It's difficult to put into words just what a difference joining Elena Baltacha’s Academy of Tennis has made to Jessica's life.
Jessica's journey with the academy began in November 2014, when members of the academy coaching team went into her school and offered a free coaching session for every class in the school.
I recall clearly collecting Jessica from school the day of her classes session. Her teacher pulled me to one side and explained that Jess had performed particularly well, and the academy would very much like to see her attend the three free coaching sessions that they were offering to all the children who participated in the schools programme. Jessica was beaming, and desperate to attend the free sessions. Up until this point in her life, Jessica had never expressed any interest in participating in any form of extra curricular activities, and we were delighted that she had finally found something that she enjoyed! We of course agreed for her to attend these sessions, thinking that she probably would give it a few weeks and then decide that it wasn't for her.
The free sessions went well and in the January, Jessica returned to the academy and started training in two squads a week. Two very quickly became three, and as the lessons went on, she got better and better! Her enthusiasm for the game grew, and by the time we got to the end of May, Jessica was beginning a pairs lesson once a week and starting to compete in some local tournaments.
Since then, Jessica's tennis has grown and grown, and she has made some incredible progress. Not only has she developed as a tennis player, she has developed as a person in ways we could not possibly of imagined.
Jessica has found a purpose, she has found fight and she has certainly found a new level of determination. She no longer sits in the shadow of her elder sister, too afraid to speak her own opinion. She knows what she wants, and she knows how to go about getting it. She is no longer the child that comes home from school and puts herself in front of the telly, only moving when her dinner is ready. She is on that court at 4pm ready to train her hardest. Getting her out of bed in the morning is no longer a struggle. She only has to be asked once, and she's up, dressed and on the court at 7.30am. The transformation in her personality in 18 months amazes me.
Jessica is now a confident, capable and disciplined 8 year old. Her latest school report talks of a child who is a role model to her class mates, a friendly and helpful child who has learnt how to resolve conflict for herself and become less dependant on reassurance from adults. She has made many friends through the academy, and between them they have developed a real sense of camaraderie, supporting each other through the victories and the losses that each of them have. These are all skills that coaches Nino and Jamie have given her through the academy and her tennis. The shy and timid 7 year old that began at the academy 18 months ago, is now a determined and gutsy 8 year old. One that fights for every point, in every match, and never gives up, even if she's losing by quite a margin. One that supports her friends, and celebrates and commiserates with them in equal measure.
Jessica is now starting the next phase of her tennis journey. Having become a successful red ball player, who was very proud to win tournaments and represent her county, she is moving into the ‘Orange Ball’. This will bring new challenges for Jess, but with the help and support of the coaches at the academy, we feel confident that she will continue to enjoy the game and look forward to seeing what she will achieve the future.
One thing is for sure though. Without Elena Baltacha, and Nino, and all the coaches who commit their time to the academy and go into the schools promoting tennis to hundreds of children, none of this would be possible. It's incredibly sad for Jessica that she will never have the opportunity to meet the lady who's legacy has changed her life so much. Jessica wouldn't want to play tennis anywhere else, for anyone else. What you have achieved with her is nothing short of remarkable.