Andy Murray’s fitness coach talks dream jobs and forfeits

Andy Murray's coach on the fitness side, Matt Little

If you’re an Andy Murray fan there’s a chance you’ll recognise his fitness trainer Matt Little.

The 41-year-old, who is affectionately known as ‘Treacle’, has worked with the former world No.1 and two-time Wimbledon champion for more than a decade.

Ahead of The Championships, which start on Monday and run until 15 July, Matt tells Relax Ya Self to Health how he landed his dream job, the antics he gets up to with Andy and why it’s hard to stay healthy on tour.

Matt, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak to us. You’re a fitness expert and Andy Murray’s coach in this department. How did you get the job?  

I started working with Jamie [Andy Murray’s brother] the year he won the Mixed Doubles with Jelena Jankovic in 2007 and met Andy vicariously through that. We chatted a little and then met again at Nigel Sear’s 50th birthday party [Nigel is the father of Andy’s wife Kim]. We had an hour-long conversation. A couple of months later I started working as a junior member of Andy’s team.

Why is your nickname Treacle?

When I first started working with Andy Murray and the team, I used to play upon the fact that I had a bit of a cockney accent. So I’d walk around all day calling everyone else treacle. The guys thought this was very funny and somehow it ended up as my nickname. My mates from home think it’s hilarious that I’m called Treacle, but now I also think its strange when someone calls me Matt. I guess you could call it an identity crisis. [LAUGHS]

Did you always want to become a tennis strength and conditioning coach?

By the time I’d reached the age of 16, I knew I wanted a career in tennis and knew I wasn’t going to be good enough to make any sort of a living playing it. I especially enjoyed the physical side. I used to be a member of Sutton Junior Tennis Centre and every Sunday we’d do the bleep test and boxing training with a chap called Johnny Langley. I absolutely loved it. So I set about getting the right qualifications. I started working with juniors, volunteering and getting a few low-level kinds of jobs with more national level players. Except by my mid-twenties, I’d hit a bit of a plateau and wasn’t getting any further up the ladder.

You work with ATP players – namely  Andy  – but have trained others too. How did you get your foot in the door?

I decided to go to Australia for a year and shadow the best tennis players and coaches out there. Before I left the UK, I wrote to all the state tennis centres and ended up working for Western Australian Tennis. I went to Melbourne, then Sydney and basically just did that for a year. As luck or fate would have it the coach who employed me in Perth had a British wife and came over to the UK to work for the LTA. When I got back from Australia he was already working at the tennis academy at Loughborough and suggested I apply for the job. I started working with the British juniors there for around five years and then moved to the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton to work with the better senior players. It’s hard to believe I’ve worked in tennis for 20 years.

Matt Little

What’s it like being part of Team Murray?

My role has changed a lot. When I first started ten years ago I was more of an assistant tennis strength and conditioning coach so I was helping Jez Green [former fitness trainer] implement the programme on the weeks he wasn’t there, throwing in a few ideas and bits and bobs myself but mainly worked as an assistant. When Jez moved on in 2014 my role switched quite dramatically because I went from being one of the least experienced in the team to one of the most experienced. My role’s quite broad now. I manage Andy’s off-court training as well as writing and delivering his programme and manage the support team.

Do you ever play tennis with Andy?

Occasionally, yes. It’s more for humiliation than anything. He will call me out on the court in front of the fans because he knows I love to play, give me his racket which weighs about ten kilos [laughs] and hit second serves to my backhands so I shank balls out of the court. My backhand is my worst shot.  When we first started working together a lot of funny stuff happened. We’d play football tennis over the net and the loser had to do a forfeit. There are about 2,000 horrendous forfeits I can list! One involved wearing a pink velour tracksuit to an exhibition and stripping in front of the crowd. Another involved a naked ice bath.

Matt Little

How would you describe your personality?

I’m not particularly fiery or confrontational so I suppose I’m like the glue that sticks everyone together. Often people think that to work in elite sport you have to be quite confrontational and edgy all the time but I’m actually the opposite and it’s actually served me well. I think if I had been like that I wouldn’t have been with Andy Murray for ten years, that’s for sure.

What’s your favourite motto – especially for those considering careers in tennis?

“Slow down to get ahead.” There are no shortcuts to success. It may happen for a lucky few but when they reach the top they don’t know how to handle it or what to do because they haven’t trodden the right journey to get there. I’m currently writing a book about it.

Many people would love to be Andy Murray’s coach be it on the fitness or tennis side.  What advice would you give? 

A lot of the young fitness trainers I speak to say they want to work with Andy Murray or that level of player. I’m like you’ve got two years experience, how on earth are you going to survive working with a player of that calibre? You need to do ten years of working with juniors and lower level seniors, making mistakes, and dealing with travel. You need to learn the job before you work in the top job. I think the real issue today is that everyone wants the top job yesterday. You can learn to be a fitness trainer in a couple of days if you watch enough YouTube clips, that’s not the deal. The deal is learning the people skills, the soft skills to deal with lots of situations that get thrown at you. It’s not about the exercises you give someone, anyone can write a programme for somebody, that’s the relatively easy bit.

Matt Little

You’re often pictured laughing with Andy Murray…

We’ve got a very similar dry sense of humour. We like Will Ferrell and The Office. Now we’ve got to the stage where if something funny happens or if someone says something a bit odd we only have to look at each other to know what the other is thinking.

You’re in good shape but is it hard to eat well while working on the road?

Yes. Eating out regularly means there’s the temptation to have a starter whereas if you’re at home you’d just cook yourself one dish. The waiter always brings a bread basket before you eat when you’re starving, so that’s nails in the coffin. You’ve got to be really strict with yourself. There’s also free food in player lounges all the time – little biscuits, coffees and you just boredom eat. You could have up to four lattes in a day at a tournament when it’s raining and you’re sitting around.

So what’s the secret of staying trim?

My routine is to try and be consistent – that’s the thing most people get wrong. They train for two hours one day and then don’t go back to the gym for another two weeks. I’ve tried to recently make sure I do something pretty much every day. At one point my body wasn’t changing because I wasn’t eating the right things when I left the gym. I’ve now switched the lattes for Americanos and gone gluten-free. I noticed massive changes in my body weight almost immediately because I’d been training hard and built up that level of fitness. As soon as I ate the right things the weight and body fat dropped off me. Within three to four weeks I looked completely different.

Have you ever had any health issues?

I constantly have a bad back but I know exactly what goes wrong when it goes wrong. It happens when I put weight on and when I get stiff. Over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time in the car commuting so if I sit in a car for four hours a day I’m stiff as a board.

Name one of your favourite places in the world.

My wife and I go to Dubai a lot as she has family there.  We’re treated really well over there.

You’ll be familiar with tennis nerves especially when watching Andy. How do you relax away from the court? 

When I’m in the UK, I love chilling out in front of the TV. I have to shut the door otherwise the cats come and start scratching the curtains which really stresses me out. I also like listening to podcasts. Lewis Howes, the School of Greatness is great as it’s so positive.

 

If you liked our chat with Matt Little you might like to read our other celebrity interviews with:
Pat Cash,  Jonny Wilkinson, Ryan Sidebottom, Andrew Barton, Katie Piper and Gail Porter 

If you’re a tennis fan and have never headed to Nature Valley International at Eastbourne you might like to read our post on the event here 

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