Most professional athletes will have their resolve tested during their careers. Pivoting and adapting to situations in order to continue on, fighting their own demons to make the next step up. Jen Sadler is an athlete who has not only endured these challenges, but championed them.
Starting volleyball at Rossmoyne High School, Jen Sadler’s career began in the most modest of ways. She was not scouted or had a hunger to play the game at the highest levels, instead she tagged along when her friends went to school trials.
“I basically went to trials because all of my friends were going. I just didn’t want to miss out and they made it sound like fun so I went along.”
After her first indoor game Sadler’s interest in the sport grew quickly and she dived into the sport. As a junior she started playing both codes of the sport and soon outclassed the rest of her schooling cohort.
“I found a love for the sport early on and so I did everything I could. In summer I played beach and then indoor during winter. A lot of the people at school didn’t do it all year round, so playing it a lot meant that I learnt quickly.”
Over time her focus shifted and Sadler found herself playing more and more beach. Her decision was well founded and in Year 11 she moved to South Australia for the Australian Institute of Sport’s beach volleyball program.
“It was a big move, my whole family came over with me which was nice of them. I finished high school in Adelaide and spent a few years there. It was a change, but I enjoyed it and made some really close friends.”
However in 2012 the adventure came to a frustrating end for Sadler. A stress fracture in her L5 vertebrate meant she was forced to the sideline, a heartbreaking conclusion to a promising beach volleyball career.
“It wasn’t anything dramatic, it developed over time. I would say it was probably just overloading from playing so much sport. After that I didn’t spend too much time in Adelaide before returning to Perth.”
Asides from the physical pain, Sadler admits the injury caused a deep disconnect between herself and the sport.
“Because of the injury I got to a point where I just really didn’t like volleyball. It forced me to take time off and reevaluate what I was doing. At that point I just didn’t want to be near a volleyball court.”
Incredibly only six years later and Sadler is now in her fourth year with the Australian Helloworld Travel Volleyroo’s indoor team. She has also just concluded her first professional contract with
Asko Linz-Steg in Austria. However Sadler admits the comeback took time and she was in no rush to play.
“I didn’t do too much as I got back into the sport. I had to have time off in order to love it again. After a few years off I started getting involved first by coaching at Rossmoyne.”
Not one for fanfare or pomp, Sadler’s playing comeback was grounded. Similar to her earlier beginnings the modest athlete got back onto the court because of her friends.
“Learning to love the sport again was a real challenge for me. I wasn’t pressuring myself to do anything beyond enjoying the sport. I only started playing again because I got asked by a friend and at that point I thought, why not.”
Sadler’s career has moved quickly ever since. Her first season back with the Rossmoyne Raptors saw her claim a spot in the WA Pearls. A solid season in the Australian Volleyball League lead to Sadler’s selection in the Australian Helloworld Travel Volleyroos.
Reflecting on her career, Sadler admits she can’t reduce her journey to any single moment. Having had career with so many in’s and out’s she has instead focused on enjoying the undulating nature of a sporting career.
“You have highs and low like anybody else. But I suppose for me and my career, it hasn’t been about one moment. I’ve focused more on being better every day, having a drive to improve has been more important.”
Talking about what she has learnt during her volleyball career Sadler knows being able to maintain your love for the sport, especially as you move up in to national teams, can be trying.
“You can get so caught up on what you’re not doing or what teams you’re not making. I think I got to the point where I wasn’t taking a chance to reflect on what I was doing well. I wasn’t giving myself time to smell the roses. That was an important lesson that is now a big part of my game.”
In her fourth year with the top Australian team, Sadler and the girls have enjoyed a similar growth. Focusing on becoming a more consistent team Sadler is excited about the team’s changing mentality.
“We are focused on getting better as a team and would say we are on a long path at the moment. We have a really good bunch of girls in the national team and are building up with each game. There has been a shift in the mentality, from just playing the game to trying to develop a more professional fulltime team. It’s coming together.”
Having been unsuccessful in their 2018 Volleyball Nations League Challenge Cup campaign, the Women’s Helloworld Travel Volleyroos will now focus on the upcoming Asian Volleyball Confederation Indoor Cup in Thailand.
Be sure to check back soon for our next international spotlight feature with Australian Referee Dani Francis.