SOTY 2015: "You don't need to pretend you have something that you don't," says Annie Au

By Ben Pang

Sportsperson judge Annie Au advises contestants to be resilient, mature, show their passion for sport, but ultimately, just to be themselves

By Ben Pang |

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Annie Au says it's important to have a dream.

Each year, contestants for the South China Morning Post Student of the Year (SOTY) sports category impress the panel of judges with their sporting achievements and awards. But as last year's nominees set the bar so high, this year it is going to take something special to stand out.

One of this year's three SOTY sportsperson judges, Annie Au Wing-chi, is the first Hong Kong female squash player to make it into the world's top 10: in 2012, she was ranked sixth. She won silver in the women's singles and women's team event at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games. She also won the 17th Asian Individual Squash Championships in 2013. As a professional squash player who has competed against top athletes from all over the world, Au has some useful advice for SOTY candidates.

Au suggests that contestants impress the judges with their self-esteem, determination and strength. They should show how positive and passionate they are, and how they stay positive when competing against tough opponents. They could also share how they overcome difficulties in a mature way.

Au learned her toughest lesson in 2013. Ranked 15th in the world at the time, she suffered one of her worst defeats against mainlander Li Dongjin, ranked 201, in the semi-finals of the East Asian Games in Tianjin . "I tensed up and made many mistakes. I lost the match, but it was a good learning experience. It taught me that regardless of their ranking, I should treat every opponent as equally tough and challenging," says Au.

Her story can serve as an example for this year's SOTY contestants, as the judges will be looking to see how contestants learn from their mistakes to become better and more confident sportspersons.

Au says contestants can talk about their relationship with their coaches or teammates. While competitors in individual sports play alone, they still require coaches' instructions. Team sports are more about joint effort. Contestants can show how they can work effectively with their teammates.

Mental strength and problem-solving skills are also very important qualities which can help you handle certain situations. Even though coaches can guide you, they can't tell you what to do while you are actually competing. "We [professionals] have sports psychologists at the Hong Kong Sports Institute who help us mentally, but contestants may not have this option. So the ability to control stressful situations can show that they are resilient and determined - qualities that we are looking for," says Au.

There are many different ways to prepare for the interview with the judges. But introducing yourself properly is key, says Au, as it's your best chance to make a good impression on the judges. It's also important to maintain eye contact with the judges and tell them clearly what you've achieved.

"Try not to stress out as it will affect your performance. Simply treat it as a conversation with the judges to help us learn more about you," says Au.

It's also important to have a dream. "My goal is to be ranked in the top five, and this motivates me to work harder and fight for it. Setting such targets shows you're enthusiastic about your sport, and we can see if you'll be able to succeed. It's especially hard for young athletes because they need to balance their studies and sports," says Au.

But, most importantly, you have to be yourself. "Everyone has different strengths and you don't need to pretend you have something that you don't," says Au. "Be proud of what you have, and simply enjoy the process."