Imagine the scene, it’s a few years ago now, and the youngster who would grow up to become Scotland’s greatest tennis export is throwing a ping pong ball over a wall of cereal boxes.
He may well have been craving the chance to slump in front of the PlayStation or fire up the Nintendo. Mum Judy, however, had other plans. Out from the cupboard would come the boxes to create a makeshift obstacle for a ball, or a balloon filled with a little rice to be patted up and over a rope strewn across the hall of the family home.
On occasions, there’d be a jumping game with imaginary sharks, a “river” created from two pieces of rope and the challenge to get across without falling in.
It must have done some good. For next week Andy Murray will head on to the centre court at Wimbledon in peak sporting condition, while his mum Judy watches anxiously from the sidelines.
Of course for the rest of us harassed parents, getting to grips with raising our children’s activity levels into “move mode” often involves driving them to a sports club, swimming or football session to be trained by someone else while we wait in the car checking our Facebook status updates on the phone.
Or worse, we’ll settle for just supplying them with a new set of batteries for the Wii, hoping they might be tempted to dust down the Wii Fit but knowing they’ll probably just end up playing Donkey Kong instead.
Now as the long summer holidays loom ahead, there’s the horrifying prospect of trying to keep youngsters on their toes, activity levels up and actually doing something for week after week after horrendous week that doesn’t involve a television set.
According to the tennis ace’s mum Judy Murray, it’s time for parents to pitch in and discover how to play the game themselves – for the good of everyone’s health.
“I’d often see parents come along to tennis clubs, enrol their kids and then go, leaving other people to do the active sporting stuff with them,” she explains.
“Many parents don’t have a sporting background and they don’t have a raft of ideas of how to actually play actively with their children.”
Judy, who coached both her sons Andrew and Jamie during their early tennis careers, will be at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston tomorrow, where she will share her personal tips on how to get kids moving more through her unique Set4Sport app and website which both feature fun games and free ideas for parents and children to play together.
And she warns that a shortfall in the amount of PE on offer in schools, poor school gym facilities, a lack of specially trained PE teachers and today’s modern age of video games and endless television, means parents need to step up if they want their children to move more.
The hope is that by encouraging them to become more “hands on” in their children’s sport activities, not only will everyone get healthier, but parent-child bonds will strengthen too.
Of course, it might be easier said than done. Lousy Scottish weather such as last year’s wash-out summer often means it’s far easier to stay inside in front of the box than venture outside. But according to Judy, even reluctant children encouraged to play a silly game – like the ping pong game with boxes for a “net” and biscuit tin lids for bats – often find they end up enjoying the fun.
“My children became well co-ordinated and in a good position to play sport competitively because they had parents and grandparents who would play with them,” she points out. “My parents played a lot of sports with me in the garden – they were always making up games for me.
“And the bond you create when playing games with your children is huge.”
According to the NHS, prising children from the television set is vital in the fight against childhood obesity, as well as laying down the foundations for healthy attitudes in the future.
It recommends that five to 18-year-olds engage in three different types of physical activity a week just to maintain a basic level of health. It suggests that they engage in at least an hour of moderate activity daily – such as skateboarding, cycling or just playing tig in a playground – and three times a week muscle strengthening activities like push-ups or gymnastics, plus the same again for bone strengthening exercises such as running, hopscotch or climbing.
Clearly getting children exercising has seldom been more vital: one recent report revealed nearly one in nine Lothian P1 pupils are classed as overweight and 3.4 per cent are clinically obese. Some 2.4 per cent of children measured – nearly 200 pupils – were “severely obese”.
The report also showed that children in deprived areas are more likely to be overweight, and that boys in primary one were two per cent more likely to have an unhealthy body weight than girls.
While the figures do show an improvement on recent years – with 85.4 per cent of Lothian youngsters classed as being a healthy weight – experts have warned that further work is needed with the number of overweight or obese children still too high.
Various programmes like the NHS Lothian Get Going initiative – which offers free courses to help families reach a healthy weight and increase activity levels – along with the Health 4 U scheme which targets teenage girls are said to have helped improve the statistics.
But according to the tennis ace’s mum, improving our children’s health – particularly during the long summer break when it’s tempting to slump in front of the box for hour after hour – is a family affair. “It’s great to see parents having fun with their kids. You don’t have to be very sporty or very athletic, you just need a small space and some games and a bit of imagination.
“We’ve become very TV and computer orientated, children end up sitting on their backsides watching DVDs or playing with iPads. It’s about getting back to basics, helping kids develop these physical skills which will not just help them play sport, but develop their confidence and social interaction.
“There’s so much sport can do. It can’t be a case of ‘drop your kids off and let someone else play with them’.”
• Judy Murray will be at the Royal Highland Show, Edinburgh, on June 22 to chat about the Set4Sport campaign, supported by Royal Bank of Scotland. For more details, go to www.set4sport.com
Five sporty ideas
Stuck for sporty ideas to get the kids moving this summer? While Judy Murray wants parents to get more hands-on with their children’s activities, it’s not always possible. Luckily, there are alternatives...
1. WORK UP A SWEAT... get little people moving by booking one of the many Edinburgh Leisure sports sessions which run throughout the summer holidays. Activator camps offer full day fun for children from five to 15, with 12 different sports camps running on every week through the holidays. Choose from dance, gymnastics, golf, tennis and many others. There’s even a week-long trampoline camp to have them bouncing with good health. Details from www.edinburghleisure.co.uk
2. DROP THEM IN IT... in the water that is. Edinburgh Leisure also has a variety of swimming camps and sessions to suit various abilities, all supervised and with plenty of fun and games thrown in. The swim courses run throughout the summer holidays. For prices, times and details go to www.edinburghleisure.co.uk.
3. HOW DO YOU DO CANOE... Forth Canoe Club runs summer courses for eight to 12-year-olds, a great chance to try plastic boats, slalom boats and sprint boats. From the club’s base at Harrison Road Bridge, Polwarth, youngsters can learn the basics, develop skills and finish up with a chance to join the club for regular canoe training. Costs £60 for five days, details from email@example.com or 07946 975462.
4. ANYONE FOR TENNIS... can’t avoid it for the next few weeks, might as well join in. Mortonhall Tennis Club is running four weeks of camps for budding Andy Murrays and Laura Robsons. Aimed at children from five to 16, beginners to junior team players. Prices from £37.50. www.mortonhalltennis.org.uk
5. GET IN THE SWING... a week’s golf coaching isn’t cheap – expect to pay upwards of £200 for a week-long golf camp at Dalmahoy with professional Scott Dixon’s Brainy Golf camp. (www.scottdixon.co.uk). Or try Saturday hour-long drop-in golf coaching sessions with a golf pro at the 12-hole course at The Hermitage, Braid Hill Drive. www.hermitagescotland.co.uk for details.