ICCE Global Coaches House at Strathclyde University

By Emma Guinness

This summer, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Games, the ICCE Global Coaches House was held at Strathclyde University. The event consisted of lectures and workshops for coaches from around the world to help them develop their knowledge and skills. As a student with little knowledge of sport, I was surprised when I attended a number of the sessions, as many of the issues they addressed were applicable to my own life – such as the importance of stress busting. I was also fortunate enough to interview two renowned coaches who spoke at the event, Judy Murray and Frank Dick, and ask them questions about coaching, their opinion on how independence may affect sport and their future life plans.

Judy, what was your experience like being a female coach in a male dominated profession?

Judy Murray: When I started out in coaching, I was a volunteer at our local club, and it is often the mums who are linked with kids because they want to make things happen for them. As woman, you are very much outnumbered, and I was always aware of that. When I got a place on the LTA’s Performance Coach Award in 1994, it was a new course, and there were twenty spaces on it which were given to eighteen men and two women. One of the men who didn’t get a place complained because I was a mother of two young children, and, “what on earth could I offer to performance?”

Did you find it challenging balancing motherhood and coaching?

It was hard because it was a one year course, and I was doing three or four day workshops that were all down south. It was a challenge, but it was something that I wanted to do, and something that I needed to do in order to help the kids I was working with because there was nobody in Scotland to learn from.

Do you believe that Andy’s decision to have a female coach was influenced by his experience working with you?

It might have been. He certainly wouldn’t have been afraid to appoint a female coach. When you think about it, for most men the biggest influence in the development of their lives is their mum. I don’t see that it is an unusual thing in tennis to have a female coach attached to one of the world’s top players. It should be anything to do with gender; it should all be about having the right fit in terms of experience, personality and skill set.

How do you think Scottish independence would affect sport? You have coached in Scotland and as part of a British set up, which one works better?

A yes vote would, I guess, create a lot more opportunities for Scottish athletes to represent Scotland. I can only really talk for tennis because I am not involved in any other sport. Tennis is a GB sport, you can’t compete for Scotland, maybe a yes vote would change that, we might be able to have our own Davis and Fed Cup teams. But I have also been the captain of the British team during the London 2012 Olympics, and we had four Scottish players on the GB team. If you are good enough, you can make it in any case.

What else would you like to achieve with your life?

I have just created a fund-starter tennis programme for girls aged five to eight. It is about making tennis more attractive to them in order to increase the number taking up the sport, and also to increase the number of female coaches. A goal of mine is to roll that out, as we are just starting. My other goal is to set up a tennis centre which will be community and family orientated to give more people the chance to try the game. I’ve linked it to golf as well as it also needs to attract new people into it. So it involves a six hole golf course, a real little starter course for families, with big holes to make it simple and to grow both sports. I don’t know much about golf but it is a good fit with tennis, I think, and it is difficult to make tennis centres on their own sustainable. Within that, as well as obviously getting more people to try tennis, it is to build a much bigger and stronger delivery work force for tennis in Scotland. At the end of the day, it is just not about facilities, but people driving those facilities. I’ve been coaching for about twenty years now, and I have experienced everything from volunteer level right up to the very top of the game, so I understand the importance of stepping stones. I really want to pass on everything that I have learned so that when I am no longer around, there is a strong work force that will continue to develop and inspire.

Frank, what have some of the high performance athletes you have coached gone on to do in the future?

Frank Dick: I am very fortune as most of my athletes went on to do something. Daley Thompson runs his own business, and Katarina Wittis a film star. I have to say that I did not actively pursue preparing people for that. I found that when you are working with top performers, if you begin to get into a conversation about what will happen next, they almost take offence, as if you are saying, “you don’t have much time to go.” I know that sounds very silly, but they are so committed to the world that they are in, and they expect you to be concentrating on it too.

What generic skills and qualities have they as people taken from it?

Most of the qualities taken from this are the ones that you would expect: in the team situation, it is to be collaborative and cooperative as their entire focus in life is about performance and winning in the arena. They are pretty hot at their goal setting and planning too. Having gone out there and performed, they are not bad at learning and reviewing either.

You have used sport as a metaphor for achieving success in the business world. Do you believe that it can also be used as a metaphor for achieving success in other areas?

Absolutely. When I speak to people in management and leadership, I say to them: “You have to learn to be more like coaches and less like cops. You are not there to control and judge people; you are there to develop them.” If you are going to run a business, be in parliament, or a teacher, you are going to be surrounded by people who are in your team. Every single one of them must continue to grow in life, to be all that they can become, and as a consequence whenever you are running any kind of organisation you have a responsibility to coach and develop your people.

As a Scottish national coach who has gone on to coach a British team, how do you think a Scottish team would fare in an Olympic arena?

Probably very well. We are an extraordinarily nationally proud nation. You will get a far stronger sense of fighting for the flag in Scotland than in England.

You are a renowned motivational speaker, inside and outside of coaching, is there any advice which you could give to students as they begin the new academic year?

The real problem in life is not about motivating people, it is about avoiding demotivating them. When people come into a job or university, they are excited, and if they don’t feel like that a few years later, we must examine what we did to take away their motivation. In your own lives, look for those things that will help you to move forward, and those which will stop you from moving forward, and focus on removing them. This goes back to Michelangelo: “How on earth do you get this beautiful statue of David from this ugly lump of marble?” To which he said: “The beauty is always there, it is my job to get rid of the bits that are not.” When going into your academic year, think of two things: in all of time, you are totally unique, what you bring to the world, nobody else can do that. If you don’t bring to the world who you are, the world, by definition will be a lesser place. The other thing to hold in your mind is my definition of coaching: take people from who they are to what they can become.

What else would you like to achieve with your life?

I’d like to continue to be a not-bad-dad, a not-bad-husband, and I’d like to learn how to grow melons in my greenhouse. I’ve now become pretty passionate about my garden. Ideally, I’d like to work out a solution to the problem of herons eating the fish in my pond. I had 25 fish that I knew by name, and then I woke up one morning and they were all gone. That is my big dream in life: to see all my fish in their beauty without nets over their pond.
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