British Fed Cup captain and coach Judy Murray was in Toronto a couple weeks ago for Tennis Canada’s annual Tennis Professionals Association (TPA) Conference, where she shared her vast coaching knowledge and experiences in raising her two talented sons, world No. 5 Andy and top doubles player Jamie, with over 200 members of Canada’s coaching ranks.
We spoke with Murray prior to the conference on a variety of topics, including her thoughts on growing the base of coaching in the sport and the status of Canadian tennis.
Q: How important is it to grow the base of coaching in tennis?
JM: It’s very important to have a strong workforce. By that I mean strong in numbers but also strong in quality level. And you need to be strong at all different levels – at entry level, at regional level, at national level and international level. You need your role models at the top of the game. Canada is in a very fortunate position because you have three incredible big profile, huge potential players in Eugenie Bouchard, Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil. But you’re only as good as your grassroots. So you really need a lot of activity happening at the entry level of the game and a strong pathway all the way up to the top. And that is almost always due to your workforce and the environments that they can create.
Q: Why is it important to have more female coaches in the sport?
I think tennis is one of those sports that can be just as easily played by women as men in terms of its profile, where worldwide it’s one of the few female sports that has a very strong profile. You have two of the most successful, wealthiest, and marketable female athletes of all time, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, who are tennis players. What tennis has to do is make itself attractive to more people at entry level. It’s a difficult sport to take up; it’s quite a complex coordination sport. So we have to find ways to make it fun, attractive, affordable, and accessible.
On the girls’ side, I think women coaches are a big part of it because they understand much better the way little girls act, behave, and think, and they understand better what little girls like to do. Tennis is competing with so many other sports plus all sorts of different forms of dance, which is very appealing for girls because it’s musical, you can do it with your friends, and it’s not competitive. We are competing with that so we have to try and find ways to make it fun for girls at entry level. Once we get them in the sport, the retention of girls will also have a lot to do with female coaches because they will look out for the needs, desires, and likes of little girls more than male coaches. And boys can be easier to deal with, they’re most robust, physical, and competitive and male coaches generally find them easier to deal with.
We have this problem in the UK; we’re outnumbered four to one, there are four times as many boys coming into tennis as girls. That really led me to designing a program called Miss-Hits, which is an all-girl program delivered by female coaches. It’s not a technical program, it’s a precursor, a 12-week run into mini-tennis where you establish a social group, improve their coordination, and learn about tennis through six animated characters called the Miss-Hits.
Q: What piece of advice would you give to parents of young tennis players?
It’s difficult to single out just one piece of advice because different things come in at different stages of development. Overall the most important thing is to love the game and to enjoy what you’re doing. Young players can have so much fun when they’re learning and they will learn more if they’re enjoying themselves. That’s the single most important thing – if they fall in love with the game, they’ll stay in the game.
Q: What do you think that Canada is doing right in developing the sport?
My only experiences really of Canada are the three top players [Bouchard, Raonic, and Pospisil] that I see a lot on the tour. They are very promising and big profile which gives you a huge marketing capacity. They are going to appeal to a lot of young people and have people watching them on TV. It is a huge opportunity right now to attract more people into trying the sport. And then the important thing is that there’s a place for those people who are watching on TV to be able to play and that there’s activity in those places.
I visited Montreal yesterday and I saw the national centre there and it was very impressive. It was very simply set out and very easy for the kids there in terms of having the school on site, the courts, and the gym. I worked with four of the best under-10 players on court and I really enjoyed that as well. From what I saw, everything seems to be working very well. I’m also aware it’s a very large country and you’ve got a lot of geographical challenges in terms of bringing your best players together but you’ve got some great staff here and a lot of people who are trying hard to make the right things happen.
Q: How do you view Canada’s position on the world tennis stage right now?
Canada is in a strong position at the moment on the world stage in terms of Davis Cup in particular with Milos and Vasek, who are two very promising young players. That’s what you need to be successful in Davis Cup; you need two very good singles players. And you also need some doubles back-up, and you have Daniel Nestor, who is probably one of the most successful doubles players of all-time and still going strong at 42. He’s quite incredible. That’s what you need for the base of a successful Davis Cup team. So if all three of them are fit and healthy, then you are in a very strong position in Davis Cup.
In Fed Cup, I’m not as familiar about your strength and depth below Genie. But obviously if she plays, you are looking to her to do some damage in the singles. And you have Sharon Fichman who is a very good doubles player and also Aleksandra Wozniak, who I know has been injured, which is a shame as she was starting to play good tennis again. We are all just as good as the team that we can put out on the day. But I do think it is important to have strength and depth, if you are relying on just one player all of the time, that’s a lot of pressure. It’s good if you can spread the load a little bit.