As we count down toward the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, Barclays are offering the chance to win a pair of tickets for both the singles and doubles finals and the unique opportunity to carry the trophy onto the court.
All you have to do is nominate someone (it could be yourself) to be the “Barclays Unsung Hero”. The nomination should be for someone working in tennis who goes above and beyond to help others through his or her actions. For example, it could be a coach – to give you an idea, Andy Murray’s former coach Mark Petchey, a former British No 1 turned star commentator, tells The Tennis Space what made his first coach so important.
Well, my first coach was actually my Dad. My father was my main coach until I was 17 or 18 and it was good, we had a really great relationship for an awfully long time. I don’t ever remember us rowing – I know that sounds sort of strange when a lot of the player-parent relationships seem quite tough and fraught at times. We went through the whole junior scene in the UK and we had a very good time. He was very methodical, very logical. Now that I’m a parent and my kids are also playing tennis, albeit in South Africa, you suddenly get a sense of what your parents went through. It was a pretty big sacrifice, there’s no question of that. They both loved tennis, my parents, but at the same time, the fetching and carrying is quite substantial, so you’re hugely thankful.
My father only had four weeks a year, two of which were spent in Eastbourne. Not to be too disrespectful to Eastbourne, but two weeks there every single holiday while I played junior tennis was obviously quite a big thing to give up, from their perspective. I really feel like your first coach is pretty instrumental in terms of giving you a sense of perspective about the sport and everything that goes with it. Obviously things change and you evolve, to some degree, but I think the first coach is a massive influence on you.
Did you Dad ferry other kids around too or was it mainly just you?
Not really. A group of us from Essex hung out down at Eastbourne but he was solely my coach. He didn’t get involved in coaching any of the other kids I grew up with. But there was a nice group of us that were sort of together. If you could help, if you could share things then that was obviously nice to do. But I was in a club situation. I played a lot of my tennis at Connaught club (in Chingford) when I grew up and I travelled at weekends for national events but apart from that it was pretty local.
It always seems pretty amazing that people are willing to put themselves out so much for others?
One of the big things for me is the more giving you do, the more pleasure you get; the more taking you do, the more miserable you become. I think the most outstanding people are the people that probably aren’t financially as secure as other people but they still have that mentality to be able to give, even sometimes to the detriment of their own situation. But their reward is just so huge that that’s the sort of human being they are. I think it’s a lesson to all of us to try to do and more in that regard – I know we’re talking about tennis – but I think it’s a huge part of our lives that all of us can improve on.
Junior tennis and the junior tennis players’ parents, can be nasty. It must be good to have someone normal?
I think junior tennis is pretty fundamental in probably killing a lot of people’s passion for the sport, to be honest. Not only is it brutal, but I think it just leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I’ve watched a lot of junior tennis with my kids now and I think there are some fundamental weaknesses, everywhere. I just feel as though there is too much emphasis on winning, the kids get too much pressure, rankings already take too much a part of their life at 12 years old and then line calls distort the reason why we play this sport for fun at 12s, 14s and 16s.
Obviously it’s more serious as you go on, so having someone you can lean on, talk to, try and give some perspective that it’s not life and death at that age, to keep your love – that has to be one of the most important things that any coach of a young kid can do, teach them to enjoy competition, not to fear it. Make it: you win, you lose but, and I think you see it with a lot of the top guys as well, they don’t like to lose but at the same time, they’re big enough to lose and they can take it, learn from it and move on. That’s such a big lesson that I am trying to pass on to my kids, that you can’t win all the time so if that’s the case, you need to enjoy the competition. I think that those do give, at the lower levels of competition, really understand that concept because they they’ve seen it before, they’ve done it and they see the bigger picture.
Nominate your unsung hero (and remember, you can nominate yourself if you like) by 28 October at barclays.co.uk/tennishero