March 10, 2022, by brzbs1

Scholar in Focus: Jessica Maitland

This weekend (12th-13th March), the University of Nottingham will have karate athletes travelling to Ponds Forge in Sheffield to compete at BUCS Karate Nationals. Ahead of one of the biggest events in the calendar for the University of Nottingham Karate club, we spoke to scholar and England Karate athlete, Jessica Maitland, about her journey in the sport as well as her current experience as a first year studying Psychology at the University of Nottingham.


How did you first get into karate, and what was it about the sport that you enjoyed?

When I was younger I started doing ballet, but my brother did karate and I thought karate looks a lot cooler than ballet! So at around four years old I decided to start doing karate too instead and I’ve been doing it ever since. He got me into the sport, but I’m the one who has continued with it. I just loved the fighting side of it and pretty much all aspects of the sport are fun and exciting so I just kept going!


So did you start by going to sessions once a week with your brother or did you jump straight into it?

It was actually three times a week because the breakfast club at school had sessions, and then at the weekend we had sessions too alongside training in the week. So it was pretty busy from the start and then by the time I turned seven years old I was doing five sessions a week, so it turned into a big thing in my life pretty quickly as since the age of four, at least half of my week has been karate!


When would you say you started properly competing in Karate competitions and tournaments?

I was probably about nine when competitions started to get more serious and then I started going to National competitions and championships when I was a little older, with my performances improving enough that I was winning medals from twelve years old. One of those medals was a team gold at the national championships, and that was a moment where I realised that I could possibly pursue the sport at a high level in the future. That was in 2016, and at those same championships I won a bronze individually which I was a bit shocked by because I didn’t think I was good enough to get that far and I did, so I think I surprised myself at those championships. That made me want to keep going too because it was big achievement that I didn’t expect. I’ve been a member of the national team since 2017 and that was another huge moment for me, and then 2019 was a massive year for me being able to compete and represent England at the World Championships in Chile. That made me realise that competing internationally is something that I can and want to do.


When did you start thinking about combining your Karate with studying, and continuing your education at the University of Nottingham?

It was probably during my GCSE’s that it was the most intense because I had the European Championships at the same time, so I was balancing those and realised I could successfully do both. It was intense but manageable! From then, I knew that I wanted to go to a sporting university so I started to look into it more. I didn’t know which university initially, but around my GCSE’s I found Nottingham and it was kind of perfect. My roommate at the European Championships actually attended at the time and still does attend the university, so she was telling me all about it and it sounded amazing. She brought me down here for a visit and I was so surprised at how much I loved the campus and surroundings. Before I came to the university I did ask other university’s about their Karate programme and it wasn’t anywhere near what Nottingham offer.


Having moved to Nottingham, how has that transition been in your first year?

So I’ve obviously moved down to Nottingham from my home town in Newcastle and it’s the first time that I’ve lived on my own for a long time. My mum would love it if I was around the corner, but my family want me to be here because they hear great things about the university. They also know that I’m getting the best opportunities possible, especially in comparison to other karate set-ups, even the national set-up because it isn’t funded, but what I get here at the University of Nottingham is next level! There is no dojo like ours in the country. It’s also been great to compete here for the university, and even though it wasn’t a top level competition, it gave me such a great feeling having my friends and people I’ve met at the club there supporting me.


Now that you are here, how are you finding your course as well as training and competing?

I’m studying Psychology and it’s quite a challenge – but it’s good! The work is a lot harder than at A-Level, but you get so much support here to achieve in both. The scholarship team and wider team here at the University of Nottingham are amazing. You get massage, physio, psychology support and nutritional support, and I’ve never really had that environment before. I train five karate sessions a week, and two strength and conditioning sessions, and fit those alongside my studying.


What’s it like to be a part of the Karate club, and possibly an influential part as well?

It’s nice to be a part of such a big club of young athletes, because when you go to Karate clubs around the country, it seems to be either kids or older people! It’s really nice to be a part of a group of athletes who I know from Nationals too and see them so regularly. As I have a bit more experience than some others in the club, I guess I do get asked a few questions by people about aspects such as preparation which is nice.


Why should students get involved with the sport at university and join UoN Karate?

There are so many aspects to karate, no two karate lessons will be the same. You can try individual performance, you can do combat, you can do both – there’s no one set aspect. It’s also a brilliant sport to improve your conditioning with fitness and cardio because we do a lot of sprint training and push ourselves to the max!


What would you say are the key skills people need to be successful at karate?

Confidence is one of the biggest things! Developing confidence is huge for karate because it makes everything else much easier. I guess that comes with training hard and over a longer period of time. Being in control of your whole body is also important and you do develop that quite quickly, because I feel you learn more about your body through karate – how flexible you are, how fast you are – because you use your whole body in karate.


Has studying psychology helped your karate in any way?

Not so much so far actually, I’ve learnt more from getting psychology support myself. It made me realise how much help I gained from it, and I want to provide that help for others. The aspects that I’ve studied so far are more developmental and biological so I haven’t managed to bring too much across just yet! However, I’d like to think I’ve tried to help others with what I’ve learnt and experienced throughout the last few years. I’m a member of UK Coaching and I do some coaching of younger athletes back in Newcastle, and confidence is such a big issue, particularly amongst girls in sport, so I definitely have tried to help with that. I set up a girl’s only class at the club when I was 16 and the difference that has made has been fantastic.


With BUCS Nationals coming up, what are your aims representing the University at such a big competition in the university calendar?

I’m there to win! We’ve all been training really hard and I’m looking forward to it, but absolutely I’m aiming to win! I really hope it’s going to be the highlight of the year.


Looking further ahead, what is it that you’re aiming to do when you finish university?

After I finish my Psychology degree I’d like to do either of two routes into clinical psychology, ideally doing a doctorate in clinical psychology – either two years placement in the NHS or a masters – and depending on which route I take, I’ll assess how it affects my karate. Hopefully I can keep going for as long as I can with the sport and competing, but it’s hard to predict because I’m not sure what route I’m going to take!


We thank Jessica for her time ahead of the upcoming BUCS Karate Nationals, and wish her and the club the very best as they compete in Sheffield. We also look forward to seeing Jessica continue to progress in her sport and Psychology studies over the next few years at the University of Nottingham.


As well as a reputation for academic excellence, we have a history of sporting success and are passionate about supporting promising athletes during their time at the University of Nottingham. To find out more about our Sports Scholarships, please click here.

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