Grand Slam-winning tennis star Andy Murray’s mother, Judy, makes some telling points in reflecting on how it feels as a parent when watching your child going through a difficult interview with media.
Feature photo: The then 19-year-old Andy Murray a picture of despair during a press interview, having lost at the 2006 French Open. AP
Most young sportspeople of exceptional talent are not necessarily prepared for the spotlight that comes outside the confines – or relative freedom – of the playing field. It is easy to be caught off-guard by an unexpected enquiry.
After all, as a child you first want to play, actually compete, and – hopefully – win. That is your focus; not being asked questions that can be tricky to answer.
And with the overwhelming focus of social media, those unexpected questions can lead to a long tail of comments by persons who (i) may not even know you and/or the circumstances, and/or (ii) do not have sufficient grasp of the issue to be in a position to comment with authority. But comment… some certainly will.
Of the pressures on a young athlete, there is also the age-gap. Often those persons asking the questions or commenting on the responses are considerably older than the person in question (no pun intended). This can also lead to misunderstandings in what the young person being interviewed actually meant.
This Judy Murray passage from her article in this morning’s Telegraph warrants being stated in full:
“When you step into an interview room, there are so many potential pitfalls. If you’ve won, you’re excited and in danger of feeling so relaxed and happy that something slips out and gets you into trouble.
“It’s tougher, though, when you’ve lost. You’re much more likely to become upset or to bristle at a provocative question – and we all know that anger, tears, feuds and gossip make for good stories.
“The whole situation takes me back to when Andy was young and really struggled with the press-conference environment. He wanted to compete in big stadiums in front of huge crowds, not to be asked about whether his shorts were too big, or whether he should get a haircut, have a shave or smile more often.”
Remember, he was still a teenager; he just wanted to win matches. End of.
Judy, who has a lot of experience in tennis as a player and coach herself, arranged for the then 19-year-old Andy to undergo a course in media training
“The idea was to help Andy deal with the attention, the adverse comments, and know which subjects to avoid. You’ve got a coach at that age, teaching you how to hit your shots and plan a match strategy, but few young players can afford a PR consultant as well.”
English media professional Jonathan Overend gave the young Andy (then 19) the best advice, whilst sharing a taxi, says Judy.
“Jonathan… made some great suggestions on how to handle press conferences and interviews,” says Judy.
“Speak about your tactics, how the weather was affecting play, and what the momentum switches were. Do the press conference on your terms. It was common sense but a real light-bulb moment.
“If you don’t want to bring emotions into the picture; then you can be more analytical. Instead of saying, ‘I’m upset because I lost’, say ‘I missed a chance at this moment’, or ‘I need to go away and work on such-and-such.’
“The other thing we [Judy and Andy] did was to watch press conferences of players who handle them really well.
“Andy Roddick and Roger Federer were two of them. They were so good at taking an awkward question and turning it around so that they could get their message across. They also used humour brilliantly. Yes, they were older, but that’s the best way to learn. Study those who do it well.”
Judy goes on to say that more attention should be focused on this aspect of the recognition that comes with sporting success.
“Being comfortable and confident in front of a microphone is so important. It’s just not the sort of thing that a young athlete is thinking about when they’re trying to establish themselves…”
I didn’t realise quite how distinguished a career and life Sir Andy Murray’s mom has had. Google “Judy Murray tennis” and you will see in Wikipedia that she has done quite a bit. Judy actually wrote the article. Her piece was prompted by the decision of the world’s highest-paid female athlete, Naomi Osaka of tennis fame, to boycott press conferences. If needs be, Google and you will be up-to-speed with this ongoing saga.