In Part II of an extensive interview, Kamau Murray reflects on his coaching philosophy, how it has changed over the years, and what it takes to build a champion.
WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen
August 13, 2019

Read Part I of Kamau Murray's interview here

WTA Insider: What's your coaching philosophy?
Murray:
I think that there are principles that I think you can have. Commitment is No.1. Discipline is No.2. Flexibility is No.3, and then Temperament is No.4. 

I think those four things should be present in whatever philosophy or game style or approach you're going to take with a player. I'm a big believer in players and coaches commitment being aligned. They both have the same level of commitment. 

If I had to sum up my philosophy in a more simple fashion, I will say just meeting the player where they are. You're coaching different players with different backgrounds, have different challenges, and are at different stages in their life. 

Some of the players I have back at home are just learning how to hit the ball. So we meet them right there. Doesn't matter who you are as a person right now if you can't hit the ball in the court. Some of the players can hit the ball and you can say ok, let's work on you. 

And sometimes they're not ready. But you try to meet them where they are and you see if it's a fit. If it's not a fit then come back to me when you're ready. It's very interesting. The job changes every day. 

"Over the years, I went from 80% on the court, 20% off the court, and now it's the reverse."

WTA Insider: How has your coaching philosophy changed over time? 
Murray:
Early on, I think I was probably like most coaches where I was X and O's, more time on court, more forehands and backhands, more technical changes, more tweaking. Over the years I've kind of shifted the scale to start to address more of the off-court things and some of the interpersonal things that affect how they use those tools. 

Especially at this level, a lot of them come with a pretty complete toolbox. Only those who are willing to do the hard things and the different things, and address who they are as a person and analyze whether who they are as a person helps them or hurts them as a tennis player, can do great things.

Now I spend a lot more time looking at that and helping them become more self-aware and more honest. Over the years, I went from 80% on the court, 20% off the court, and now it's the reverse. Hitting the ball is easy. I always make the joke: you know, there's more in than out. The court is really big. There's more in than out. The little alleys on the side? There's three big boxes in the middle. 

So hitting the ball is easy, but understanding why at certain times you find it hard to hit the ball, that doesn't come if people aren't honest, if they're not constantly trying to grow as a person.  

"If you win one Grand Slam you go to the Hall of Fame. That is only deserving of those who do the hard work, not the easy work."

The thing about tennis is, when we're on the court, I'm talking about your forehand and I'm talking about your serve. I'm not talking about you. But when I say here are the things that you're doing off the court that I think affect your tennis, then it becomes very personal. 

Only those that are willing to take that on and address it and make the changes are those who win the Grand Slam, get to the final, win a Premier Mandatory. Only those who accept that challenge. 

If you win one Grand Slam you go to the Hall of Fame. That is only deserving of those who do the hard work, not the easy work. Putting the ball on the racquet in that box? That's easy. It's putting yourself in a difficult situation and really changing you as a person. It's hard. 

If you aren't willing to do that, you don't deserve to win a Slam. 

WTA Insider: How do you help a player balance the pressure of expectation while continuing to fuel their ambition?
Murray:
I think that the biggest thing is for players to accept this week's circumstances and not try to duplicate last week's circumstances. Last week was last week. This week is a whole new week. If you look at the number of players on tour that win a tournament and lose first round, it's the idea that I'm going to pick up what happened last week and put it this week. 

Wind is different, court's different, sun is different, temperature is different, balls are different. Stringers are different. Some people got a heavy hand at 54. Some people are very light on their 54. Everything is different. If you don't reset and let it go, then you will crash and burn in trying to replicate something that you cannot.

It takes a lot of help from the player. For you to know where they are this week versus last week, it takes them talking. It takes a very mature person to talk. Tennis players spend so much time in isolation as kids that they're not as proactive when it comes to communication. So you try to draw it out and take the back door in, asking questions that are totally unrelated to get them talking, and then you go at them more directly. 

If you go right at them they just get too scared and they shy away. You just try and generate a general conversation and then once you finally open them, then address what you really want to know. That's probably the biggest piece where the player has to take the lead and say, hey, I'm feeling this way. It doesn't always happen. Which is why I think you see these up and down weeks. 

The coaches always tread lightly. You don't want to bring up the elephant in the room. Maybe he's not in the room. Maybe I shouldn't bring it up, maybe she's ok. Then after the match you're like damn, they weren't ok! 

So the player has to lead and be willing to be vulnerable and it takes a very mature player to do that. 

I think those who have reached the mountaintop are better at it than those who have not. Those who have gotten there, they're like ok, I got that. It's in the bag. Now, let me tell you how I'm feeling. They want to duplicate it, they like that feeling of winning. So they're fine saying, I'm going to look silly for 30 minutes because I need you to help me, but I want you to help me get there again. 

Those who maybe haven't been there are probably not in tune with how important it is to have someone addressing the mental part. Once you reach the mountaintop you take this deep exhale because you realize, wow, that was mentally draining. That took a lot out of me, mentally. 

It took a lot out of me. Now I know what it takes. These last two weeks I locked in, I sacrificed this, and now I know that this result is related to the sacrifice, not the forehand.

For others it's like, I was hitting the ball well this week! Right. That's not going to help you.

WTA Insider: So what's a bad day?
Murray:
I think a bad day is when you know you didn't reach them. You know they didn't walk off the court clear and they didn't feel good about what they just did. As a coach, that's a bad day. I failed to say the right words or say it in a different way, communicating in a way they could understand right. 

That's a bad day.

WTA Insider: What's a good day for you?
Murray:
For me, every day is a good day. I got my family at home and my kids, every day is a great day for me. 

But as a coach. You want to walk off the court with a player saying that was great, thank you, I think I understand now, The player walks off the court feeling good, they feel like they made progress. That's a good day. 

The goal is to make them feel great. That's the job, to make them feel like they are more than they are.