Dealing with injury is a both a physical and mental battle and it’s been a long wait for Jada Whyman, who was sidelined with a knee injury for the most part of the year – but this is just another hurdle Whyman has faced on her path to becoming one of Australia’s best up and coming goal keepers.
Growing up in Wagga Wagga, Whyman followed in the footsteps of her family, picking up the oval ball before goal keeping was even a consideration.
“I played AFL when I was younger but as I got older, they didn’t have any girls’ teams, so my pop suggested a different sport, which was football,” she said.
“I’d never planned on being a keeper, I just played as a field player locally in Wagga until I was given the opportunity to try out for the local representative trials. There were no positions left but goal keeper, so I put my hand up and said ‘Yep, I’ll do it!’
“I found that the skills I’d picked up in AFL and even softball were pretty transferrable to goal keeping – and to be honest I didn’t really like running so it suited me perfectly,” she laughed.
“Going into that position, I did find it difficult at first with things like diving, but it didn’t take too long before it just came naturally.”
Realising Jada’s potential, her dedicated family drove the 10-hour return trip between Wagga and Sydney so she could play in the National Premier Leagues NSW Women’s competition and her introduction to the league was a baptism of fire.
“I started playing for the Macarthur Rams when I was 13. I was still living in Wagga and one of my old NSW Country coaches asked if I could fill in, as his U16’s goal keeper was injured,” she said.
“It was only meant to be for three or four weeks, but then the first grade keeper also got injured, which meant I filled in for reserves, U16’s and U14’s. It was pretty full on, I didn’t know if I could keep doing it that way, but I did, and it was so awesome to get the opportunity to play alongside players I had really looked up to as a kid.
“Renee Rollason, Emily Van Egmond, Teresa Polias, Georgia Yeoman-Dale to name a few, were these amazing players I’d always admired and the next thing I knew, I was on the field with them. It was just surreal.”
Whyman was playing first grade football as a 13-year-old, but her experienced teammates didn’t go easy on the youngster.
“I remember in one of my first games, one of the girls just screamed at me to give her the ball and I was scared out of my socks!” she laughed.
“It was pretty intimidating at first, they were tough on me, but they were fair. They knew I was there to learn and needed to improve if I wanted to play at that level. I had to mature pretty quickly but I am thankful for that opportunity because as a goal keeper you do need that level of maturity.”
It wasn’t long before renowned goal keeper coach, Paul Jones noticed Whyman and offered her the opportunity to be developed under his academy in Canberra.
The family uprooted and travelled to Queanbeyan, but the journey was rough, leaving Jada, her mum, step-dad and her three younger siblings homeless for two months, sharing a tent.
“It was a really tough time, not just for me, but for my family,” she shared.
“Both my parents are very headstrong and we knew that living in the tent was just going to be temporary, but it was a tough couple of months.
“My pop was a big motivator for me. He told me he’d never seen anyone with so much determination – following their dreams regardless of the obstacles. Having that support around me was what kept me going,” she said.
Despite her young age, Whyman’s ability to see the bigger picture, helped get her to where she is today.
“I remember someone said to me, that maybe I should consider going back to Wagga,” she shared.
“We always had the option of going back, but I’d already made it as far as Canberra and I knew that Wagga wasn’t the place for me to keep developing. I just loved the game so much and I knew we would come out on the other side of it, we just had to tough it out for a little while.”
And she did come out on the other side of it, making her debut for the Western Sydney Wanderers in the 2015/16 W-League season.
Just last year, she took out both the Wanderers W-League Player of the Year and the Members’ Player of the Year along with receiving her very first call up to the Matildas squad.
“I didn’t even think I’d played that well, that season. I was just stoked to receive that recognition and knew it wasn’t just for me, but for my club, my family and all the travelling they did.”
Goal keeping has often been called one of the most underrated positions on the pitch and Whyman believes both the pros and cons are what makes goal keeping so rewarding.
“Being able to see the whole pitch at all times is probably the biggest benefit a goal keeper has. You don’t have those big moments that someone like a striker would have, but you have those little moments where you make those good decisions that pay off, and they are the ones I take pride in,” she explained.
“But the hardest part is the mental side of things. You need to stay focused for the full 90-minutes because you can be tested at any time of the game like the 90th minute where you need to pull-off a game-deciding save.
“As a goal keeper you’ve got the smallest margin for error – You’re the last line of defence and everyone relies on you to be at your best at all times.
After spending several years at the Macarthur Rams along with a development stint at Football NSW’s Institute Program, Whyman now wears the royal blue for Sydney Olympic and on her debut with the newly promoted club last week, helped her team to a win.
“I just felt that I needed a bit of a change this year, to play my own kind of football.
“Sydney Olympic had spoken to me straight after last season had ended and were very determined to make their mark in the women’s top tier. So far, the club has just been fantastic.
“They’ve newly come into the competition and are doing amazingly well. They’re very determined to develop their women’s side and they’ve provided me with all the treatment and facilities I’ve needed for my injury – and that was before I’d even played for them!
Whyman’s opportunities off the pitch, were also a big draw card.
“On top of being able to play for such a welcoming team, I’ve also been offered great opportunities off the field as an Indigenous ambassador, acting as a mentor and helping Indigenous people find employment,” she said.
As for what’s next for Whyman, she is just taking things a day at a time.
“I’ve only just come back from injury, so I’m mostly focused on getting my fitness and game awareness back to where it should be,” she said.
“I’m aiming to play in the W-League again this year and hopefully the World Cup and Olympics are still in the picture. I just need to get back to full fitness and if the opportunity comes along, I’ll be ready for it.”
-By Liana Buratti