Young Athlete Series: Jade Windley – how to be the best in Britain at tennis
I first met Jade in 2015 during a search for a model to showcase adidas' premium tennis range ahead of Wimbledon. Jade is the perfect blend of hard work and fun, youth and experience. It turns out she was an awesome model and is pretty great at writing, too! I invited Jade to be a part of our Young Athlete Series as although she's only 25, she has been through an entire career in sport and has transferred into mentoring and coaching. Jade is a great role model - read on and see if you agree!
How many 25 year olds do you know who’ve already had a full, successful career, and are onto their second one? Jade is one of those athletes who has gone from British Junior #1 and Commonwealth Youth Games Bronze medallist, to British Female #5 (singles) and #3 (doubles). She has 19 professional titles to her name and a top WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) ranking of 279 (singles) and 159 (doubles). Now an Athlete Mentor with Sky Sports, Jade has successfully turned her (back and fore) hand to coaching athletes of the future. What does it take to be a world class tennis player? Let’s find out...
I started tennis early – and beat 10,000 other players at the age of 12
When I was younger, I enjoyed all different types of sport from swimming and gymnastics to tennis and football. I discovered at a young age that tennis was my real passion and I just couldn’t wait to step on the court and play with my family and friends. A turning point for me happened when I was 12 years old and I entered a national u14 tennis tournament called The Road to Wimbledon. This event still exists today and starts in schools and local tennis clubs, with over 10,000 entrants in the primary stages. I managed to get through to the final stages, which was played at Wimbledon itself. I was just happy enough to be there to be honest but I surprised myself and managed to win the whole event in both the singles and doubles. This was the first time that I was totally inspired and from then on all I wanted to do in the future was to be a professional tennis player! Whenever anybody asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would answer with, “I want to be a tennis player and play in the real event at Wimbledon on the television!”
The Road to Wimbledon proved to me that I loved tennis.
I still went to school like everybody else but once I showed that desire to play tennis, my mum and dad were extremely supportive and would take me for lessons early in the morning before school started and in evenings after homework. As I got older, I had to learn how to balance both my school work and my tennis training. I managed to gain successful GCSE and A-Level results but when I left school at 18, I followed my heart and dedicated my life to tennis.
Nothing worth having comes easily.
I moved away from home to attend a High Performance Tennis Academy. I trained 4 hours on court and 2 hours in the gym every day. This would be for 6 days a week when not competing. My gym routine would involve every physical aspect, as tennis requires endurance, speed, flexibility and strength. I would eat all the right foods, as it is important to fuel your body with the correct nutrition, especially when undergoing so much exercise. I would also always have a big bottle of water with me so I could keep hydrated throughout the day! This certainly wasn’t easy and there were days when I didn’t want to get up early for another on-court training session or go in the gym and run until my legs gave way, but I did it anyway. I learnt that nothing worth having comes easily, so the only way to reach your potential in anything is to try really, really hard!
I’ve had to deal with my fair share of injuries and setbacks
Unfortunately, I developed two separate serious foot injuries early on as a professional tennis player, one of which (sesamoiditis) almost ended my career and stopped me playing the game that I loved so much. I had just broken into the world’s top 500 in the WTA rankings at the time when the injury occurred. I was put in an air boot for 6 weeks and no improvement was made for nearly 5 months. This was a long and frustrating time; I couldn’t walk without crutches, let alone play tennis. My ranking was slipping and I felt that all that hard work was being undone. I was lucky enough to have a fantastic team around me to provide me with support and motivation. It was a second large cortisone injection into my big toe that finally did the trick, which was an extremely painful experience! Everybody experiences setbacks but it’s how you deal with them that counts.
“You can do anything you put your mind to”
Once I was able to play and compete again, I was more determined than ever to achieve that childhood dream of playing at Wimbledon and improving my world ranking to the best that I could be. However, the tennis tour was not always an easy place to be. It was lonely; most of the time I couldn’t afford for my coach to travel with me, so I travelled abroad alone. I competed internationally for up to 30 weeks of the year, which was a lot of time living out of a suitcase! Ultimately, you work through the tough times to experience the best times and the best times were definitely worth all the sacrifices made!
Playing at Wimbledon is the most incredible feeling.
During my career, I played in The Championships, Wimbledon 4 times, including the main draw in 2013. I couldn’t quite believe it when I first stepped out onto the small show court at Wimbledon, with my family and friends supporting either in the crowd or watching on the television at home. I was competing in the biggest tennis tournament in the world with players that were and still are my idols. I was competing in the same tournament as Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, to name just a few.
A change of direction
In 2014, unfortunately injury struck again. I was involved in a car accident that still today causes me acute neck and shoulder problems, particularly when I serve. I made the decision to take a break from the professional game as my body was in a bad way. Although this was a tough moment in my life, exciting, new opportunities have arisen since then.
From player to Sky Sports Athlete Mentor
I am now an Athlete Mentor for Sky Sports Living for Sport, which is partnered with Sky Academy and Youth Sport Trust. I am proud to be one of a team of over 100 world class athletes from all different sports, who get the opportunity to visit young people in secondary schools and inspire them with our own journeys. We deliver the ‘Six Keys to Success’ which are the main skills required for achievement not only in sport but in life itself.
Sport nurtures aspirations, regardless of academic prowess
I am also working in a similar role for the Tennis Foundation and Youth Sport Trust as a Tennis Mentor on a programme called Beyond the Baseline. This is also a very gratifying position to be in. This programme is targeted more at young people who are disengaged or who are struggling academically. As a Tennis Mentor, we help to nurture the young people’s aspirations and put them on the right path to achieving success, all through the power of sport.
Working with Judy Murray
I am also currently working as a Tennis Coach in my home county of Lincolnshire. It is pleasing to be able to pass on my knowledge and experience of the sport to all ages and abilities. I have recently been to Israel with Judy Murray and the GB Fed Cup team, which was a valuable experience in coach education. I have worked alongside Judy in many roles and I always find them to be hugely beneficial, particularly as Judy is such a huge ambassador for women in sport.
In the future, I aim to develop my mentoring roles and increase my involvement with both of these remarkable programmes.
A game for life
Tennis is such a fantastic sport to be involved in and really is a game for life. I believe that all sports help to develop life skills; I know that tennis has helped me to become disciplined and organised, plus it has built up my confidence and work ethic. Not only that, but sport is a great way to meet friends and stay healthy at the same time!
What should I do if I want to be a professional tennis player too?
My tip for getting involved in sport is to first find something that you enjoy doing! I believe that it is important for people to try new things and sport is such a great way to develop skills that will help you succeed in all aspects of life. I believe that sport and exercise is a way to keep both your body, and your mind, fit and healthy. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to enjoy playing sport; if you have ambitions to be involved with sport as a future career, then it is important to realise that there are so many other amazing opportunities that can arise with starting the game. For example, in tennis, you could go into coaching, physiotherapy, sports massage, psychology, media, fitness trainer, anything! I have found that playing tennis has ultimately opened so many doors for my future that I believe would not have occurred, had I not picked up a racquet all those years ago.