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Andy Murray

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 

Enjoyed this post? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below and please feel free to share.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrity interviews

7 reasons to visit Nature Valley International

Helen Gilbert, Nature Valley International

Tennis and the ocean are two of my biggest passions. Throw in a sunny day and I’m cooking. So it should come as no surprise that I found myself at the  2018 Eastbourne international tennis event on Sunday.

Before I became seriously unwell with my mast cell and histamine issues, I spent more than a decade writing for www.wimbledon.com during the Championships which was fantastic. The only snag was that Wimbledon qualifying clashed with Eastbourne so I could never make it down to the combined ATP men’s and WTA women’s tournament.

But that all changed in 2017 when I visited for the first time and became instantly hooked on the scenic location and the quality of tennis. As the event, which hosted 47,000 visitors last year, makes for a fantastic day out with family, friends or even if you’re flying solo I’ve compiled a list of 7 tips to help you make the most of your time at Nature Valley International.

WATCH ATP AND WTA PLAYERS
You don’t necessarily need a show court ticket to spot famous faces. A ground pass – especially early on in the tournament – often does the job. I spotted Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund hitting on an outside court yesterday. “I can’t believe we’ve seen all these guys in the space of three minutes,” I heard one thrilled spectator excitedly whisper to her husband. All the tickets for Nature Valley International, which runs until 30 June, are sold out until Wednesday but do keep an eye on the LTA’s website where you can also book tickets for next year.

 

Andy Murray, Nature Valley International

ENJOY THE SEA BREEZE AND EASTBOURNE WEATHER
The good news is that the weather is set to be scorchio this week. The bad news is us Brits are unaccustomed to the heat [anything over 25 degrees Celsius is considered ‘boiling’]. However, the tournament is just three minutes from the sea so there’s a wonderfully refreshing breeze. Don’t forget to walk with sun cream, a hat, sunglasses and a bottle of water.

SAVE MONEY
Okay. Admittedly you won’t be saving money if you’re buying tickets BUT you can shave off some of the cost of your spending with Visit Eastbourne, a free resort app which will unlock exclusive special offers throughout the week. Some of the deals include 10% off at Pomodoro e Mozzarella and Half Man Half Burger, and 2 for 1 entry to the Royal Hippodrome Theatre.

REVEL IN THE GARDEN PARTY ATMOSPHERE
The Nature Valley International event has a distinct traditional English Garden party vibe and is far from stuffy. There are plenty of food and drink options from clotted cream and strawberries to fish and chips and a vegetarian van serving falafels and salads. There’s also plenty of tennis clothing stalls featuring brands including Wilson, Babolat and Bjorn Borg.

Nature Valley International

LISTEN TO THE CALL OF SEAGULLS
I don’t know about you but the call of a seagull propels me to a happy place and takes me back to the UK-based beach breaks I shared as a child with my family. Take a moment to enjoy being at the tournament and notice the simple things that bring you pleasure – whether that be the feeling of the sun on your skin or the sound of the ball being struck. Try and leave any worries at the gate and focus on the present.

GO FOR AN EVENING STROLL
Once you’ve had your fill of tennis head to the seafront. Yes, the beach is pebbly but who cares? It’s just a three-minute walk on foot from Devonshire Park and will undoubtedly leave you feeling both relaxed and revitalised – sea air is charged with healthy negative ions that accelerate our ability to absorb oxygen by neutralising damaging free radicals.

Helen Gilbert, Nature Valley International

TAKE A BREAK
You’re in Eastbourne. Why not tack on a couple of extra days and see what the area has to offer to? From Beachy Head to the South Downs National Park there’s plenty to see. For more information visit the Visit Eastbourne website here. 

Have you been to Nature Valley International or are you thinking of going? What did you enjoy about it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Or, do you know someone who is attending this week? Please feel free to share this article with them. 

If you this post you might also like to read our interview with former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, here. Or why not drive along the coast to Hove and book a tapping/EFT session here. 

Tennis, Travel

Is this the most stressful job at Wimbledon?

Wimbledon: Stringer Glynn Roberts talks us through his hectic schedule

Glynn Roberts knows a thing or two about tennis rackets. The 40-year-old Briton spent a decade working as an on-site stringer at Wimbledon before joining Priority One – a stringing business that counts Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic among its clients – in 2008.

Here Glynn talks Relax Self to Health through his hectic Wimbledon schedule and  how he manages to stay calm under pressure.

Glynn, you always seem as cool as a cucumber yet your job is quite demanding. Can you talk us through a typical day? 
If one of our players (Priority One also takes care of Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, John Isner and Marcos Baghdatis) has a match, we’ll wake up at either two, three or four o’clock in the morning to start stringing rackets. We tend to look after two players each at Grand Slams. Here, I’m stringing for Andy and Novak. On match days I can end up stringing between 20 and 25 rackets, on training days it can be anything between ten and 12.

Crikey, how long does it take?
I allow around 30 minutes per racket. That includes everything – replacing grips, stencilling strings, and popping them in the plastic bags. Our days our shaped by how many rackets we’ve got. And at smaller tournaments we may have one stringer for three or more players. If I have to start work at two or three in the morning, I’ll try to get to bed by 10pm the night before but that’s not always possible.

That’s not much sleep. How do you maintain your wellbeing?
With lots of naps during the day. It’s not uncommon for me to have a three or four hour kip. Dinner time is usually work time for us too. Sometimes we’ll start stringing at around four or five in the afternoon to work through our allocation. There’s a saying that stringers are very fast eaters. If we do go out for dinner we’ll finish very quickly because we’re always thinking that we need to get back and finish work so that we can get some sleep before getting up early the next morning! It’s a tough habit to get out of. Even when you’re not working you always end up finishing your meal before everyone else.

Do you find time to exercise during Wimbledon?
With our schedules, it’s tough to work fitness in but here there’s lots of hill walking! We stay in a house just off Wimbledon Common. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the All England Club and at any one time I could be carrying up to 30 rackets on my back. Each one weighs 300 grams or more. That’s a lot of weight. So I guess that counts. [Laughs]. I’ll do a drop off in the morning, wait around for the players to finish practising, collect the rackets again, walk back up the hill and then it starts all over again. If a player doesn’t finish play, say because it’s been rain-delayed or they didn’t get on because of long match, I’ll still need to restring the rackets because they lose tension. So I can be up and down the hill three or four times during the same day!

Are Grand Slams the hardest tournaments workload-wise?
Grand slams are probably the easiest because they’re held over two weeks and the players get a day off in between unless, of course, it rains. When that happens everything goes out the window. With the one week Masters events the matches are back to back so they tend to be a little bit harder.

How long are you on the road for? 
We each do at least 100,000 air miles a year. We work the four Grand Slams, nine Masters tournaments, plus I’ll do at least two Davis cups a year as well as additional tournaments like Dubai, Doha, Queen’s, and Basel.

So, how do you handle long journeys?
On a flight I put on Bose noise cancelling headphones and am asleep before take off. Once there was a fire in the cockpit on one of our flights and it had to be diverted to Hawaii. I didn’t know a thing about it until we landed. 36 hours in Hawaii made up for the inconvenience.

What stresses you out about your work?
In our job surprises are bad so we try and keep it as boring as possible and eliminate potential issues. We make sure we get up early enough so that if anything goes wrong for whatever reason, we’ve factored in enough time to correct it. Missing machines cause stress. It’s happened before – where a machine has taken two days to arrive at the hotel. We always show up a week before the Slams so if the machine doesn’t turn up for a couple of days in the practice week it’s not so bad. Back to back tournaments are obviously tougher to work out logistically.

Can you recall a very stressful moment?
There was one time when a camera crew wanted to film us stringing and the machine decided to misbehave. On that day I was trying not to freak out in front of the cameras. I was calm on the surface but not inside.

What do you do to relax?
Close my eyes. As soon as my head touches the pillow I’m asleep. I also watch NFL and support Everton, although I’m not sure how relaxing that is. This season coming should be fun. If my schedule allows, I’ll go to a concert here and there – I highly recommend Welshly Arms. I also take pictures of the city or place I’m in. I enjoy editing and trying to make something good out of the pig’s ear of an image that I’ve just taken.

If rugby’s more your sport, be sure to read our interview with Jonny Wilkinson here, or if you’re a fan of A-list fitness trainers check out our chat with James Duigan here. 

celebrities, In the news, Tennis