Judy Murray, the mother of Wimbledon champion Andy and Great Britain Davis Cup player Jamie, shares the games and tips that helped her sons become successful.
When Andy and Jamie were growing up, we didn’t have a lot of space or money and, let’s face it, the weather in Scotland is terrible.
So we were always looking for things to do indoors to occupy these two active young children. I’ve always loved sport and just wanted the boys to share that passion and I knew that if they had good co-ordination, it wouldn’t matter what sport they tried, because they’d be able to do it pretty well.
We invented lots of games that could be played in a small space using everyday household objects. These games, designed for three to eight year olds, now form the basis of the Set4Sport programme I set up three years ago and have taken around the country to show teachers and parents.
- Jumping the river: you use a couple of bits of rope to make the river and can stick toy sharks in the middle to make it more fun. Then you get the children to jump or hop over the river, and progress to catching something in mid-air as they do so.
- Boom boom balloon: this was a favourite for Jamie and Andy as young boys. A balloon costs you nothing. If you fill it with a few grains of rice so it makes a noise – when you hit it it goes ‘boom, boom, boom’, it’s buzzing – then attach a piece of rope from the radiator to the wall for example to to make your court. Then you bat the balloons back and forth. Whenever it bounces on your side or touches the carpet, that’s a point for the other player.
- Cereal Box Table Tennis: this was great for the wet weather. The kitchen table would get cleared, cereal boxes placed across the middle of it and you’d use two biscuit tin lids and a ping-pong ball. A ping-pong ball costs about 20p and again you can make up your own rules and challenges.
- Double trouble: the children stand opposite each other and then, after a count of ‘one, two, three’ throw a ball or soft toy to each other at the same time. As soon as you catch the ball, you throw it back. You can develop the game to catch after a bounce, or roll it, or make a net by laying out two chairs with a rope across.
There were other games of course, like wall games – literally throwing a ball against an inside or outside wall to develop sending and receiving skills – and obstacle courses, made out of anything we had lying about.
And people can make up games of their own – in fact they’re normally the best ones of all. The most important thing is to build a child’s confidence and make sure they have fun. That way they’ll have no idea they’re actually learning, because they’re simply playing.
Andy and Jamie were definitely born with good athletic genes, but you still need the opportunities to develop them. For me, the formula is: talent + opportunity + hard work = success. And I’ve no doubt that these games were important for the boys’ early development.
Much talent identification research shows that being a second child with an older sibling who has begun the journey you’re on is a determining factor in successful athletes.
The boys were also always extremely competitive. Being older, Jamie was better at everything than Andy and did everything before him. Even with their tennis, Jamie was always one year ahead of Andy.
He went to the 12-and-under Orange Bowl the year before Andy, he went on overseas trips with the Great Britain team before Andy, and when he started bringing back these trophies from these kids’ tournaments, it made his younger brother more hungry to do the same and actually do better.
I’m sure his competitive spirit has an awful lot to do with having a big brother who was very good at things. There was always someone to play with, always someone who could do things a little bit better, so I’m sure that had a lot to do with how competitive he ultimately became.
Playing other sports:
Andy and Jamie were very well co-ordinated at a young age and would have been good at any sport they chose. In fact they tried every sport under the sun and by the age of 14 or 15, they were each playing two sports to a very high level.
Andy was not just a great tennis player, he was also an incredible footballer. Jamie was a great golfer and had a handicap of three at the age of 15, without actually playing loads and loads of golf.
I think playing a couple of sports really helped the boys’ tennis. Football really helped Andy’s physical conditioning, he enjoyed being part of a team and it gave him a different set of friends. It also reduced the pressure he might have felt had he only played tennis.
At the age of 15 he was asked to play at Glasgow Rangers’ centre of excellence, but decided to focus on tennis.
By that age he needed to focus fully on one sport, but I’m sure his time spent playing football benefited his tennis.
I’m well aware that tennis suffers from being a bit of an elitist sport. It can be quite expensive to play, particularly when you get to the competitive stage, and not everybody’s comfortable rocking up to a club and saying ‘can I have a game?’
I’m certainly keen that there is a legacy from Andy and Jamie’s success, so we can look back and say there was a boom time in British tennis, there was a huge opportunity, with loads more kids and adults aware of tennis and wanting to try it.
We need more places for people to play tennis and I’m pushing very hard to get a lot of the public parks we’ve lost over the last 20 years resurrected, so there are affordable and accessible places to play in every town. That way we’ll make our wonderful sport more inclusive and can really start to change the face of tennis in this country.
This first appeared on BBC.