Most Hong Kong parents think their kids must choose between sport and academics, but this is no longer the case, even for volleyball players.
Just look at 20-year-old Rachel Tam, who two years ago became the first volleyball player from Hong Kong to receive a scholarship to an American university.
“There’re definitely more opportunities to play volleyball and get scholarships than ever before,” said Rachel, who hopes to encourage more people to follow her path.
To this end, she was running workshops at the Sportsync Sun Life Volleyball Showcase, an event that allowed 50 of Hong Kong’s top female volleyball players to showcase their skills in front of 11 scouts from American and Canadian Universities. She ran workshops during the event and shared advice to other potential scholarship receivers.
Rachel, who studies exercise science at the University of Evansville, said the scouts were “very impressed” with Hong Kong’s talent. In addition, she believes more people should try the sport because of the way it fosters teamwork and camaraderie.
“Volleyball is amazing because it’s the definition of a team sport,” she said. “You always have someone backing you up.
“It’s not like basketball where you can sometimes do everything yourself – you can’t even finish a game, or even a point, without help from your teammates.”
She said that chemistry is more important in volleyball than in any other sport.
“Chemistry is not something that can be built overnight,” Rachel explained. “You have to spend time with your teammates off the court, eat dinner with them, and hang out with them, to really work on that communication. We understand each other. We understand our goal and that we have to get it done together.”
The 1.8 metre-tall Rachel said the sport is also enjoyable because it’s “so explosive”.
“The game is not about endurance. In training, we practise going hard and giving maximum effort for every possession.”
She added that more players getting scholarships will increase the talent of the Hong Kong team.
“Hong Kong can definitely learn from other countries when it comes to sport culture,” the former St Catherine’s School for Girls student said. “In the US, volleyball is taken very seriously and treated professionally – there’s a medical team, athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches available 24 hours a day.”
Rachel hopes to play professional volleyball, either in Asia or in Europe, and plans to continue to represent Hong Kong in international competitions. She called representing Hong Kong in the U19 Asian Championships the proudest moment of her career.
“Seeing the Hong Kong flag hanging up on the wall made me think to myself ‘wow, I am really representing something’,” said Rachel, who thinks Hong Kong has the potential to become one of the top volleyball nations in Asia.
Her advice to young players is to “not let reality define who you are”.
“You have the power to change your own situation, to find opportunities and take advantage of the ones you have,” she added. “See yourself as small, but dream big.”
What animal do you consider yourself to be when you are playing?
I would say I’m like a lion, not because I’m really savage, I just get really loud and really hyped when I’m in a game and start roaring like a lion.
What music do you listen to before a match?
I’ll just listen to any pop music before a game, anything that helps me get hyped and in the mood.