Physical activity: a family affair
Physical activity: a family affair

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Physical activity: a family affair

7 Do active parents have active children?

Reinforcing the suggestion that active parents have active children, in an online interview Olympic triathlete Alistair Brownlee describes his childhood as extremely active. Both his mother and father were very sporty and involved both him and his brother (also an Olympic triathlete) in their active lifestyle, introducing them to running, swimming and cycling:

Your parents control everything really. They control whether they take you swimming, or running, or take you out on your bike or whatever.

(The Open University, 2011)

In a longitudinal study by Moore et al. (1991) and which used an accelerometer (electronic device which measures the amount and intensity of movement) to assess physical activity levels in 100 4- to 7-year-olds and their parents, it was found that children of active mothers were twice as likely to be active as children of inactive mothers. Similarly, children of active fathers were 3.5 more times as likely to be active as those with inactive fathers. When both parents were active, the children were 5.8 times as likely to be active as children of two inactive parents. The study revealed that possible mechanisms for the relationship between parents’ and child’s activity levels included:

  • the parents’ serving as role models
  • sharing of activities by family members
  • enhancement and support by active parents of their child’s participation in physical activity
  • genetically determined factors that predispose the child to increased levels of physical activity.

The final point is an interesting one: research conducted by Wolfarth et al. (2005) identified potential genes for physical activity behaviours and characteristics. If we look at Alistair Brownlee, his parents appear to have implemented the first three mechanisms identified by Moore et al. (1991), although it is difficult to comment on the last point. Referring back to the data on gender, some studies have also indicated that parental participation is particularly important for daughters (Fredericks and Eccles, 2004).

Activity 6 An evening with the Murrays

Timing: Allow about 25 minutes

Listen to the following radio programme in which Andy Murray, his mother Judy and brother Jamie discuss family life and sport, then answer the following questions.

  1. How can Eccles’ expectancy-value theory (discussed in Activity 3) be applied to Judy’s role in Andy and Jamie’s participation in tennis?
  2. In what way did Judy act as a role model for Andy and Jamie?
Download this audio clip.Audio player: An evening with the Murrays
Skip transcript: An evening with the Murrays

Transcript: An evening with the Murrays

Jonathan Overend:

So welcome back inside the grand gallery here at the National Museum of Scotland, our special guests Andy Murray, Jamie Murray, Judy Murray and anyone else called Murray is freely invited to join in as well, you meet the entry criteria. Matthew Syed alongside me for a little bit of variety. And for this part of the programme we’re going to start talking about the role of the family in sport, the introduction of kids to sport, the retention of them as the talent grows, the encouragement and support required from parents like Judy Murray sitting alongside me here. And to this end Judy, a couple of years ago you had a bit of a brainwave based on what you used to do with Andy and Jamie. Tell us about that.

Judy Murray:

Yeah, well we … I think because I’d been going a fair number of school visits trying to introduce tennis to kids in probably primary threes and primary fours. And I was becoming more and more aware that it seemed to me that less and less kids were co-ordinated when you actually tried to introduce them to, to playing tennis, and also that probably more than I’d been aware of before were a little bit overweight. But I know that there probably isn’t enough physical education or physical activity in schools now. And I know that the things that kids tend to play with that are cool and trendy are things where you sit down and you look at some sort of screen and play your games that way, and I started thinking back to a lot of the games that we kind of dreamed up playing together when the boys were growing up. And they’re all very, very simple, but we’d find literally anything that was lying around the house and create some kind of game out of it. And I started to sort of jot them down, and when I spoke with RBS about it who have sponsored the boys for a long, long time now and been very instrumental in their career. They came in to help us at time when we really needed some help with, when, you know, when Andy was going to Spain to train. And they were really keen to help to bring it to life. And we set up a website which you can download all the information and all the games free of charge. You can send for a free booklet. For me, I came from a sporty family. I grew up playing games with my brothers and my mum and dad, and I love sport, and I wanted my kids to enjoy sport. So for me to play with them in the garden or in the house with balls and balloons and, you know, anything that we could find was just pretty much like second nature. But I’m aware that, you know, parents have less time these days. And not everybody has that kind of sporty background. So to give ideas was great.

Jonathan Overend:

So give us an example. What sort of thing are we talking about?

Judy Murray:

Well yeah, one of the games that’s in the book that’s probably the easiest to explain is called Jumping the River where a couple of pieces of rope or skipping rope, and you set them may be a foot or so apart and there’s your river. You chuck a couple of toy sharks in it, and suddenly you’ve got shark-infested waters to jump over. And it becomes a bit more exciting jumping over this rope. So you can jump over it, hop over it, run over it and once you’ve jumped you just widen the ropes to make it bigger and bigger. Maybe you’ve got a tape measure, so you measure how far they have jumped. Maybe you stick a hoop at the other side so you’re jumping over the shark-infested waters and you’re landing in a boat or something. And then, you create a little story out of it and …

Jonathan Overend:

With the aim of developing at this stage, hand-eye co-ordination, balance, that sort of thing?

Judy Murray:

Well, with something like that, you know, even something as simple as leg strength. You know, jumping from a standing jump, dynamic balance, yes. And when you start to add in something that you’re throwing then it becomes tracking and receiving skills, yes, passing and catching, But the great thing about it is that the kids are learning these things and developing these things without even realising that they are, because they’re just playing.

Jonathan Overend:

Do you remember any of this, Jamie or is this all news to you?

Jamie Murray:

No a bit of a bit of jumping the river, always good on a Saturday night (laughter). We, I mean, we did lots of things. I mean, we, you know, we made stuff up ourselves between us and we were always sort of, we were very active as kids. You know, in our house we were living in at the time, in our hall we had sort of an archway and a door. So we had balloons, and we would try to score and pass one another and stuff and. I mean it’s just simple stuff that we made up.

Andy Murray:

As Jamie was saying it was always a killer when the balloon hit the radiator and burst and that. And that was the end of it, yeah.


That was the end of it yeah. But I mean it’s just loads of things that at the time, you know, we were just having fun playing with. But in reality we were probably learning a whole bunch of sort of skills that would then help us when we started to take up different sports.

Jonathan Overend:

And in terms of like the co-ordination aspect of it, Judy, all this was happening presumably before you introduced a tennis racket and balls to the house, was it?

Judy Murray:

Yeah. Well I think, I mean, doing all of these things you’re doing them as a parent. It’s not, I wasn’t a tennis coach at that point. I didn’t become a tennis coach until much later. So the boys would play as much mini cricket and mini golf, mini rugby, mini football as mini tennis. But yeah, they did have little mini tennis rackets from a young age. And we had swing ball in the garden. And I often look back at that swing ball in the garden and I remember quite clearly really that Andy was better at swing ball than me when he was about four, which was quite sad because I was an international tennis player. And the ball, I could miss it so many times and he would just stand there and give it this one. And even now when I watch him and he’s one of the best returners of serve in the world, and I wonder whether that had anything to do with it.

Andy Murray:

It didn’t. (It’s a good story.)

Jonathan Overend:

And they don’t make swing ball like they used to. I can tell you that from experience, my five-year-old broke one the other week. Matthew Syed’s here.

Matthew Syed:

It’s fascinating because I think there’s a mythology that has grown up around sport that either you’ve got it or you haven’t. You’ve either got hand eye co-ordination, agility, speed, instincts or you haven’t. And if you haven’t, you’re never going to get them. And this is terribly destructive because the reality is as Judy has articulated if you practice, if you do the right things, these are competencies that can be developed over time. The anatomy, the brain changes, the physicality changes if you’re learning in an effective way. And if you have an inspirational parent or coach who encourages and nurtures the motivation and the mindset that leads to learning, then almost everybody has the capacity to become an expert in almost any physical skill. And, and it’s great to see it in a family like this.

Jonathan Overend:

Because like you said Judy, you weren’t a tennis coach at that point. You were just trying to get your boys active. So, I mean, sometimes the image of you, you know, is betrayed as this sort of wanna be production line of two boys. You always had it in your mind that they were going to be world-beating tennis champions, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Judy Murray:

No, it absolutely wasn’t. I mean, when they were young they played every sport under the sun. They tried everything. And this is the whole thing about set for sport is that, you know, we kind of aimed at parents of kids aged between three and eight, because I reckon that by the time they were about seven and eight they had a better idea themselves of which sports they were going to enjoy.

I mean, I can remember taking them to mini rugby, and Jamie didn’t like mini rugby because he got dirty. And Andy wasn’t so keen on mini rugby after he, you know, went the first couple of times and then they played a little game and he ran after the ball as all kids do at that age, you know, there’s like twelve of them playing, they all run after the same ball, so they’re all in a heap and he gets the ball and runs, and he’s a very quick little runner, and he runs and he scores the try at the other end of the thing. And then somebody tells him he’s run in the wrong direction. And so he’s actually not getting his try and he didn’t want to go back after that, so.

But you know, they, they tried everything, but we lived close to the tennis club and I was doing a little, a little bit of coaching on a voluntary basis over there just for something to do, and they kind of got used to being around the tennis club.

An Evening with the Murrays –BBC radio 5 programme © BBC

End transcript: An evening with the Murrays
An evening with the Murrays
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  1. Expectancy-value theory states that if a parent values sport as an important achievement domain then they will provide more frequent opportunities for their child to participate in sport activities. Judy came from a sporting family herself and grew up playing sport, therefore she valued sport as a domain and wanted her children to value and enjoy it too, and so provided lots of opportunities for them. This didn’t always involve organised sport and could be simply playing games with them in the house and garden to get them active.
  2. Judy Murray modelled a sporting environment for the boys, encouraging them to experience a range of activities. The Murrays lived close to a tennis club and Judy was a volunteer coach there so the boys got used to being around tennis. This could be seen as role modelling. We could take this a step further and look at sibling relationships with Jamie also acting as a role model for Andy.

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