Uniting Cultures through Volleyball

A faculty member/coach and Upper School student-athlete reflect on their experiences competing internationally.

Athletic competition can both divide communities and bring them together through shared camaraderie. Upper School history teacher and varsity girls volleyball coach Greg Young and freshman Crary Moore experienced the latter part of this lesson first-hand while competing in the International Children’s Games in Taiwan this summer. In the following two articles, they delve deeper into what they took away from their unique, and sometimes unexpected, encounters with different cultures.

“Be Strong, Be Friends”

By Greg Young

With the conclusion of the Olympics in Brazil last month, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the idea that, for two weeks, the world was connected through something as simple as a game. Countries around the world put aside their differences and watched in amazement as sports figures from more than 100 countries competed for the medals. Like many of you, I found myself glued to the television and watched as athletes like Michael Phelps and Simone Biles united everyone through their feats of sporting history. In a sense, the legacy of the games is much more than the athletes competing. It’s about bringing different cultures together with a common language that we can all understand.

In February, I was approached by Gretchen Simard, the coordinator for the Chesterfield delegation of the International Children’s Games, who offered me the chance to coach a girls’ volleyball team from the Richmond area to represent the United States in New Taipei City, Taiwan. The ICG is an event sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee that follows much of the same structure and mission philosophy of other larger Olympic Committee events such as the Olympics in Brazil. The major differences between the ICG and the Olympics are that delegations are based out of a particular member city, and all athletes have to be between the ages of 12 and 15. I was humbled by the offer and graciously accepted the opportunity to recruit a team of talented volleyball athletes from the greater Richmond area. I quickly went to work planning logistics of traveling 5,000 miles with eight 14- and 15-year-olds. Before we knew it, July came, and we found ourselves on an airplane embarking on a 29-hour trip to Taiwan.

Upon arrival in New Taipei, we were taken to Fu Jen Catholic University, which hosted the athlete village for all the players and coaches from more than 50 countries. It was during check-in that I received my first taste of the amazing and welcoming spirit of the people of Taiwan. We were greeted by a group of local students and their teachers, who would go on to become our own personal cheering section from start to finish for all of our games. The group made banners, posters, and even created a song for our arrival that they sang to us. It was then that I began to feel that the games themselves were going to become something bigger than just a competition.

Later, we were scheduled to have our first practice on the game court. As we walked into the gym and prepared to take our court, I noticed the coach from the Alkmaar, Netherlands delegation sitting with his team. They looked confused and were packing up to walk out of the gym. After speaking with one of the Canadian coaches, I found out the Netherlands team had missed its practice because their bus had taken too long getting to the gym. Upon learning this, I walked up to the Netherlands coach and offered his team the opportunity to share our practice time and court. The coach was astonished— not only because I was sharing my practice time, but also because we were scheduled to play them first in the games. We ended up co-coaching some drills and splitting our groups so all the girls worked out together. This turned out to be one of the best and most memorable parts of the trip. Despite the difference in language, style of play, and 2,000 miles separating our hometowns, both teams clicked and became instant friends. The common language of a sport created an instant bond among the girls.

The next few days of the games were some of the best memories I have created in my years. I can’t really tell you many details about the actual volleyball matches. I can’t tell you who hit the most kills or had the most digs. I can’t tell you how many aces we served or how many blocks we had. What I can tell you is that, throughout five official days of the games, I watched eight girls become ambassadors for the values we hold dear in the United States, just as players from other countries shared values their respective cultures hold as well.

The common language of competition brought players, coaches, and spectators together from around the world. Despite different languages and cultures, we had a common identity in the fact that we love volleyball. As I traveled home from the games and while watching the Olympics, I often wondered about how we can apply these ideas to the global community. If 12- to 15-year-old children can do it, then I believe the rest of the world can, as well.

The official theme for the games in Taiwan was “Be Strong, Be Friends.” It was marketed on every shirt, billboard, TV commercial, and even in a song performed by the Taiwanese equivalent of Justin Bieber. At first I didn’t really understand what the slogan meant or how it applied to an event of this size. Over the course of the games, however, I was able to understand how this should not only apply to the games, but to all of our lives.

Here’s a prime example: after we lost our final match to Taiwan, I was amazed at how fast the Taiwanese girls came over and started talking to our team, offering hugs and handshakes. It took a minute to understand, but our girls quickly hugged back and were smiling with them. After the last ball hit the court, we were immediately given the respect you would have given if you just played your best friend. This is one of the greatest lessons I hope I can bring back to Richmond. It doesn’t matter how hard you fought and what the result was—in the end you can be friends and show respect that a fellow athlete or student deserves. Despite losing our match to Taiwan, I felt the lesson learned was a victory for my team.

Belonging to a Global Community

By Crary Moore

As a competitive student-athlete, I’m always looking for ways to expand my playing ability and my knowledge about sports. I was privileged to be asked by Coach Young to participate in the 2016 International Children’s Games in Taipei, Taiwan in July. I accepted as soon as I could and was prepared to be challenged physically and mentally. I was joining a team of girls that already knew each other, and I was worried that during practices and travel I wasn’t going to fit in. Thankfully, the girls on my team were amazing, and travelling with them was a great experience. In addition, having Coach Young at Steward put pressure on me to show how I could uphold the reputation of not only Steward but the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Walking into the auditorium at Fu Jen University and seeing all the teams from around the world made me realize that countries, no matter how different, are all connected by the universal language of sports. Our team was basically jumping up and down with excitement, itching to mingle with teams from Europe and Asia. On our first day of competition, we were going to play the girls from the Netherlands and Taiwan. I think I can speak for the entire team and say we were anxious. We had already heard that the Netherlands had won gold last year and that Taiwan was going to put up a tough fight.

During the first set against the Netherlands, it was clear we needed to get our feet under us. It was easy to tell how much the girls put into the game they love, and even hearing them call out shots in Dutch was intimidating. Unfortunately, we lost the first set, but during the second set, we played a great game and showed them our capabilities. Coach Young reminded us that it wasn’t just about winning—it was about being able to compete with girls around the world while experiencing a higher level of sportsmanship.

I’ve travelled around the world before, but being in Taiwan made me feel part of a community full of unfamiliar cultures and amazing people. It made me realize that the world is a big place and sports bring us together. No matter if you win or lose, it is important to appreciate how amazing and different each country is. I have a newfound admiration for athletic styles and cultures around the world, and I was honored to play against many talented girls just like myself.

 

 

 

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