Each summer, youth volleyball players across America travel to Notre Dame to train and learn under the tutelage of the Irish volleyball players and coaching staff.
This year the team camp included participants from across the continents as well as across the country. From July 18-22 a contingent of players and coaches from the Yuxin School Affiliated to Capital Normal University in Beijing reported to the Joyce Center alongside the American teams attending camp. After the conclusion of the camp, the Chinese attendees visited Chicago to take in the famous sights such as Millennium Park, Navy Pier, and the Willis Tower Skydeck. This was the second time a group from China has journeyed to Notre Dame for athletics over the past year.
Back in March, the Irish fencing team welcomed a group of friendly competitors from Shanghai Lixin University of Accounting and Finance to train against over spring break. These fencers came to test their skills against the Irish as part of a friendship program organized through Notre Dame International. After seeing the program's success, ND Athletics decided to once again team up with the Beijing Global Gateway to further develop the partnership with Chinese universities and student athletes.
The Yuxin School Affiliated to Capital Normal University athletic director, Yufeng Zhao, used to be a professional volleyball player with the He Bei Provincial Team before using her athletic background to start down a new career path.
"After I finished playing volleyball I went to college and graduate school for sports (majoring in sports training and education). When I was little my coaches guided me and mentored me and taught me everything about volleyball and about life, and I am very grateful for that. So now, after all of my playing and degrees, I wanted to give back and mentor the youth, as they are the foundation of sports education for the nation," explained Zhao.
In her position with the Yuxin School she had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame last July for the University of Notre Dame Overseas Study Program for Sports Leaders in China. ND International and ND Athletics collaborated with the Federation of University Sports China (FUSC) to give Chinese sports administrators like Zhao this kind of opportunity. During this programs, Zhao was able to observe volleyball camp and begin making plans to bring her students and staff to Notre Dame the following summer.
Through this camp and the mingling of cultures and attitudes it encourages, coaches and players benefit from the variety of techniques and approaches to the game that unites them.
"Whether in China or the US we have the same goal: to win the game and to be a good volleyball player, but we may have different approaches to reach this goal. In China, people's mindsets are different. That's why it's good for coaches to experience how coaches here coach their players, and why it helps coaches here to see how we teach. It gives the coaches another tool to use if the first approach to coaching a player isn't yielding results," said Zhao.
Not only did the coaches have the chance to exchange coaching approaches and techniques, but the players from both countries benefited from the opportunity to share their cultures and build friendships based on their shared passion for the sport. When asked how their these kids can incorporate their passion for volleyball into their academic plans, Zhao was optimistic about the potential the sport affords them.
"In the future maybe some of them who excel at the sport could get scholarships to colleges in China or maybe some could get the to come to college in the US to study. The benefit is more that they play volleyball, and because of that there is one more option for them in the future," she said.
This aspect of athletics is what unites all who have passion for the sport they play. No matter which country an athlete calls home, the work ethic, commitment, and perseverance their sport instills in them provides the skills to be successful and the foundation upon which they can build their future.
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Jane Horvat is a student assistant for Fighting Irish Media. In addition to working with Men's Ice Hockey, Volleyball, and Football, she contributes to the writing team and is an English and romance languages major. A member of the Glynn Family Honors Program, Horvat writes for the online art database See Art Differently and hails from Rockford, Illinois.