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Emma Atkins
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Children Young people Rapport Building and Communicating Organising and Planning Community Integration

Judy Murray: Harnessing the Digital Transformation

Children’s coaches with fertile imaginations are finding inventive ways to stay connected with their young participants during the coronavirus ‘lockdown’. UK Coaching’s Director of Coaching Emma Atkins caught up with Judy Murray OBE, a coach at the forefront of innovation herself, who shared some creative ideas for how coaches can derive maximum benefit from online opportunities to help them stay engaged with their communities

It has certainly been a period of immense change for the coaching world and we are all pondering what the new normal will look like when we eventually vanquish this infernal virus.

When the post-pandemic world reopens for business, it will not quite be business as usual, and it was great to catch up with Judy Murray to reflect on this.

How we behave and liaise with one another has changed dramatically during lockdown and this will have inevitable consequences for our everyday lives, long after social distancing measures are finally relaxed.

While the coronavirus crisis has reshaped the landscape for every industry, its impact on the coaching workforce has been particularly profound.

It has been a steep learning curve but, while the journey in the last few months has been hugely stressful, it has been a valuable experience too, and has once again highlighted how adaptable, resourceful and incredibly resilient the coaching family is. 

Survival instincts have kicked in for coaching charities and self-employed coaches, who have been wrestling with how to counteract the threat of financial hardship through not being able to interact face-to-face with the people they coach – with less work invariably meaning less income.

And volunteer coaches, who are the backbone of sport and physical activity, have supercharged themselves up to speed faster than an Andy Murray first serve when it comes to:

  • learning innovative approaches for delivering coaching at home and in confined spaces
  • learning how to derive maximum advantage from the smorgasbord of communication platforms, apps and virtual learning environments at their disposal to maintain connections with the people they coach and provide continuity of learning. 

It has been a test of creative imagination and determination, but one that coaches – and that includes the new breed of enthusiastic parent coaches, or the “secret and hidden workforce” as Judy refers to them – have, by and large, passed with flying colours.

For those who may still be struggling with the pace of change, we hope that Judy’s advice will infuse you with positivity for the future

As an appetiser, chew for a moment on this observation that points to the prospect of a better tomorrow.

You could in theory – if it’s raining or snowing or there is an event on at your coaching venue – never have to cancel a lesson if you invest in creative activities that you can roll out online, because everyone has got a screen somewhere. The situation we find ourselves in has been an eye-opener on how you grow your business through being on the ball with technology.”

The future’s bright

The instability caused by social distancing measures has been well documented, but instead of being engulfed by gloom, Judy remains full of sunny optimism for the future.

A glass-half-full thinker, she says the good old days don’t have to be consigned to the past, they can be just around the corner.

“I think for coaching, this is the modern world. We have to embrace it and there are so many different ways we can do things which can appeal more to kids and teenagers. 

“I think a lot of coaches have been taken completely unaware of ‘how am I going to be able to coach?’ but actually you can. You can engage through activities on Zoom; WhatsApp; Facetime; Skype as well as through the live streams on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“We have loads of clips showing tennis coaches running sessions which may be fitness-based or skills-based or quizzes testing the rules or general knowledge of the game. At the moment, this is mainly the younger coaches because they have a better understanding of the digital world compared to the older generation.

But most people have got time to try things now and it is about using that time wisely, creatively and as purposefully as you can. YouTube does great little tutorials on ‘how to’ use certain functions on your laptop or phone. That’s my go-to when I’m stuck.”

 

Judy has long been an advocate of developing skills in small spaces and reminds coaches that not everybody is fortunate enough to live in the countryside or to even have a garden. Factoring in that activities still need to be accessible and inclusive for all adds a further layer of complexity to remote working, and is why imagination and creativity are so vitally important.

In terms of the coach-athlete journey, think of these two attributes as the sail and the rudder as coaches try to navigate the unchartered waters they find themselves in. 

Here is a great suggestion from Judy of a novel exercise that children’s coaches can try online with their group, or suggest they involve the entire family in, that doesn’t require gardens or hi-tech devices and that cultivates decision-making, execution and tactical skills.

It’s not all about being sporty. One of the things we have always done with the kids who have missed playing tennis through injury or bad weather is to remind them that there is so much tennis on YouTube and reruns on the Internet that they can pick a match that involves one of their favourite players and become the commentator

“Switch the sound down on the TV and pretend to be the commentator and say what you see. Children can actually learn a lot about tactics, patterns of play, body language and become more aware of what is happening on both sides of the court. And it’s great fun!”

Cosmic Yoga anyone? 

Leading by example during lockdown by trying new and unfamiliar things is another key nugget of advice. 

To mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on children’s exercise habits, coaches should respond not just with creativity, but with empathy, education and flexibility (quite literally in Judy’s case, as you will see below).

And what better way to achieve this than by joining in some of the online exercise initiatives that currently abound.

“I signed up the other day to Cosmic Yoga, which is an online training course in kids’ yoga. It was $300 to do the entire course but there is a 60-minute crash course which is free.

That’s such a smart thing to do because nobody is going to sign up for $300 without knowing exactly what it entails. We can all learn from other sports and activities about how we attract children and retain them – and attract a new workforce – in whatever it is we are doing.

“I’ve been mixing it up because I’m interested in seeing and trying lots of different things. There is so much out there. It’s all about having the discipline and routine to make yourself do it.”

Judy certainly has been mixing it up during the prolonged period of isolation, adding lots of new strings to her bow (or should that be racket?).

“I also signed up to do an online reflexology course which has nothing to do with tennis, but it was the opportunity to learn a new skill. And I taught myself how to use TikTok, as I noticed that all the kids and teens were using it and I wanted to see what it was all about. Then if the kids start talking to you about it you know what it is, and that is really important in terms of building relationships and credibility. 

For coaches this is a real opportunity to learn new skills because there is so much good online content out there and I’d just say use the time wisely as you’ll never get a better opportunity to do it.”

 

Stay at home games

Of course, coaches who embrace a can-do attitude and show creativity and imagination must also be able to share their ideas and pass on their new knowledge to the children and young people they coach.

If it is not possible to connect face-to-face in a physical environment, it is easy to connect screen to screen as an alternative delivery method.

This could include pre-recording and uploading your own online training sessions or classes, or even live-streaming, but simple signposting or sharing video content on social media is an effective strategy that coaches can use to facilitate learning.

“I run my own foundation and several tennis programmes and we have busy social media channels, and we have been sharing a lot of great ideas on those, as have many others. 

It’s been a great way for coaches to share things that can be done at home, and to show parents how they can keep their kids active and engaged, without spending a lot of money. They don’t need any particularly sporty or expensive equipment… just using what you have lying around the house.”

Judy wrote an opinion column for UK Coaching a few days ago, championing those parents who have grasped the nettle and are doing such a fantastic job of leading physical activity sessions for their households.

She wrote that “all over the nation we are seeing coaching take off”, with the circumstances we find ourselves in creating a wave of “pied pipers” in the community inspiring people to exercise.

Hopefully the ripple effect will continue when current measures are loosened, leading to more parents taking up coaching roles in the future.  

Judy’s advice to those considering making the leap from contemplation to action is: “If you are already a member of a local sports club, then ask the coaches there what is the first step? Maybe you could go and assist them to see if you might enjoy it? Or browse the range of starter coaching courses that are available online. 

“We opened our Miss-Hits Online Fun starter course for free from Mother’s Day until April Fools’ Day and we had 1433 sign up. Many of them were teachers or student teachers but loads were parents at the start of lockdown who were looking to do things with their children at home. 

“That was a great start and so much of the feedback we had was that it was ‘so simple and easy to follow’ and people didn’t realise there would be so much they could do as a family to help their kids.”

Coaching’s restorative power

In summary, Judy’s message to coaches is to make the most of every online opportunity out there and to experiment! Step outside of your comfort zone, open yourself up to new ideas and experiences and look upon this unprecedented challenge as a great opportunity to learn and improve.

Remember, not everything that is contagious is bad for our health! Enthusiasm is infectious but in an emphatically positive sense. By projecting enthusiasm throughout your online interactions, you can be the tonic for lifting the nation’s mood at this sobering time and spreading the message that exercise is medicine.

Embrace the digital transformation to provide new, invigorating experiences for our children and young people, and deliver activities with zeal so that your energy rubs off onto them, and you will succeed in improving children’s engagement and holistic development.


For more information on the Judy Murray Foundation visit www.judymurrayfoundation.com or follow @JudyMurrayFdn on Twitter or on facebook @judymurrayfoundation, where you will find fun tennis games for all the family to get involved in.
You will also find some useful information at the following sites:
https://miss-hits.co.uk/ – fun starter tennis for girls age 5-8
https://miss-hits.club/ – online course for starter coaches. Perfect for parents and club members, teachers and students as well as coaches of other sports
@miss_hits on Twitter and on instagram @miss-hits tennis for girls.

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Emma Atkins