October 18 2016 Featured Student-athlete, Kai Yang
Ever since Singapore’s got her first Olympic medal, the support for local athletes has increased tremendously. Not only is Singapore well-known for her cleanliness and security, but also the country that “the kid who beat Michael Phelps” is from.
We met up with Lee Kai Yang, a team member of the national Water Polo team. Kaiyang’s passion for water-polo has captivated us all. His hard work has certainly paid off as he was recently selected to represent Singapore at the 10th Asian Swimming Championships Water Polo Tournament.
Our fascination of how one can keep up with both studies and being a national athlete in Singapore has led us into curiosity, so we asked him to share his perspective on being a student-athlete.
- Hi Kai Yang, can you give an introduction about yourself?
Hi everyone! I am Kai Yang, a student by day and a national athlete by nights. I study accountancy at Singapore Management University and am in my second year now. I am also a member of the Singapore National Water Polo Team. A usual weekday for me consists of school during the day and training at night. On the weekends, I spend my time coaching, training and hanging out with friends and family. I'm just your average Singaporean youth who likes sports a little too much.
- What inspired you to take up water polo?
I was first exposed to water polo when I was 11, where my older brother (who was 13 then) joined the school's water polo team. 2 years on, when I was 13, I ended up in the same secondary school as my brother and had to choose a CCA to join. I was hesitant to join water polo at first simply cause I wanted to do something different from my brother (stupid reason on hindsight to be honest), but my parents coaxed me into going for the trials. I had fun at the trials and got selected into the team, and I guess as they say the rest is history.
My aspirations to don the national colours came a little later, again thanks to my brother. My brother at that time was part of the National Youth Team that represented the nation in a few regional tournaments, seeing him representing Singapore got me a little jealous and I guess planted the seed in my head to train hard so that one day I would be in his shoes. I guess the hard work paid off.
- Have you come across any struggles while playing water polo?
Water Polo is a tough contact sport, for the uninitiated its like playing rugby, basketball and soccer all at once, in the water. This also means that our trainings have to be equally tough or if not even tougher to make sure we are ready to face our opponents. I've had training sessions that have made me puke, made me dizzy and made me bleed, but the struggles of training can be really rewarding when it all comes together in the game.
However, the physical struggles I faced playing water polo does not compare to the mental struggles, especially the struggles I face outside of the pool. Having to commit so much of my time to training for the sport, it means that I have lesser time for everything else, I have lesser time for my studies, I have lesser time for my friends and most importantly I have lesser time with my family. Its the constant struggle to balance my commitment for the sport with other facets of my life that can sometimes seem a little too overwhelming. I remember when I first started university, I was worried about balancing my studies and my trainings because I thought that I could not focus on one without adversely affecting the other.
Over a year has passed since I entered SMU and I can safely say that the struggle is still ongoing, but the difference is the people around me, my teammates, friends and family. Their support is what keeps me going and their encouragement is what makes this struggle all worthwhile. I rely on my team, friends and family both in and out of the pool to overcome all the struggles I may face one at a time, and in return I play my best for them every time I get the chance.
- After Singapore got her first Olympic gold medal, there has been a greater appreciation for local athletes, do you think it has changed anything for you?
This hasn't changed much for me personally, because my motivation to do what I've been doing has always been intrinsic. Meaning to say, that my love for the sport before Joseph won his medal was never any lesser than after he did.I still train as hard as I did before, I am still as proud to represent to country as I did before and I still love what I do as I did before. I think the changes that have occurred or will occur due to the greater appreciation for local athletes is one that is more systemic, I already see more emphasis placed on the sporting culture of Singapore. What this has allowed for, is for more of the general public to understand the perspectives of a national athlete and the struggles we face day in day out. So I would say nothing much really has changed for me, what has changed is the general appreciation by the public for national athletes, and for that I am extremely thankful of Joseph for what he has done.
- Lastly, do you have any advice for local athletes who are deciding to play professionally?
A senior of mine from the national team once told me this, he said we (our team) may not be paid to play water polo as our profession, but that doesn't and shouldn't stop us from training or playing at a level of professionalism that we can all be proud of. What I took away was that it is easy so say that you may want to turn pro, but just like any other profession, you won't get paid until you have proven your worth. That is why it is so difficult to turn pro, it requires guts, guts to throw all the time and effort that you have into the sport and not get anything in return until you have reached a level of professionalism which warrants a pay. So, my advice would be that the first step towards a pro career would a professional mindset in everything you do, walk the talk and not sit back and wait for something to happen.
Visual Mass wants to thank all the local athletes for their hard work. To show our full support for our athletes, we are now open to collaborations. Just e-mail us at email@example.com!