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Judy Murray smashes it on ‘centre court’ at UK Coaching Conference

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Judy Murray addresses UK Coaching Conference delegates

The former British Fed Cup team captain, who has racked up nearly 30 years’ experience as a coach – including coaching the early careers of her sons Andy and Jamie – took centre stage at this year’s showpiece event in Edinburgh. She gave delegates the benefit of her considerable coaching knowledge, returning a winner to every question served up by UK Coaching Director of Coaching Emma Atkins in an educational and engaging Question & Answer session.

Judy Murray OBE was in jovial, wisecracking form in Edinburgh. That may come as a surprise to people outside the tennis fraternity, who have fallen hook line and sinker for the popular press portrayal of her as a sullen so-and-so who is a carbon copy of her youngest son.

Both representations could not be further from the truth. If the gullible gaggle had only seen her immersed in her work during the Coach Observation session that preceded her keynote – where, after a fun and enjoyable hour spent coaching local schoolchildren, they repaid the favour by teaching her how to ‘floss dance’ – the realisation they have been duped would have dawned on them.

The Q&A in front of 300 delegates was more like a cosy chat in your local pub, with a relaxed Judy – no doubt relishing being on home soil – dispensing some great advice for coaches. She provided an intimate insight into the Murray household and how her experiences as a mother of two young children, and her apprenticeship as the lone volunteer coach in Dunblane, shaped her coaching philosophy.

For those who don’t know her back story, and just know her as Andy and Jamie’s mum, Judy has been a massively influential figure in British tennis for decades.

She is a role model and a true ambassador for the women’s game, having developed several highly successful tennis programmes that have helped raise the profile of female coaching and accelerate positive change for women’s tennis at grassroots level and beyond.

They include Tennis on the Road (taking tennis into the remotest highlands and lowlands of Scotland, aimed at growing the workforce who deliver tennis); Miss-Hits (a starter programme for girls age 5 to 8 aimed at growing participation), She Rallies (a programme with the Lawn Tennis Association to encourage more women and girls into tennis across the UK) and the recently established Judy Murray Foundation.

She understands perfectly that coaches are the driving force behind rewarding sporting experiences and increasing participation in local communities.

A former Scottish international tennis player and Scottish National Coach, she was also the first woman to pass the LTA’s Performance Coach Award.

So, for those not lucky enough to be in Edinburgh, here’s a quick recap.

How did you get into coaching and why is coaching so great to be involved in?

Judy Murray with Dame Katherine Grainger

‘I started out as a volunteer at my local club when my kids were very small, having moved back to Dunblane from Glasgow just after Andy was born. I rejoined my tennis club and realised there was nothing going on for the kids and nobody to coach them. So I started to volunteer a couple of days a week. It snowballed from there.

‘I have always loved sport but I discovered I loved teaching my sport too. When I was younger, tennis wasn’t really a thing in Scotland and there were no coaches in our area, no full-time coaches in Scotland and no indoor courts. You played tennis in the summer and badminton in the winter. There was nobody to learn from and I certainly never imagined I would end up doing what I did when I started doing a couple of hours a week in the snow and the fog and the rain on the soggy artificial grass courts.

‘But I realised that to invest in myself [by taking coaching qualifications] was to invest in the kids that I was working with.

‘Because there was no one to learn from [in those early days] and I had to learn everything for myself, this is why I’m so open now to sharing everything that I’ve learned and why I am happy to talk passionately about coaching at events like this.

‘Along with Kris [Soutar, who works with Judy on the Tennis on the Road programme] we have a van full of equipment and we have been driving it around the country. We’ve been taking it, not exclusively, but extensively to more deprived and rural areas where you wouldn’t find coaches or money to pay coaches because I really want our sport to be accessible to everybody. So those people could be teachers, parents, Active Skills coordinators, students, club members, sixth formers at school, anyone who is interested in delivering tennis to children, and we’ve been showing them how to deliver starter tennis to kids, teens or adults, with different course content for different ages and stages.

‘If you love sport, I passionately believe coaching is a great thing to be involved in.’

What advice would you give to coaches who deliver to large groups of children?

‘When you deal with big numbers, often in schools, you are also often dealing with restricted spaces. Any Primary School I go into will only have a badminton court to work out of. Often this doubles up as the dining hall as well, so there are chairs dotted all around which limits the space even more.

‘So over the last four years Kris and I have developed lots and lots of ideas for showing teachers, mums and dads, students, young leaders and club members advice on how to take tennis to big numbers in small spaces.’

This was demonstrated in her Coach Observation session where, following a number of fun warm-up games focusing on flexibility and balance, the 24 eight to 11-year-olds launched into some skill-based games in a hived off section of the sports hall.

Judy explained to the onlooking throng of delegates the rationale behind each task. So while the children partnered up and practised hitting a bean bag to each other, Judy explained: ‘Nobody ever got good at tennis without having somebody to practice with.’

Then in a balloon exercise designed to improve reaction speed, Judy threw a second balloon into the mix during a keepy-uppy drill, explaining in an aside to her audience: ‘Remember, every time make it a bit more challenging as that is how you develop your skills.’

Cranking up the challenge another notch, she replaced tennis balls with water balloons in an exercise designed to measure control when throwing and catching.

Lots of great transferrable skills and coaching tips coupled with strategies for getting children active in a small space.

Judy Murray puts some creative coaching techniques into practice with a group of Edinburgh schoolchildren

How do you develop a great children’s coach?

‘I am such a big believer in on the job training because when I was learning to coach all I really wanted to see was somebody who coached and to watch what they did on a daily basis and how well they did it.

‘Conferences and workshops will give you information but they don’t give you formation and they don’t give you transformation. You get that when you go out and you try and learn how to practically apply everything. And the quickest way to get good at something is to work alongside somebody who is great at what they do.

‘I would love to see more on the job training and much better mentoring opportunities so people who are really good can share that experience in a practical way with those who want to learn.

‘So now when I share what I do with people, like with the Coach Observation session, it’s not just the what to do, it’s explaining the why I am doing it, and what skills you need to develop and linking them to our sport. And for me every bit as important is the how to do it and the how to be because you are the Pied Piper, you are the first impression, so speaking to children with a smile on your face, trying to get to know their names, encouraging them, praising them.

‘I learned so much from having my own kids. Simple things. Your kids don’t want to listen to you, they don’t want to be taught by you but if you can invent the games and exercises that will do the teaching for you, then they will copy you because kids learn best by copying. So I was always trying to dream up things for my kids to do, like kitchen table tennis with cereal boxes for the net and biscuit tin lids for the bats. From that I learned that it was making them hit the ball in front of them, making them develop their hand skills – this adaptability to the small space.

‘And when I needed to set the table, they sat on the floor in the kitchen and played. And I learned that when you sit down and don’t use your legs, you adapt your upper body even more, and the hand skills you need. So it wasn’t like I was making them do it for a reason, I was just saying, “What can we do now? What have we got lying around the house?”’

‘We do a lot of parent and child sessions because the parent will always be the first port of call when a child takes up any kind of new activity. So if we can share with the parents and give them ideas and get them to understand what the sport will demand of the kids, you’ve created a practice partner and you’ve created your hidden workforce.

‘Nobody wants things to happen more for the kids than their parents do so I would say in any club, parent and child sessions should be the first thing that you do. Bringing the parents in immediately creates a bigger army of people to help you.’

Judy could not escape the obligatory question about competing on Strictly Come Dancing, cleverly incorporating another coaching tip into her answer.

When she was asked if she wanted to take part, Judy told the audience she thought she had best run the idea past Jamie and Andy first. Jamie’s response: ‘You love Strictly mum, you should do it; you’ll have a great time.’ Andy’s response: ‘Oh my God, you’ll be rubbish.’

‘And they were both right!’ quipped Judy.

A whopping 17 million people watched Andy win his first Wimbledon title but Judy, as it turned out, is a performer with a lot of pulling power herself, with around 10 million people watching her each week on Series 12 of Strictly (the one won by Caroline Flack – but I’m sure you already knew that). Judy finished a respectable 9th.

‘I loved the challenge of learning a new skill. It’s that thing of putting yourself out of your comfort zone and going into somebody else’s world. Even though you’ve been practising it all week you don’t trust yourself because it’s not automatic to you.

‘Being able to move out of your comfort zone is a hugely important thing to develop in yourself and to be able to do. When you come out of it and you survive, the confidence it gives you is huge.’

The other positive thing about appearing on the nation’s favourite television show is it helped raise Judy’s profile which, as a consequence, has helped raise the profile of her participation programmes. Ace news!

That – to borrow Strictly phraseology – was a selection of Judy’s ‘best bits’. If you enjoyed waltzing your way through the article, then you should also read the conference live blog for an action replay of all the other presentations and great learning from Edinburgh. Be the first to hear about the 2019 conference.

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Comments (1)

   
pokeeffe

Brilliant Judy Murray!! Being a Level 2 England Squash coach I found this very useful and interesting. Thanks

03/08/18
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