ideal for throwing or hitting balls to her. It's also a sport that requires pretty complex coordination skills, so check out the Set4sport website for lots of different fun games and activities that can be played at home to start developing those skills.
Poster: How would you make tennis more affordable? My son was on four lessons a week. It cost hundreds!
Judy: Build lots more courts in public parks and ensure there is a coach or organiser employed on a part-time basis to ensure lots of fun activities. If we can significantly increase the places to play and number of people playing tennis, there would be lots more local competition and practice opportunities. Too much structured coaching at a young age can be a bit of a turn off. Learn to play the game rather than how to hit the ball. That's less expensive, too.
caughtinanet: Do you think the current LTA system for juniors concentrates on too few children at too young an age? In my view, we would be better to try to bring on as many promising players as possible rather than directing all resources towards a handful of youngsters while allowing the rest to fall by the wayside as they are treated as second rate simply because their parents don't have the time or money to keep up. I heard the 5 Live interview with the LTA head, and though he was awful - it's no wonder they lack credibility.
Judy: Yes, I would spread the opportunities across far more children. Overdosing at a young age can spoil the "chosen" kids and put off those who are not included. Kids don't know if they really want to be tennis players until they are probably around 15 to 17. Before that, they are kids who play tennis, not tennis players who are kids, if that makes sense. And as I've always said, it's better to be a small fish in a big pond. At the moment we have a small pond (not enough players) and so it's not so difficult to become a big fish.
Pabbers: We're fortunate enough to have a tennis court in our village - paid for by raising funds and some Lottery money. What we're not blessed with is decent weather. Do you think that may be the reason Spain and France have more players? It's easier for them to access outdoor courts? We could never have enough indoor ones to provide serious training for all interested kids in the UK.
Judy: Yes, it's a huge advantage to be able to play outdoor almost all year round. The weather helps enormously, especially if the sun is shining. We don't have anywhere near enough indoor facilities in this country and those that we do have are expensive. Playing outdoors in the wind and rain doesn't encourage kids (or parents) to love tennis...
CarrieMumsnet: I'm not the best at tennis but would love to play more with friends. Some of the mums at school sometimes suggest playing but when folks say they play tennis "a bit" I've discovered that can mean anything to a very basic player like me, to ex-junior Wimbledon champ. Any tips for mums wanting to return to tennis without experiencing total humiliation?
Judy: It's very common for mums who played at school to return to the game when they have their kids. Tennis can be a tricky sport to come back to in terms of finding someone to play with who is a similar level to you, as well as someone who can keep the ball going (ie control it). There's nothing worse than spending most of your time picking balls off the next court or the back fence.
If you are coming back to the game, make it easier for yourself by trying with green low pressure tennis balls. You can buy them in most sports shops. They move more slowly through the air and are lighter, which gives you more time to react to the ball. This helps you to get your strokes and footwork under control, then when you're ready, move back to the yellow balls. Sorted.
QueenHandel: I was involved in a concert of the Messiah in Dunblane Cathedral, on the eve of the Millennium, and the sense of emotion in the town was still raw after the horrific events less than four years previously. How does a town - and you, as a parent - begin to recover from that sort of experience? Do you think having two highly successful sportsmen such as Andy and Jamie, hailing from Dunblane, helps to give the town an identity which isn't based solely on tragedy?
Judy: The town has made a remarkable recovery and the people show so much support for Jamie and Andy. They really get together to support them, especially when there is a major event on. At the Davis Cup tie vs Luxemburg in Glasgow last month, we sent two buses each day from the local clubs, businesses and community centre so that they could have the chance to support them live. It was amazing, and it's nice for Dunblane to be recognised for something positive.
shabzatron: Given the choice, who do you think would win in a fight: a ninja, an astronaut, a caveman or a zombie?
Judy: Well, that's a great and random question. So I'll say a caveman. Don't ask me why.
Mindthegappp: Do you really do Andy's ironing for him when you are with him on tour?
Judy: Of course... I am an exceptional ironer!
LilyBolero: I hate hearing Andrew Castle and the like pontificating about whether Andy will ever win a slam, or whether Federer is finished... because Andrew Castle was SO successful, wasn't he!
Judy: You said it, not me! I'm told that Andrew Castle's new nickname is Bouncy...