Referee shrugs off his bashful side
Volleyball player Chung Wai-sze struggled with shyness and a lack of confidence - despite his on-court success with Hong Kong's youth and senior teams - until he qualified as a referee.
The 20-year-old Form Six student at Cotton Spinners Association Secondary School, in Kwai Chung, was nicknamed 'Mad' by his friends and teammates because of his extrovert play in competitions. But, at other times, he was bashful and reserved and had low self-esteem.
'I was always worried and lacked confidence,' says Wai-sze, who since 2008 had played as setter for Hong Kong in international youth events, including last year's seventh National Intercity Games in Nanchang , before his promotion to the senior team. 'Before, I hid the real me; I didn't know how to be myself.'
Yet four years ago, aged 17, he took a volleyball refereeing course while in Form Five at Kwai Chung's Buddhist Sin Tak College. 'My senior schoolmates ran an introductory course, so I went along to see what I could learn.'
After the course, Wai-sze passed the elementary referee's exam, run by the Volleyball Association of Hong Kong, China. Since then, he has refereed many local tournaments. He and a team of officials take it in turns to act as the first referee - the principal official that stands up above the top of the net - second referees, who help make line decisions, and the score recorder.
'You need to concentrate every second of a match - and also stand very firm over your decisions,' Wai-sze says. 'Any hesitation or show of weakness can have a disastrous effect in the eyes of the players.'
He has sometimes faced criticism from people because of his young age. 'I've not had any official complaints from players, but sometimes they've questioned my ability. Players who are unhappy with a call, especially adults, have asked me why the association has sent someone 'so young' to referee the match. I just tell them that I'm a qualified referee.'
Wai-sze says he has not lost all of his shyness, but his confidence has been boosted by being a referee. 'The job is never easy; sometimes you need to referee matches from the morning through to the evening, yet you still must be professional and remain totally focused,' he says.
'The number of volleyball players who compete in Hong Kong is not that large, so I often come across friends in matches, especially inter-school matches. Now, after quite a few years as a referee, I am no longer nervous when in charge of games involving people I know.'
Last year, Wai-sze became a third-class referee - one level above an elementary referee.
He says more people, particularly students, should train to be referees. 'There's a huge demand for volleyball referees. Unlike other sports, volleyball tournaments are held most weeks.'
Salaries for refereeing, from HK$60 to HK$90 per match, are attractive for students. 'You can enrol in the course as long as you are 17 or above, whether or not you know how to play the sport,' he says. 'Of course, you also need to be very familiar with the rules to pass the exam and gain your licence.'