Judy Murray has called on tennis chiefs not to waste the “golden opportunity” to build on the remarkable success of sons Andy and Jamie by boosting playing numbers across Britain using the ground breaking scheme she runs in Scotland.
Britain’s most famous tennis Mum and her team travel the length and breadth of Scotland in a Tennis on the Road van, spreading the game and attempting to convert youngsters to a sport that has turned Andy and Jamie into singles and doubles World No1s.
Now, Judy is hoping the Lawn Tennis Association, which supports her initiative launched in 2013, will fund Tennis on the Road across the rest of Britain, although she will continue to concentrate her efforts in Scotland to ensure a tangible legacy is created.
Judy said:” “There will never be a more golden time in British tennis on the back of the Davis Cup win a year ago, Wimbledon and Olympic titles, two No1’s in singles and doubles and Johanna Konta breaking into the top 10 – it is absolutely crying out to grow.
“We have to sell our sport to parents and that is what Jamie, Andy and Jo are doing by raising the profile all the time on television and they couldn’t do any more to showcase the sport. The way I would go about it is to have a load of these vans dotted around the country, taking our sport into communities and showing people how to deliver it with free sessions.
“ We need activity not people talking about it , doing research and writing reports. We have to transfer the profile and excitement and translate it into action. One thing I have learnt more than anything in the 25 years I have been involved is that it is all about your pied pipers. People who are passionate and get out there whatever the weather to share the sport. Scotland is where I want to make sure there is a legacy for what Jamie and Andy have done. “
The Murray tennis story reads like a film script, however, Judy is still to be convinced that what appears to be remarkable to those outside the family, would warrant transferring to the big screen. Besides the Grand Slam and Olympic titles and the World No1 rankings by Jamie and Andy, any film would mention the five awards Judy has received from Scottish Universities to recognise her support for the sport. This week saw the universities at Aberdeen and Abertay join Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh in making awards and while Judy is understandably proud and flattered, she insists her achievements will not register with her sons because “the boys are not impressed by anything!”
So, what about a film? “I was told that Tim Henman and Andrew Castle were discussing the idea that someone should make a film, but I don’t think it is that interesting. There would be a lot of driving around with two young boys. Since Andy won Wimbledon the first time I have been speaking out more so that people can understand that in an individual sport the onus is on the parents to make things happen. If the boys had gone into football and been signed up, then the club takes care of fixtures, training, kit and transport and pay a wage, but in an individual sport – when you are coming through the ranks – it is up to the parents to make everything happen.”
Judy was a tennis parent who made something happen by creating the first competition Andy ever took part in which came as a response to a complete absence of tournaments for younger children. Using her contacts, she set up an U10 event at their home town club in Dunblane and it initiated her involvement in Scottish tennis, eventually leading to a role with Tennis Scotland.
Judy, who stepped down as GB Fed Cup captain earlier this year, explained:“ When Andy was almost six and Jamie was turning seven, we were playing at the club and Andy said he wanted to play a proper match . Even though he was very small he could cover the court, serve and keep the score and played double handed on both sides. I said Ok let’s play a match and he said no because he wanted to play against other boys and at that age there were no U10 competitions.
“When I looked at our local leagues the youngest group was U12 which was six years away and so I created a competition by inviting around six coaches from different parts of Scotland to bring some U10 girls and boys to Dunblane. It was so successful those coaches took the idea back to their own clubs and we ended up with a competition in Scotland. It was an example of creating something when nothing is there.
“From there I took on the job of creating tennis activity around the Stirling region and we didn’t have any indoor courts and had to operate out of school halls with shinny floors and lines up against the wall. The ball travels far too fast and people we saying you can’t play in there but we had not option because our weather is terrible and this was the biggest indoor area. I learnt how to cope with big numbers of kids and making the best of what we had. In 1994 the first indoor centre was opened at Stirling University five miles from where we live that was tremendous. Suddenly we had four indoor courts and everyone wanted to use them. A year later I took on the role of national coach and I had no business doing the job because I had no experience just a passion and a drive having made things happen in our local area.
“I had just finished the Performance Coach award with the LTA which had taken a year to complete and while it gave me a portfolio and a lot of information it didn’t make me a good coach. That takes years and years. When I got the job with Tennis Scotland, I had a £25,000 salary and a budget of £90,000 for everything from age 7 to seniors, no staff and the indoor courts costs at Stirling University had to come out of that budget. I picked 20 children from across Scotland who I felt were the most promising and created a development squad and out of those players we got Jamie, Andy, Colin Fleming, Jamie Baker and Elena Baltacha.”
Judy, who is waiting for a decision from a Scottish government reporter on her plans for a multi-million pound tennis and golf academy in Stirling, spends 50 days a year with her Tennis on the Road team criss-crossing Scotland, taking tennis to communities that have never played the sport. Getting youngsters off their phones, tablets and couches and involved in tennis is at the heart of her passion for the sport. While Jamie and Andy operate in the rarefied atmosphere at the very pinnacle of the sport, their mother helps deliver tennis at other end of the sporting spectrum, using two chairs and a piece of rope to create a court where none exist.
“I spend a lot of time travelling around the country visiting school and clubs in Scotland taking Tennis on the Road to deprived areas and remote places where you wouldn’t normally see the sport being played. We spend three days in the area building a work force in the community from teachers, parents and students and show them how to deliver tennis in whatever area they have available. There is so much emphasis on mini-tennis and in my view it would be better to target adults because they become the workforce that create opportunities for tennis.
“The investment has to be into the grass roots, facilities at that level to enable you to tap into new markets. People need a public facility which has to be free or inexpensive. We need a much bigger workforce and it’s a bit like going back in time. In the places we go to you won’t find courts or money to pay coaches and tennis lessons are expensive and we must make it affordable and accessible. If they don’t have a court we use a piece of rope between two chairs and recognise that our sport is difficult to learn and can be to teach. These days when children play it is normally involving a screen and sitting down indoors. Most children who come to sports coaching or PE lessons are un-co-ordinated. Those skills need to be developed and it is hard to hit a ball over a net if they cannot even catch a ball.
“I would have a whole load of the vans, like the one I have, dotted around the country, showing people how to deliver tennis for free. I started Tennis on the Road in 2013 and the van was sponsored by RBS. Now, Peugeot have given me a van and the LTA have taken on the support of it this year and in 2017 -but it is only one van in Scotland. We have a lot of people working in our sport who don’t deliver anything. It is no good to just to talk about it – we need action now and this is the perfect time to do it.
“We need the sport opened up to many more people and to get rid of this middle-class elitist image we have had for a long time and you do that by putting people out there showcasing tennis. “
The LTA have announced they will expand their Tennis for Kids initiative, aiming to provide 20,000 children in Britain with a free racket and tennis lessons in 2017 and Tennis on the Road would be designed to supplement this work.
“A British tennis initiative could happen and I have been talking to Michael Downey(LTA chief executive) about replicating the Tennis on the Road programme down South next year;”added Judy. “ I hope it will take off and while I don’t have the time to trek around England, I can train up other people to do it as long as they have same enthusiasm. We need to capitalise on things now and too many people wait rather than going for it.”
Having seen her sons become World No1’s, win Grand Slams and Andy defend an Olympic title in 2016, does she expect the boys to take it easier in the New Year? “I know that Andy and Jamie will be trying even harder to achieve more next year because that is the way they are wired. Whatever happens from now, they have already achieved enormous amounts and made the family and the country proud. I thought it would be difficult to top 2015 after winning Davis Cup but it will be harder to top two No1’s in 2106. Let’s just wait and see what 2017 brings.”
as seen in the Mail on Sunday