Why Andy Murray's good for women's tennis - according to his mum
"Andy and his coach Amélie Mauresmo have exploded the myth that women can’t work at the top level," writes Judy Murray
One of the biggest challenges for tennis in this country is attracting girls to play the sport. When I became captain of Britain’s Fed Cup team – the international team competition – I started to think more about how we could become a stronger nation in the women’s game. We have the odd player coming through, but we simply don’t have strength in depth. I started to look through the age groups at the players showing promise, and I realised there were very few. We have a talent identification programme for young kids, but there was such a small pool of under-ten players that it was no wonder that by 17 or 18 years old, there was hardly anyone left.
I thought to myself, “Well, OK, we need to address the participation issue and to get more girls into tennis.” I did a lot of research. What do girls like? What do they want to do? Girls are more girly than they have ever been, and I think that has a lot to do with what they see on TV. Music and dance are very popular. They also like to do things that are non-competitive and social – they want to be with their friends. They love animated characters and nail stickers, and colours and sparkles.
You’ll find all of those things in Miss-Hits, packaged neatly around the skill-building tennis activities. But tellingly, during my research I also looked at all the things that put girls off tennis. The top four no-nos were “it’s too difficult”, “it’s too cold”, “the boys” and “male coaches”. Hence the need to build the female coach workforce.
I think we have to remember that most little girls are used to being with their mothers, and their first teachers in primary school are usually female. Suddenly you have a male sports coach, a strange man who is very big. For some girls, that can be a little scary. There’s no doubt that the lack of female coaches contributes to the problem of retaining girls in the sport. There are very few female coaches, of whom only a small number are working at county level or higher.
So when Andy steps onto the grass in pursuit of his second title at the All England Club, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s just little boys dreaming of playing “a proper match in a proper competition” that he’ll be inspiring. Because Andy working with Amélie has sent out the strongest message. Girls can rise all the way to the top, too – all the way to Centre Court. Both as players and as coaches.
For more information on Judy Murray’s Miss-Hits tennis programme for girls aged five to eight, go to Miss-Hits.co.uk
Wimbledon 2015 begins on Monday 29th June
Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Contour by Getty Images