Exclusive: Judy Murray on Andy’s London 2012 win, getting more female coaches into tennis and being an Olympic parent
With the Olympics taking place at London 2012, the tennis event – set at the historic All England Club, the usual home of Wimbledon – was unlike anything tennis mum and coach Judy Murray had ever seen.
“It was like being in a Wimbledon final, [but] every match,” Judy Murray describes in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com.
“It was a moment in history, but it was... I think after all the disappointment of the few weeks before, to watch him win against the same opponent on the same court, in a completely different environment, it was just great. It’s hard to describe how huge that moment was.” - Judy Murray on London 2012
It marked the biggest title of Andy Murray’s career to that point, and a few months later he would win his first major title, at the U.S. Open, before capturing two more Grand Slams and – at Rio 2016 – became the first tennis player in history to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in singles.
Judy Murray has been courtside for the biggest moments of Andy’s career, as well as that of Jamie Murray, a top-ranked, Grand Slam-winning doubles player himself, the older of the two Murray brothers.
Judy, a national coach and leader in getting young kids into the sport in the U.K., helped introduce tennis into her sons’ life at an early age – all through activities and games around the house that Judy still uses as tools in the coaching work she does today.
“We have to make our sport as fun and stimulating and engaging as we possibly can,” said Murray, who now does work in engaging a new generation of players (and coaches) through the Judy Murray Foundation, among other platforms. “I think that's a big, big part of it for me, is that you're not going to fall in love with tennis and you're not going to get good at tennis by going along to a coaching session for 45 minutes a week. You actually need to do all of the skill building exercises when you're when you're young. And so much of them can be done in the house.”
Murray turns to objects like rolled-up socks, hand-held bean bags, balloons, paper plates: For her, it’s all about building the small, quick skills that allow for hand-eye coordination development. And – in an example of its success – Andy and Jamie Murray are known to have some of the best “touch” or “feel” in modern day tennis.
Judy’s goal: Get as many kids active and involved in the sport as possible, no matter what mechanism of “play” that is used.
She’s also passionate about getting more educated coaches involved, particularly female ones: “We only have 17 percent of our workforce [as] women,” she said. “We need to increase that.”
Here, in a wide-ranging interview, Murray speaks about how to get more female coaches involved, how to grow the sport among young people, her experience as an “Olympic mum” and much more. (The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Judy Murray: 'My passion has always been tennis'
Olympics.com: The pandemic really brought things back home – literally – in terms of exercise and activity. How important was it for you to stay active, and how did you try to use the moment to help coaches and parents activate on the tennis front?
Judy Murray: In terms of being active, we all had to adapt because everything had been closed and we [were] so severely locked in at times – you're supposed to go out and exercise each day! I'm so lucky that I live in the countryside, so I literally could walk out my garden gates... I cycled for miles and miles... the fresh air and exercise was fabulous.
I also got myself a really good pair of hiking boots because I'm just such a big believer in sport and exercise... you find what you can do. [I was also] hula hooping, [which] is great for your waistline, great for your core, and you don't need a big space to do it. And so I did that a lot.
Olympics.com: In your work with your Judy Murray Foundation you’ve really focused on what you’re talking about above – staying active. But trying to grow tennis to young people who might not try it otherwise. Tell us about that work.
Judy Murray: My passion has always been tennis and showcasing tennis, opening tennis up to more people. I mean, I've realized for a long time now that tennis is competing with so many other things for the people's attention, whether that's kids, teams or for adults. ... I think that when I started a program called ‘Tennis on the Road’ in Scotland, I started that when Jamie and Andy were really at their peaks. And it was obvious to me that suddenly Scotland had this massive fan base for tennis because we had Scottish players contending in all of the major events. And who would ever have imagined that tennis is such a minority sport in Scotland and where we don't really have much of an infrastructure?
But what I saw was an opportunity to give all of these people who are being enthused by watching tennis and by the boys’ successes to give many more people the chance to try it. I figured what I can do is train people to deliver tennis in whatever space they have available. ... [even in] rural and disadvantaged areas where it is tough to find courts. We showed them how they could get people started in in tennis.
I've always hated tennis’ ‘elitist’ tag. Why can't everybody play it? So I really went out of my way to take it into places where I felt like I was really opening the sport up. If you invest in people within local communities who make the sport more accessible, more affordable to more people... then good things happen. [That work] morphed into my foundation, which has been running for almost four years. And the foundation does the same kind of thing.
We have a huge workforce build program where we focused a lot on teachers and students... [teachers] because I figure that teachers have facilities, they have pupils, and they already know how to teach and present and justify them. That’s a big thing for me.
The other thing, of course, as being a female coach and realizing how underrepresented we are, has been about building a female workforce. We now have 54 ambassadors and they're all paid a very small retainer for what we do. A lot of what they do is based on goodwill, but we probably have a reach of about 1,800 activators as a result of what has now become our 54-woman army, and growing all the time.
That's the way to do it, because you're not going to attract lots more women into doing tennis coaching qualifications, because it's not it's not something that people go into easily as a career because you really have to be self-employed. I figured [that] this is the best way to do it. And we're not looking for people just to help to coach tennis. We're looking for women to get involved in delivering competitions and fun days, you know, administering these events. So it's really about women who enjoy tennis, whether they play it or whether they enjoy watching it.
Olympics.com: In your many coaching initiatives, you really focus on parental involvement and access to sport, but also focusing on development of skills all while having fun. How does tennis continue to grow?
Judy Murray: I think if parents [have] kids who take this on and they realize that they can help their kids to develop the building blocks of the skills – that you need to be able to play tennis just by playing fun things with them at home, then it makes the coach's job very much easier because the children are coming into the classes with the skills.
We know that nowadays kids spend so much time behind screens sitting down and they're often coming into sports classes without those physical skills that certainly the I would have had in my day because television wasn't a big thing. ... I think one of the things that always worries me nowadays is that there's almost like too much coaching and not enough playing of the game. It's almost like coaching has become the sport. And so, yeah, I'm a big believer in encouraging parents to take a more active role in the development of their children's physical literacy.
Judy Murray on: London 2012
Olympics.com: In 2012, you were the women’s coach for Team GB, but you were also a tennis parents – for both Andy and Jamie. What’s that experience like? Trying to soak as much in from the sidelines?
Judy Murray: The first Olympics that I went to was in Beijing in 2008. ... I discovered as a parent [that] you don't have the same access to them as you would do at any particular [ATP Tour] event. It was just... different. But the buzz around an Olympics is just incredible.
Particularly when I watched them play together in the doubles in the Great Britain team, [I had a] massive sense of pride... watching my kids competing together and separately for the country. That's a great thing.
When we had the Olympics in London in 2012, I think we were we were in a better position because we had experienced one Olympic Games. We understood about the whole team thing, but it was actually quite a different experience. I was on the coaching team because I was Fed Cup captain at that time, so I was looking after the [women’s team].
[My coaching role] meant that I could see Andy and Jamie a whole lot more. ... I think that, you know, the people who put the most into their kids, getting to where they've got to, who've been there right from the start all the way through, you want to be there at their moments of success
I think [it was] a massive advantage for Andy to be able to come into it as part of Team GB and there wasn't the pressure of [it] all being on him. He made the final of the mixed doubles, as well, with Laura Robson. I think he really liked that whole thing of being with a much younger player and helping to help her to relax into the situation. - Judy Murray
Olympics.com: Can you take us back to that time we were discussing – summer 2012. He loses the Wimbledon final, get very emotional in his runner-up speech. And then turns around and produces the performance he did during the Games. What was the elation like at the end? The pressure during?
Judy Murray: Andy was so, so devastated after losing the Wimbledon final, you know, because if you can put yourself in his shoes, it's the thing you kind of dreamed [since being] quite small and you make it to the final... you don't know if you'll ever get that chance again. You feel like you've let everybody down because you've got that far, but you haven't quite made it. And, you know, for three or four days afterwards, he was really, really down.
It was a real blessing that the Olympics was just around the corner because he had to get back in the saddle again. He got hugely motivated by being part of Team GB. So that was I think it was a huge shot in the arm for him to actually be part of a team situation. And just the excitement of being in an Olympics for a home Olympics. I mean, you can imagine what the difference is with the deafening home crowd every time you step out there.
Olympics.com: What has made the Olympics so special to Andy and Jamie? The Games are quite different from their travels on the tennis tour.
Judy Murray: They've always been part of teams and even regional teams within Scotland [as kids]. They've always loved that that side of the sport, and I wish there was more competition opportunities within tennis [as teams].
They have both enjoyed [the team aspect]. And they you know, they love their own sport, but they love lots of other sports as well. And that's what I think the opportunities within the Olympics to be able to meet other athletes or to be able to watch and feel part of you are part of Team GB. So you might not watch diving, for example, or swimming out with the Olympics. But when you're part of the team, you know, everybody's in it. [At London 2012], everybody just completely bought into it. So, yes, I mean, it's a massive thing. And the fact that it only comes around once every four years, I think makes it even more special.
Andy with Mauresmo; more female involvement
Olympics.com: In May 2014 Andy announced Amelie Mauresmo, the Grand Slam champion and former world No.1 as his coach. It was quite a pivotal moment as here was a top-ranked male player choosing a female coach. But Andy saw all of it quite differently, didn’t he?
Judy Murray: I think for Andy, it was, you know, when you're choosing a coach, it's all about the personality fit, the skill set, the experiences and so forth. And certainly he found what he was looking for at that time in Amelie. Her being a woman... [it] never had anything to do with gender. I think he was really quite shocked at the opinion pieces that were created from that from that appointment, that he became very protective of her.
But I think it opened his eyes a lot to a lot of the sexism that exists out there. I think what happened, as certainly I thought when he started working with Amelie, I think there were a number of the top women players who actually brought in ex-top women players into the sport. ... I certainly saw that happening on the women's side, but it hasn't happened on the men's side [with female coaches]. But then I'm not so sure that there's was an awful lot of women out there at that table, at that top level who actually want to travel 30 weeks of the year and so forth, as well.
I do think we need to make sure that there's opportunities for those who want to, that there's opportunity, that doors are open. If they have the desire and they have the qualifications, the experience, the skill set to do it. And male advocacy, male allies is incredibly important. It's so important because sadly, their voices are louder. I mean, whenever Andy speaks out about female coaches or anything to do with the women, it gets many more column inches and sound bites and attraction than it does if it's one of the top women players and talks about it. So male advocacy is incredibly important, yes.
Olympics.com: Tennis has long been one of the leading sports for women in the world, but a lot of your work as a coach and in your clinics has been focused on making sure young girls have access to it. Why is that? And how does tennis continue to engage that group?
Judy Murray: I think that one of the things that the ITF are looking at at the moment is a campaign called ‘Advantage Of,’ which is very much about increasing participation in the playing tennis in women and girls across the world, but also in throwing more opportunities for women involved in the workforce and to progress through the workforce if they want to. We need more female voices in decision-making positions, and we're only going to get that if we have some kind of career pathway and support system to ensure that we get women in and that they and that they can progress. So I'm excited to be to be involved with that for sure.
I think over many years I've felt a lot of tokenism on the women's side [of coaching]. ... I've got fed up with that now. I’m fed up listening to [just] talk about it. It's like action, let's do something about it!
I love the work that I do with the WTA as a community ambassador, because for me, that is about showcasing our sport against the backdrop of the major events, the major players. I do clinics for kids or sponsors or teachers, parents or club workers, volunteers. And I love doing that. And for me, I think I'd love to see tennis doing a lot more of that around its major [events]... making it fun and colourful and lively. And that means having lots of Pied Piper people that create content and then be able to post them to the local park or club.
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