Never work with children or animals is the old showbiz mantra.
But on a visit to Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart Tennis Centre Andy Murray, the US Open and Olympic champion, proved as adept at offering tips and encouragement to an enthralled future generation as dealing with the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
For some two hours Murray took part in skill exercises, undertook a question and answer session and even gave away the tracksuit jacket off his back to a young fan, Erin Bennett.
Watching every move and assisting in a coaching exhibition was Andy’s mum, Judy, who set up the day as part of her Set4Sport project supported by RBS and designed to get youngsters aged two to 11 taking more physical exercise.
If Murray was an inspiration to 40 youngsters who had earned places in a competition run by the sponsors then, he, too needed a kick-start.
“The person who inspired me the most would have been my brother,” Andy told the Evening News.
Jamie Murray, a Wimbledon mixed doubles champion, is 15 months older.
Andy said: “I always looked up to him because he was bigger than me; we played all the same sports together but he was better than me at most things so I was always trying to be better than him.
“I’d say he was my inspiration.”
Children arriving at the centre were greeted by lifestyle cardboard cut-outs, something the 25-year-old Scot from Dunblane admitted he still finds difficult to get used to.
“It still feels a little bit weird to see myself on a billboard. I guess the older you feel the more you experience and the more you get used to it.
“For me, though, the nicest thing is when you get to come back and be on court with the kids
“I often practised at Craiglockhart when I was younger or back home in Dunblane and the courts were often empty. It was very quiet. To see the courts filled . . . I hope that continues.”
Although he moved to Barcelona, aged 15, to seek out the type of competition that would enable him to gain a place on the international circuit, Murray has never forgotten growing up playing local tournaments including at Edinburgh’s Waverley Club and the East Lothian Open held annually at North Berwick and Dunbar.
In fact, he joked that competing in East Lothian had played a part in his US Open triumph. “In this year’s US Open final and semis there were hurricanes and tornadoes around.
“Pretty similar to when I played at North Berwick and I guess that probably helped me at the US Open!
“I do remember playing a lot of junior tournaments against (fellow Scots) Jamie Baker, who I’ll train with next month, Colin Fleming and my brother.
“It’s amazing we have all come through to go on the professional tour.”
Murray’s next major assignment is the Australian Open in January and he says winning at Flushing Meadow, New York, has given him fresh impetus and made him hungrier for further success. And how did it feel at the exact moment of triumph? “I’d spoken to people and asked them what it felt like when they won,” he said. “Everyone struggled a bit to explain it. I had obviously thought about it myself. I had been in finals before and often the night beforehand you think about winning.
“When it finally happens you are just incredibly relieved. That’s the immediate feeling then after a few days it starts to sink in and it gives you great inspiration.”
Murray was one of four different men’s singles winners in the four Grand Slams during 2012.
“Right now there are a lot of the guys who have been around the top ten and have been there for four or five years.
“Every year the depth gets better. The players are becoming bigger and physically stronger so to keep up with that and make progressions in the game is difficult.
“That is why I have to keep working hard, trying new things and finding ways to improve.”
And when there are no fields left to conquer?
“I have no idea what I’ll do when I finish playing. I’d hope after a few years away from tennis I’d want to get back in and help out. Coaching is something that has always interested me. It would depend what level I’d want to do that.
“At junior level my mum understands how to coach young kids. It’s a very different skill coaching young kids to coaching players that are going on to the tour. I’m not sure what I’ll do but it is something I’ll think about.”
It could even be a productive family business with Judy Murray not only heavily involved in Set4Sport but operating at the other end of the scale captaining the British women’s Federation Cup team that includes the likes of Laura Robson, with whom Andy won an Olympic silver medal in the mixed doubles this year, and Japanese Open champion Heather Watson.
For now, Judy said Set4Sport was continuing to grow.
“We launched the scheme over a year ago with about a dozen roadshows around Great Britain, a website and book as well as an app in February.
“We have now been looking at the best way to roll it out involving schools, nurseries and maybe clubs.
“The aim is to appeal to parents through getting them to adapt games and grow their children’s confidence. When they developing co-ordination you can then go on and make the games tougher.”
“I absolutely believe that playing lots of different things with your kids at a young age will get them co-ordinated which will hopefully get them into a more healthy lifestyle.”
She added: “The response of the youngsters at Craiglockhart made for a lovely day. The young girl who received the tracksuit top said it was a bit big for her but she’ll definitely be wearing it to school.
“It was just great for Andy to get back to Scotland, which he hasn’t been able to do very often, and share his tennis with people who were able to get close to the court.”
HANDY ANDY’S LIFE IN FAST LANE
Andy Murray revealed that a favourite memory of this golden year had to be competing in the Olympics where he had the opportunity to mix with a range of athletes from different sports in London.
The admission came as the US Open champion faced questions from eager schoolchildren, who also elicited that the Dunblane ace had a special affection for speed.
“I’ve always enjoyed football but I most like go-karting with my friends,” said Murray, who passed a query about his early tennis prowess to mum Judy.
She recalled: “Andy first had a tennis racquet aged two and would hit balls around the hall.
“By the time he was five he played a first proper match at our local club. He lost!”
If that loss was to older brother Jamie then clearly there are no hard feelings.
Andy was asked by another young enthusiast: “Do you argue with your brother?”
A clearly amused Andy replied: “Not so much
After satisfying the curiosities, Murray invited his interrogators to guess what was inside his giant tennis holdall.
Those able to guess successfully got to take away the contents which ranged from signed tennis balls to socks, sweat bands, a hat and even a pair of shorts.
One lucky girl, keen to know if the bag contained a jacket, was given the tracksuit top from off Andy’s back.
RALLY GOOD WAY TO GET INTO SPORT
Set4Sport, supported by RBS, requires no expensive equipment and is based on ten core activities which can be undertaken in a garden or even indoors.
Youngsters are encouraged to develop co-ordination, balance and running skills using simple games; for example Judy Murray revealed that one of the secrets of elder son Jamie’s success as a doubles player could be traced back to playing tennis with a balloon using a sofa in the family home as a net.
“That helped develop the type of fast hands needed for doubles,” Judy told the Craiglockhart audience.
Another favourite with the Edinburgh youngsters involved chasing a ball before it went underneath a bridge made of corn flake packets”!
The fact that technique is acquired without the youngsters realising it is another boost as Set4sport showcases easy and accessible ways for parents to play with their children all the time developing the skills required for playing sport. For further information visit www.set4sport.com.