Anchored in the efforts to spotlight Ontario University Athletics (OUA) student-athletes, the initiative See How She Got Started showcases and tells the story of how some of the conference’s talented student-athletes first got involved in sport and have made their way to the varsity stage on which they currently shine. It is also hoped that their stories can inspire young athletes to aspire to compete in varsity-level sports.
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Software and Biomedical Engineering
How did you first get involved in your sport?
I first started playing tennis around age 4 with my Dad. My family spends summers up at our cottage in Southampton which has a booming summer tennis community. So I continued to take lessons up there as well.
What most interested you about your sport that made you want to pursue it at a high level?
When I was around 12 or 13 years old, I started really taking tennis seriously. I had previously played soccer at a high level and while I loved it, it’s obviously a team sport. When I had the chance to compete in a club tennis tournament and win it, I was in awe of how amazing it felt to win something solely by my own efforts.
I had also met some good friends in Southampton who were playing in the Ontario Tennis Association (OTA) who shared their experiences about how close-knit of a community Ontario Tennis is made me want to further pursue higher levels of play.
Was there a specific moment/experience that led you to believe you could compete in your sport at a high level, and if so, what was it?
Coming into university, I decided to try out for the varsity tennis team despite not having an OTA ranking. I was definitely nervous that I would be out-hit by other girls at the university level. Winning my first ever singles match against Carleton gave me the belief that I could make it in university tennis.
What is your fondest memory/experience of being involved in your sport thus far?
My fondest memory/experience is winning bronze at OUA Championships in 2022. This was actually the first time McMaster Women’s Tennis had won a medal in 21 years. It was such an honour to make history with my team and such a long time coming. Our team has worked hard for many years to build up and strengthen the tennis program. So this moment made all the hard work, hours of training, blood, sweat and tears worth it.
Is there someone who inspires you to continue to pursue your sport at this high level (i.e., coach, professional athlete, family member, etc.) and what makes them an inspiration to you?
I’m inspired to play tennis by my Dad. He has been with me on my tennis journey since day one. He has always been able to push me when I was unable to do it myself and has supported me in every endeavour on and off court. He himself hits nearly daily, sometimes multiple times a day, and his passion for tennis reminds me to continue loving the sport and why we work as hard as we do.
What excites you most about continuing your athletic journey at the varsity level within the OUA?
For my entire 6 years on the team, winning a medal was the dream. Now that we’ve surpassed that goal, it’s exciting to be able to set new, even bigger goals to push towards. It feels like a new era for both myself as a player and for the entire team. I’m also excited to keep growing as a player and teammate with the wonderful girls on my team.
What is/are some of the more unique aspect(s) of your sport that others may not know about?
Tennis is SO mental. Even the tiniest mental cracks can have serious repercussions in your game. It’s very important to be in a good headspace while playing and to avoid slipping mentally. This is especially hard as you’re never truly “off-court” during a match; even on changeovers. You could have the best technical game in the world but, without that mental fortitude, it’s nearly impossible to succeed.
If someone else was looking to start playing your sport, what one piece of advice would you give them to get them started?
If someone was looking to start to play tennis, I would them them to take it slow. Don’t expect to be Serena Williams by the first week. The learning curve can be tricky, so it’s important to do it properly and take it one step at a time. Also, there is always room for improvement. Even the greatest pros of all time are still learning. Lastly, have fun and enjoy being on court.
What is one critical thing that you do to try to continue to experience improvement within your sport (i.e., specific drill/exercise, training regimen, routine, etc.)?
One simple drill that has really helped me over the years is rallying in a limited area (for example: down the line; cross court; past the service line;) with a partner up to a certain number of shots, say 30. If you miss, you start over. It sounds deceptively simple but it’s so easy to start missing your shots and experiencing frustratration. Actually getting 30 can actually take a while.
This drill is incredibly helpful for mental fortitude as it teaches you how to pull yourself out of a mental rut and stay focused through a long point or even match. As someone who has struggled with their mental game, this drill really helps build up that inner strength.
What would you say to your 10-year-old self about playing and staying in sport?
I would tell my 10-year-old self that while it may feel a bit lonely playing in an individual sport now, stick with it. Joining the university team is going to be one of the best sport experiences of your life. You’re going to make lifelong friends, get the opportunity to play so many talented opponents, and develop so much as a player and leader. So, stick with it.
Is there one strategy that you find works well for you in creating a positive student/athlete balance in your life?
I think something that’s helped me to find a positive student/athlete balance is to create a proper separation between school and sport. For example, I used to bring schoolwork to complete on matchdays just in case there was any down time. However, this led my stress about school and my stress about my upcoming match to blend together. This created an unintentional damper on my relationship with tennis as my negative associations with school were affecting my thoughts about tennis.
I’ve learned to prioritize and schedule my schoolwork when I don’t have tennis so that way when I do have practices or matches, I’m able to focus exclusively on them and block out any other influences from school. Keeping an agenda/tight schedule also helps with this. This has allowed me to really zero in on my game and create a better relationship between my student and athlete experiences.
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Blog by Caroline Wiley. Caroline bridged her 20+ years of professional experience in the sport and recreation industry together with her passions for photography and supporting women in sport to create SeeWhatSheCanDo. Her vision is to create a welcoming space where active women find a sense of belonging within their own local community, see themselves in authentic and awe-inspiring ways and find resources to help them be their best active selves.
Photos courtesy of Ontario University Athletics and SeeWhatSheCanDo unless otherwise indicated.
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