To understand how Andy Murray got into tennis and how he stuck at it long and hard enough to become one of the best in the world, you have to understand Andy’s family, particularly his mother—Judy Murray.
Judy maintains that she was no tiger-mum, forcing her boys into a tennis career, but nonetheless it’s easy to see her influence in the career choice of her two boys.
Andy’s mother was heavily involved in tennis both as a player and coach
Judy had played tennis at a somewhat professional level as a youngster. Although she didn’t make it on the tour, she did become the number one player in Scotland. Whilst holding down other jobs, she eventually became a Scottish National coach for tennis and held other influential roles working in the tennis community and developing strategy and programmes for the growth of the sport in Scotland.
When she would coach other kids, her own kids, Andy and Jamie, would be there out on the courts with her. Once they were old enough to play, she would play with them and by the time they had reached double digits in age, they were consistently beating her and winning the tournaments they entered.
It is fair to say that Andy’s interest in tennis came from his mother. If she was not as involved with tennis as she was, Andy would probably not have had the exposure that he had to the game.
Andy’s mother was active and sporty by nature
Judy Murray loved sports and that same love for sports came across in the way she parented her two boys. Both their mother and father played sport with them all the time. Not just tennis, all kinds of sports and games. It’s how they spent time as a family. There was rarely a time when there wasn’t some sort of game or sport being played in their home. Sport and games where part of the social fabric of their lives.
“There was always something sporty going on in our house. Ornaments had a pretty poor survival rate.”
To keep her kids busy, Judy Murray would shuttle them off to activity centres, sports clubs and give them other opportunities to play. And whilst at these activity centres, Judy was not sitting on the sidelines drinking coffee, or busy checking emails; she would be right there with her boys doing the activities with them. Whilst other parents were happy to sit their kids in front of the TV for hours on end (or these days shove an iPad in their hands to keep them quiet) the Murray boys were always active, even inventing their own competitive games to play with one another.
Clearly Andy’s love of sport and competition did not emerge out of nowhere. It was not an innate talent or genetic gift endowed on him at birth. Rather the combination of his active, sporty, tennis-playing mother and the sporting family culture she engendered, a love of the sport naturally emerged.
Playing through the turbulent teens
So why is it that where most kids give up tennis once in their mid teens—taking more interest in their social lives and the pressure to fit in—Andy continued to play and maintained a solid interest and love for the sport that saw him through to the professional levels?
There are a few answers.
The first being that he had a good foundation in that his whole family participated in the sport. It wasn’t just him alone taking solitary lessons with a coach. Tennis had a big role in their family because not only did he play, but his older brother also played, and his mother was the coach—hence it was inextricably woven into his day to day life.
The next reason is that by the time he was eight he was beginning to be recognised for his achievements in tennis. He was winning tournaments and no doubt getting great accolade for it. This also serves to bolster the satisfaction that he would have got from participating in the sport.
Thirdly, his mother sought to make tennis fun and enjoyable. Unlike these days when any young talent is shipped to an academy and subjected to gruesome days of training and education, Andy stayed with his family until he was in his mid-teens. The sport was enjoyable for him and not something he associated with work.
Finally, and according to Andy, most crucially, at around twelve years old he began training with Leon Smith—a twenty-something year old cool-kid who he really looked up to. They had a good relationship and had fun practicing together. Both the fun factor and the reality of having someone relatively close to him in age as a coach that he could look up to proved to be another point of benefit in sustaining his interest.
Above all, the point that both Andy and his mother both made was that tennis had to be fun for kids at the age to want to continue playing. When it becomes too serious too soon, kids lose interest under the strain and pressure to practice and perform and therefore quit to spend time doing something more fun or socially inclusive.
Andy Murray would not be Andy Murray without his mother who introduced her son to the sport, played it herself, and had a value for sports and competition which her children learned from her. He also would not be who he is today if those qualities and circumstances had not powerfully converged to create in him the abiding love for the sport and for competition that he no doubt has today.