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Tennis Coach Kamau Murray on the Solution for Success

Feb 23, 2022
so there's a lot to talk about in relation to you and how you're doing things that are off the record and that are deeply impactful. Let's start with how he changed his life through

tennis

and sport. Tell us about your house. So I grew up in a house of athletes and we each play different sports and my parents made it very clear that there were four of us and my mom was a high school CPS teacher and my dad was a lawyer in private practice and they say we can't pay for college for all of you so one of you was going to go or you were all going to find the ball and hit it or kick it or spike it or chase it so they literally said it literally said that in there so we recommend someone find something and I became very good at it and therefore developed a love for basketball like most African-Americans.
tennis coach kamau murray on the solution for success
Me on the south side and where exactly did you live. Jeffrey at Jesse Owens park and then when I was 14 years old and I was playing, you know, basketball - 630 YMCA and playing travel basketball and not getting a lot of playing time and I was having

success

on a

tennis

court in the top ten of the country and it became very clear that I should choose tennis but going to tennis for a bit was not the cool sport was not there were no

coach

es available in his neighborhood was was not the easy route to take that is absolutely true so I had a father from a guy named Reggie Williams, who was a police officer and my parents, when I was 7 years old, my parents took 40 men to Africa on a basketball exchange trip, so we went back to Chicago on the last day of July and everyone summer camps were full and/or closed so my mom was driving down jeffrey and she saw a bunch of kids playing tennis and she and she worked summer so she pulled over and said do you have room for one more? and he said yes and she said how much and she said $12 for the rest of the summer and she said boy get so I was a true story and like a true story and she gave me a couple bucks for the bus and I told her that i can't take the bus home with a tennis racket i was like i'd never get home so she was like you're fine just use it to hit whoever is bugging you so that was my initial introduction of that tennis is getting a free tennis experience, basically free, and being ashamed of playing a sport in the neighborhood that no one else played. and we've talked over the week and over the years really about the profound value of mentoring role models who's your role model and who did you look up to in the tennis world at the time so my nickname growing up was Arthur crap so I was skinny had a big head in an afro and so you know my friends from Whitney Young and you should take a pencil and ball up a piece of paper and put the piece of paper on top of the pencil this is you and my mom was a black history teacher so i was always aware of the issues related to the afr ican-american community and they used to call me an activist you know and that became my name and even when i I got engaged in college, they were trying to figure out nicknames and whatever they call you Serena and I said I won't stand for it. which would be each one of you well I like to call myself Serena and then they called me trash Arthur so that name stuck with me and even on the Pro Tour now I talked to people about the importance of inclusion and you know and having more gifts minority and us you know being a town rather than a segregated community has a serious impact on all the kids you teach and even more so on Sloane Stephens when she's in an arena at that level of competition and my experience playing tennis when I was young it's that my parents my parents were looking at me I look for a sign in them as to whether I was doing a good job I looked at a facial signal or their hands so two things are interesting to me one is that your mother has never seen you play competitively it's true that he is a person with a gun true and because my dad was a college level athlete who played basketball and my mom, you know, she didn't understand sports, she wasn't particularly interested, my dad would say well i cant afford them all ago so we are going to fall in love with sports and she took care of all the academics, all the homework, the tutoring and my dad worked late a lot and so he handled all the weekend tournaments week and that was divide and conquer in my household, so my mom didn't know that, to be fair to her, she didn't go to many of my brother's basketball games.
tennis coach kamau murray on the solution for success

More Interesting Facts About,

tennis coach kamau murray on the solution for success...

I didn't get a chance to stay, so I had four brothers and we all played different sports, so after school, she'd drop one off in swimming, one in volleyball, my brother in basketball, me in tennis, like that. that she was just making the circle. around you know and luckily the tennis club was close to me at school so it became one less stop I had to make after school thats how my tennis experience grew out of sheer convenience and today and so you played until what age did you stop playing competitively so i played i got a a college scholarship to a florida a&m university and then like every kid in college i had a dream to go pro so i got a masters for free because I was a graduate assistant

coach

and it took me 90 days to try my hand at the Pro Tour.
tennis coach kamau murray on the solution for success
A guy I taught lessons to in Chicago gave me 20K and after the 20K was gone in 90 days of traveling to tournaments and losing my MBA he taught me that tennis was a bad investment so I made a phone call to A guy I met while I was on tour named Bill Steer, who was the CEO of Pfizer, and he said, are you done with your hoop dream? I said it was a tennis dream and yes I'm done. I got you a job there before we went in - I had a second I go back to the question about you in the stands in relation to Sloan, but all those games as a team that's serious competition there's when when: 14 16 year olds playing in a local tournament it's mental it's physical you're sucking each other off parents are involved you excelled at it what did you have that you could be so excellent competitively because it's not like you're that much better than the next person it's a mind game yeah sir, so i think about youth and youth sports.
tennis coach kamau murray on the solution for success
I think that parents can be somewhat paralyzing for the child. A lot of the pressure we put on kids to perform, you know it doesn't help the process, so my mom doesn't really care much about sports other than making sure. You get to paid college and my dad was really busy so he'd take me to tournaments and he'd sit in the car and finish working on his legal pad so I'd play games without anyone watching and so I didn't see the dad that he was, oh, you know, or I liked to walk or go to the bathroom and we are giving signals.
He just had the ability to be free and I think nowadays when playing sports that would be the biggest piece of advice for our parents let the kid be a kid go do some homework let's have really strong Wi-Fi in our facilities trying to build a Starbucks across the street so the parents can drop them off and let the coaches train and just the ability to be able to be free and compete and enjoy the game is why I stand out I don't think I could have dealt with the pressure of an overbearing parent you couldn't have faced it so even in the championship game of a local tournament they did not go in and look i'm not going to look I remember one time we were 15 minutes late because we were coming from town it was a friday afternoon coming from downtown chicago going to the palatine and we showed him 15 minutes late my day i was like you i know i'm missing court for this no pressure i just leave ting you know i'm I'm going to lose court over this yeah I'm leaving you so I'm driving he dropped me off and he literally didn't come back for four hours and I was sitting on an outdoor tennis court in Palatine waiting and there was no cell phones back in the day so it was just me and the ball in the game and my opponent and that's and that's part of the advantage that you had yeah and then we see it and you're in the front row on your feet the tv is good.
I will not forget where I was at that moment. I was in California watching that and the TV went from her to you and from her to you. How do you manage your emotions or your body language given that she? lets say it derives some power from your signals no signals but you know you are your energy yeah so i have friends who do broadcast so chris everett is a friend of mine and renee stubbs who you met and they always send me texting if you go to Damn you have to put your hand over your mouth so I learned to keep p a poker face and something and then the ref can't see your signals as you talk and say things to the player too but it's always just a feeling of confidence and never panic.
I think you know one of the things. what the kids need to know what you know today is there's always another chance you know that's all you can ever make up for a mistake you're playing another human being who's just as nervous as you are so always try to stay calm because I know she's out there panicking or playing in front of 20,000 people and looking, even in me, for comfort or energy, and in moments when you see a really short player, you get up and raise your fists and you can say some bad stuff. words and sometimes when they scare you she just says ok she's nervous like you and you think how important is training how do you count let's say 1 to 10 how important is a coach in a sport like tennis i think that the tennis court is a long The biggest place in the world, honestly, it's your own will, there are no changing rooms to hide and hide, so I think the training is probably 70% at that level.
I mean you never take away from the player because they're the ones out there putting the work in and playing in front of the crowd it's a big deal but it's a big deal I mean it's a lot last night I remember the night before the final of the US Open her mom texted me and said you should go visit her and we have something like this now it's like we're going to practice we go back to the hotel we don't have to eat together I'll see you tomorrow at practice so I've never been to her hotel room all the time time so gimme gimme exactly for her to win her semis what do you say to her right after game practice at 10:00 that's it and that's it and i had friends so i had some friends of mine there Kim Walter came and les Coney came and then Amelie after the game I didn't even go to the locker room I wasn't in the booth where they were going to have a cocktail and take some pictures and then I went down with them and then I didn't see her the r this at night, okay, so and the next morning is a final or two days later two days later is the final or you should practice and that day and then it's another night before the final and you're going to stay in a hotel nearby from the stadium yes and what is the ritual what do you do lets say here that night and the next morning that puts her in the right mental zone yes so normally i would go to her room and talk to her about this is what we are going to do are you are our opportunities, this is what we must take into account. and I'd walk out of the room and I'd text him point by point so he can't claim he forgot and then he'd be, you know, before the game, I checked that it's a night before the night before and then, before the game , five or 10 minutes before you check them out, the two key points ints because if she's out there super nervous maybe there's one or two things that can be the most important things and that's what you do but the night before that , before the final or mom took me, she said you should go see her alone like so she was like she's sweating all over I like if she said she had the flu she's like I don't know but she's like sweating all the time body for no reason so i went down there i had some of her clothes in my laundry room i went to billie jean king's house earlier tonight and did laundry so i had a couple of tank tops so i knocked on the door put my finger on the peephole and she says: what do you want?
I said I thought you might need this shirt. top she said you've had that tank top for a month I don't need that tank top and you know she said you want to know if I'm okay that's if you're okay just oh don't come in I'm kind of like me I'm scared so I go in, I sit down and say it's okay, what's going on? I was like why are you sweating? she was like every part of me was sweating. I'm so nervous right now I don't know what to do and then you try to downplay the moment even though you say yeah you should be scared so kind of downplay the moment saying it's just Madison like it's just Madison she has biggest forehand you know in the game and so i was like alright alright let's go over the game plan so i took a piece of plastic wrap and wrapped the tv in her room with a marker pen and you draw some plays just to give it eye comfort on what to do so i sit down and tell her if that makes sense and she said you're trying to ruin my life so what did you say? she just she told me she hit every part of her hitforehand and she has the biggest forehand in the game, so if you look at the last point, she had five balls in a row: Madison's, I said just do what I said. trying to cut her check in half and i'm not trying to cut my bonus in half just do what i said why was that her check? ategy where certain players are like you know I love it, they're in love with her forehand but they might prefer her to move to the left instead of hitting and moving to the right.
You know in Madison she happens to be one of those players who prefers to hit her forehand moving to the left, so if you put her on the right side and put her in a little little box then you don't give the ceiling freedom and so you know kind of a risk and that was yours it's not like a generalized strategy no you don't want to repeat this in case we had to play our game that was her thesis about one day in particular it was contradictory and she trusted you and i saw the look on her she was like wow you were right and i was like i told you so that was kind of what was different on that night i was just trying to help her calm down but it was, you know if she gave it credit to his mother because if he didn't tell me to come downstairs, he probably never got to sleep. night and he would have sweated all the fluid from his body and cramps du the game sounds Wow, there was a time in your life when you are in a nice place you stop playing tennis you go to Pfizer and you are in the business world there is a moment in your life this is my story about you realizing you are that there was a purpose looking back that you were here on earth to fulfill to serve what that purpose is so i think you know if it weren't for the coaches and mentors, that wouldn't be where I am.
I mean you have parents and four siblings? Need help. There are conversations that you have with mentors and coaches that you don't have with parents and if you have good coaches and mentors to be able to step in and help kids. you know, change the way they think about certain scenarios, so I think I'd be a lot further out in the world and so you know when I was at Pfizer I lived in New York and there's no tennis court in New York because a tennis court is very valuable real estate and a metropolis like that so you know tennis was a missing part of my life so i came home and christmas break and i was excited to finally be able to hit a ball after eight months this It's the year, this is good, Brad, how old am I? 2006, okay?
I got home and went to the old club where we are currently based, tried to get an impromptu game and there were no kids there, so I found that love of tennis again and came up with this brilliant idea to take over the old club. we are in the game and this was so you are not training and the other players at this point you are purely in the world of work but there is a burning desire to return and or at least the flame is rekindled properly and why was the dependency why the focus was in the exact place where you learned to play?
Was there anything in that neighborhood that you said yes to? I think you know on the south side of Chicago we need more opportunity not less and when I was a kid there was a free opportunity Monday through Friday from 3:00 to 5:00 to play tennis and it wasn't high end tennis level and the coaches were in it out of love you probably don't know Nick Bollettieri or Chris Evert but I think you know there's just a need for more opportunities and just so you know I rose to the challenge and how I recreate the environment that probably me saved the life.
I mean, if my parents worked and therefore if I didn't have downtime between 3:00 and 17:00. I certainly would have found mischief I mean I was a middle kid in the middle class neighborhood in the middle class family so I think when you have middle kids they can go up or down and I was probably one of those kids. that would have gone down instead of up i mean my brother was in catholic school you know light skinned six foot nine you know he was the stud in my family and therefore like a third of four children and my younger sister was the smartest, right? the middle child was looking for an identity in a very competitive and

success

ful household and i can say if it wasn't for tennis he would have been the boy who went left if he's right who was the coach who more who is the person what was that person in your life back then, you know, I don't know if it was necessarily a person because I had a lot of training because of a free program, so you just rotate from court to court and take on who was available, but I think there was a the guy who used to drive me home they can't bill who passed who passed at the time and he was driving a red Cadillac I only got two blocks to myself so my mom would always be the kid my mom forgot to pick up well because I was in the Tennis Club the last and then I would go home with Maynard Bale and he would just give me lessons that he learned growing up like hey you know a man has two years in one mouth you know and he was, you know I heard ace more than you talk well he would say hey you know the enemy of the enemy is our friend you are all kinds of lessons yeah but he would say here is a lesson from the street right? sitting there listening you don't know what it means you don't know how they become relevant in life but here we are and shaking so you know it's funny I was at a dinner like three weeks ago with John Rogers les Kony and a guy named Chad and it became in one of those moments where this is one of the Those moments where we have two ears to one mouth and you sit and just listen: very smart and successful people and you learn as much as you can.
How many kids now on the south side of Chicago are you touching? Are you influencing weekly? so we do about 2,300 kids a week 2,000 of those kids are in the free CPS program and beyond that how do you do it? It's more than an idea, right? I think four years ago when we went to town and asked donors about building 27 tennis courts on the front side of Robert Taylor's houses. It was ten seconds and the Robert Taylor houses, yes, the Robert Ella house was one of the largest housing projects in the country. a big piece of land and that's how we walk into his offices we have to be able 2017 culottes four years ago before sloane stephens before anything he says yeah that sounds like a good idea so you know four years later we're done at a 75 % with the build we have a US Open champion we have 46 kids in Division one colleges and full scholarships so you know Rahm called me after the US Open Rob says the wrong call it's like congratulations.
I said it's more than an idea, right? He says I guess that's cool so there's something about I don't write an hour we'll take five more minutes for that so because this is it. too good there is something about you worth understanding that makes you who you are what do you think is your advantage that you can take an idea and it becomes reality? en I look at my nine month old and I see him fighting with my two year old and I see a lot of me in my nine month old I mean he's relentless you know this big brother pushes him down and he keeps going I think the stamina that you know I've always been a person who stayed up until 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning until you know you're done you know homework whoo-hoo right or wrong what was it I think it was for competition you know my dad was lawyer and now a judge my mother has a PhD my brother has an MBA my sister has a PhD my younger sister you know she worked for Goldman Sachs in Tokyo and at my house you had to compete for food you know you had to compete for attention you know the bar was set very high i mean my brother you know at 17 we had a lawn care business and there were articles in the paper about a '69 man walking around the south shore with a mower lawn to the right and there were the messages around the kitchen table or at bedtime I love you no matter what I love and you for what you are or were your subtlety how can you were that you can were that sounds like being in your house then my mom my dad was a man of few words but he always used to say why not and so ok then we see people do great things and you say so its not that hard to do well what he would say well i can't do this and he said why don't you know so those are questions i was constantly asking myself and then the last thing he said was just supportive.
I mean there are so many people involved in growing the organization today and preparing the facility. It's definitely not me doing it alone like always. Let's just say I'm just a kid from the south side of Chicago from a middle class family I shared a room with my sister's love 16 years old My parents never had a new car There's no way you'd build a 15 minute facility in your right own so you know tons of support tons of men but how does someone say that was listening to this? to themselves i know i have what he has i know i can do i know i can get over the why not or i can act on the why not what do you have with you i don't think there's anything special about me i mean even you know i believe that what I've continually tried to do is just connect all the dots correctly so that every interaction matters every task matters and then you hope that one day the picture will be complete but you continue to connect the dots in the process and so you know if I can do either can do it without a doubt you know there's nothing I'm not so you told me earlier today you were on the tennis courts and you didn't wear yes I said I thought you know we're a XS sneaker that you really like you know we are when you're cool with sweatshirts and you said no but i was in it i was wearing what i have on and me and i a kid dropped the racket and then harry im in street clothes on the court what do you say to the kid who dropped his racket to then i was i had a meeting to go to a dress like this i normally wear stretchy sweatpants and mud shoes so you know me i was going to the bathroom and i guess the lab had a day off from school so the girl was there and she has resources oh she's probably used to getting everything she wants and she threw a racket because mr.
Faure I was like you missed 54 hands this week we're so catastrophic on that you know why that forehand you missed when there's 40 other balls in the net right now let you know he's displaying bad behavior or something to yourself. you know you've met Billie Jean King and her big thing is to always stay on the

solution

and the

solution

is not to throw your racquet right if you want to solve the problem that maybe you swing on your head and pick up a ball hit another ball hit right correctly and do it so I think first of all in our building you know bad behavior is not tolerated number one zero tolerance zero tolerance and you know number two it just doesn't help you know if you make a mistake you always believe that the Life is like a maze, there is never a dead end, you just keep going around left and right until you find your way out of a situation and you know that the behavior is not to be in the solution and doing one from left to right is just g I get up and you raise your voice just to leave the kids.
I'm not judgmental because I understand, but do you want everyone to see you discipline that girl and be clear about what's okay? Voice people tend to call me crazy on the court but I think you know kids that come into the community from outside the community so a kid that comes from the South Loop where Lincoln Park they go through downtown or East Bank for a reason. different, so they're not there for a pat on the back or a pat on the back, they're there for a little more intensity, a little more purpose, right? So when they walk into that building everyone's fair game I don't care if you're a scholarship kid or a rich kid your parents stood an extra fifteen minutes so I could get you so I'll get you I love it I got I got two more questions one is when when you're in your mid 40s right thirty seven Wow you're young okay I'm in my late forties okay well when I grew up growing up and I think partly when you're growing up like I said before you know the academies of iconic tennis shoes that produced great tennis players were in Florida, so there was a big gap where there was a discussion, you know it is in all countries except the United States. he was producing great tennis players and now we see a coach from the south side of Chicago in the players box with the champion, yes, and things are changing.
I think the center of tennis may well be Chicago's South Side decades into this decade and beyond. How does that feel in terms of responsibility and also in terms of opportunity? What do you tell yourself since that's a real possibility? I think it's what you know from an educational point of view in the last thirty years. American kids to be number one in the world, one was down with the youth and the other was Taylor Townsend and they were both on the sidesouth, so you know when people say old fashioned tennis is based in Florida. Okay, where's your white son from Florida?
There has been one in the world at sixteen because the only two Americans to have done that and since 1980 had been African American kids from the south side of Chicago so if it wasn't for Chicago I guess I think that you educate people first when you know I have this mentality that tennis should be based in Florida or California and then I looked, you know the environment, the Chicago environment, where is the north, the south, the south side, the west side, we raise tough people and I think that tennis abroad you know that the best athletes play tennis.
I know the best athletes in the United States who play basketball and soccer. You know they do, so I think as we look for kids that are resilient, kids that are determined, I think this city in every city is full of kids like that, and if American tennis is going to grow and prosper, it's going to grow. here in Chicago and I think you know that Sloan is a girl at heart and I think that in the last couple of years, being here on the South Side and having touched all these other kids that are less fortunate right and looking up to her has helped her appreciate more her opportunity besides staying at my house with my wife that it's like you know how to wash your own dishes and pick up after yourself f I think that helped her improve her toughness in terms of getting through difficult situations and, you don't know, displaying negative behavior or act like a tennis brat on the tennis court, so you know, I think this city is a very strong and resilient city and I think we're going to have future champions out of here.
I could literally work. It's almost like you want to create an environment to produce sand. it is a blessing to be in her presence and I know that she is one of the main inspirations, if not the main one, from a coaching and tennis point of view. Tell us about her. Well she's great. you know her message is very simple you know stay in the solution and move on what can i do? what do you need? the night before the US open i'm going to wear them for t two weeks straight which i did 13 days straight and sloane says you're going to be guillotined tomorrow can you do your laundry so i went to her house to do my laundry no to do my laundry per se, but just to sit and listen because I would never play in grand slam finals, she played in 39 and was at her house with Rosie Casal and a lot of class, who was her partner and it's always fun to just sit and listen to her and what they talk to everyone back and forth about tennis and why are the kids so spoiled and what's wrong with tennis and so on and then you know she said it's okay so enough of what's wrong with tennis, what are you doing for her to do?
That's right, she's not doing this for herself and so you know the back and forth helps calm me down so I can help calm down for her, but Billy is one of the most inspiring people I've ever met. she comes to chicago and takes care of my kids but my kids have no idea one she's taking care of them and what's the quote or saying you think she says her quote that embodies her championship spirit yeah it sticks as a solution that she's never defeated she's never negative and you know she always knows there's another you know there's another chance another way out so I think if it wasn't for her over the years you know you're moving on or who you need call or need to comment with someone's arm you know the city is doing what they do.
I'm supposed to I don't mind coming over you know make it clear - Afra she probably wouldn't have made it through and persevered through all the challenges that come with building in Chicago and raising money etc so and really with nothing to win i mean her legacy is her legacy you know helping me is of no benefit to her so you know she has once again made a living helping people and continues to do so at 76 so you know that that's it she was with her on wednesday at the Women's Sports Foundation gala in New York and she just continues to give and exhaust every selfie people want to come take she's sitting there writing she's sitting here with a fork in her mouth taking a good selfie and just so you know that kind of selflessness is just that if we had more people in the world like that we would be much further away.
I want to end by saying this, there are Pied Pipers in every part of life in every activity in all hobbies, sports and careers such an extraordinary Pied Piper like you with the spirit the integrity the passion you have we our country our city we are lucky that you are here so thank you thank you Marie

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