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Britain's Andy Murray, right, with his mother Judy Murray after practiceHANNAH MCKAY/Reuters

The most famous tennis mother in the world drove late into the night this week, threading a line between the twin poles of her life: As the matriarch of her family of champions, whom she had coached and raised to greatness, and as a maternal figure for a generation of Scottish players who hope to follow in their footsteps.

On Wednesday night, Judy Murray had just left London after visiting her son Andy, the two-time Wimbledon champ, and her newest grandchild, who was born in March. She was on her way back home to Scotland, where she oversees her not-for-profit eponymous foundation, which has expanded the reach of tennis in that country and brought the game to thousands of underprivileged children. She wouldn’t be home until about 2:30 a.m., but she was determined to get back in order to vote in Thursday’s national election.

“I didn’t want to fly,” she explained over her hands-free phone, as a GPS device cooed directions in the background. “I’ll be fine. I’ll stop when my eyes get tired and I’ll get a coffee somewhere. All these service stations are open all night.”

As the miles flew by, during a conversation that stretched more than an hour, Murray spoke about how she seeks to cultivate not just athletes but well-rounded, independent human beings. With revelations in recent years about toxic coaching across a number of sports, her perspective as a coach – clearly informed by her role as a mother – may be more valuable than ever.

On this side of the Atlantic, Murray is best known as the grimacing, fist-pumping mom perched in a box at Centre Court, grinding her teeth through the matches of her eldest son, Jamie, a seven-time Grand Slam winner in doubles or mixed doubles, and his more famous younger brother, Andy, who won Olympic gold for Britain in London in 2012 and the following year became the first British man to win a Wimbledon singles title since Fred Perry in 1936.

But in Britain, she is understood to be much more than a mere spectator: A multiplatform threat with an Order of the British Empire to her name for her services to tennis, women in sport and charity; a former Scottish national tennis coach (1995-2005); former Fed Cup captain; and one-time Strictly Come Dancing competitor. She is also the author of the bestselling Knowing the Score: My Family and Our Tennis Story (2017), in which she shared the challenges she’d faced – economic hardships and sexism, especially – as a rare coaching mother in the tennis world. Last November, she became the host of Driving Force, a new Sky Sports interview series profiling British women in sport.

She began coaching her boys when they were very young, part of a gaggle of local kids she taught as part of a grassroots program she started in their hometown of Dunblane. By the time they hit their early adolescence, she recognized she needed to hand off the reins.

“When the boys got to, sort of, 11, 12, 13, I realized that it’s actually quite difficult to coach your own kids,” she said. “It’s very difficult to be both the coach and the parent. And it’s also not that cool, when you’re that age, to be coached by your mom – and your mom is the national coach.”

The Murray family’s first step in that direction went terribly. At age 12, Jamie went off to a tennis academy in Cambridge and had such a miserable time that Judy pulled him out after six months. He returned home, and barely touched a racquet for the next two years. “I learned a lot from that experience – enough to see that, actually at 12 you’re a child who plays tennis, you’re not a tennis player who happens to be a child,” she said.

Nowadays, she spends a lot of time counselling other parents of prospective players. Because tennis is an individual sport, it’s far more costly to pursue than a team sport, in which coaching and other costs are shared. “Because it’s so expensive to do the tennis circuit, you find a lot of parents assuming the coaching role.”

Parents also often assume the role of manager, which can sometimes lead to problems, especially for those who are inexperienced.

“Sometimes you get carried away by, or are obsessed by the ranking, rather than realizing you need to really invest in your [player’s] fitness or your [player’s] game, and you get the rewards further down the line,” she said. “Or taking money for a sponsorship deal … but what you don’t realize is, you signed up for 10 sponsor days, and suddenly your child owes 10 days to a sponsor.”

Murray understands and empathizes with the pressure. But she also counsels that, of the thousands of prospective pros who are promising enough to pursue the sport into their teens, vanishingly few will ever make much of a career of it. So why not see their training as an opportunity to instill skills they’ll need later in life? If things work out, those skills might even pay dividends in the sport itself.

“We have to remember that we’re there to nurture the athlete, and that is about nurturing them as a person who can handle all that life will throw at them,” she said. “Especially if they’re young athletes who are training away from their parents, the coach or somebody else within the coaching team needs to assume that parental role, look after their best interests. But I don’t know how often that happens.

“That’s another one of the reasons why it concerned me that, globally, we have relatively few female coaches. It seems to me that, whether it’s younger girls or younger boys, they need female influence around, somebody to whom they can talk, who can assume almost like the mothering role. Someone who recognizes when they haven’t brushed their teeth for three days.”

At the same time, whenever she travelled with players to competitions without their parents, she saw the trips as opportunities to teach the kids: How to navigate airports, or use a washing machine in a hotel, or keep track of their spending, or make sure they knew what sort of strings go in their racquet.

“You want to give them independence. You’re making them do things themselves, because you know perfectly well that most of the time when they go to a tennis tournament, they go with a parent who does everything for them. And tennis is the most cerebral sport out there, in my opinion. And if you don’t develop thinking players, you don’t develop great tacticians or great competitors.

“I don’t see many coaches doing that now. I think too many are what I would just call ‘providers of activity,’ rather than actual teachers. Certainly in my country, we would have a lot more good-level players if we had a lot more great tennis teachers.”