Colbert 'Dee' Murphy
The son of a tennis-playing father who grew up to be a teaching professional in Texas, Colbert ‘Dee’ Murphy never thought he’d end up working as an official in his favorite sport.
“My position was always, ‘I don’t want people chewing me out and being mad at me.’”
But a hip replacement and some prodding from longtime friend and USTA Texas Sectional Chairperson Kevin Foster changed his perspective and, ultimately, the course of his life in tennis.
“I faced a harsh reality that I could continue [as a teaching pro] in a full-time capacity; however, the amount of time and the rigor that I would endure by being on court for 30, 40 hours a week would be too much,” Murphy said.
“It would probably exacerbate the injury and speed up the time towards another surgery. I had to face that hard truth of cutting my schedule down by more than half after, and it was almost like officiating saved my life, in terms of my mental and emotional disposition and health.ADVERTISEMENT
“It allowed me to still be fully integrated in tennis, around high levels of tennis, and still allow me to feel like I was contributing something substantive and viable towards tennis and its growth and development.”
Finding another outlet to utilize the skills that he acquired as a tennis coach, Murphy quickly drew parallels between his two roles.
“I still feel somewhat like an educator, even though, of course, I’m not coaching on court,” he said.
“Being an official still gives me the opportunity to groom and cultivate those aspects that we want to see thrive, while pruning those things out that we don’t want to see persist.
“I find that there’s enough difference between being in the chair and on the lines, and I love them uniquely. When I’m on the lines, it’s like 60 minutes of intense focus, followed by maybe 60 minutes of exhaling. I can prepare my mind for the engagement. [In] the chair, there’s really no ‘exhale’ moment or end point until there’s an end to the match, from managing your line umpires, ball changes, players and everything else that can happen when you’re in the chair.
“It gives some insights into some other aspects of tennis, in terms of development, cultivation, education. Those are the things that I really enjoy the most, and they allow me to see another side of tennis that I really didn’t know existed.”
Having worked his way up from a roving umpire to being selected for tour-level events, including the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., and the US Open, as well as the USTA Pro Circuit, Murphy nonetheless feels that officiating, much like coaching, will always play an important role at the grassroots level.
With over 18 million tennis players in the U.S. last year, as per the Tennis Industry Association's 2018 State of the Industry report, there is a unique opportunity for officials to help grow the sport in their local communities.
That can pay dividends for both the officials themselves down the line and players when they are on the court together.
“I think what I like about the community aspect is that there’s a different type of pressure,” Murphy said.
“Generally, what I feel in terms of pressure is being highly visible, servicing the players, helping play to be fair and making everyone feel like this is a big moment, that it’s not a small thing.
“Finding a good mentor, or a series of mentors—people that you like their style, their nuanced contributions to officiating—is important. Every style is not for every official. Finding those high-functioning officials can teach you the nuanced applications of professionalism: what are the things that are done on the tour, versus what are the things that you shouldn’t do?
“These things tend to translate from community tennis to professional tennis, and I like to engage community tennis players like I would professional players. I think that what I’ve seen historically is that they appreciate it and it makes them feel like they’re in a big moment and that their matches matter.”