SOTY 2014: Judges are looking for more than medals

By Vien Tsang

You'll definitely need to be an outstanding athlete, but there's a lot more to this award than just strength, speed and agility. Our distinguished sports judges tell Vien Tsang what it takes to be named South China Morning Post Student of the Year - Sportsperson

By Vien Tsang |

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Professor Amy Ha Sau-ching, chairperson of the Department of Sports Science and Physical Education, Chinese University of Hong Kong, emphasises being well-rounded. "I am sure all candidates are outstanding sport-wise, but what I want to see during the interview is how they can share what they have gone through. Athletes are sometimes weaker at socialising, so I think if they can have a better presentation, that can make a difference," Ha explains.

"Of course, some other factors matter, too, like whether they are engaged in individual or team sports. The former could be lonelier and somehow more difficult. It depends on each case."

Interviews can be tricky, so Ha shared this advice: "Besides basic preparation like dressing right, being punctual, and communicating clearly, I would record myself answering some practice questions, and then review it."

Ha knows what she's talking about; she's a professor now, but she was an athlete herself when she was younger. She says: "It is never easy to strike a balance between study and training. On the bright side, society is more favourable to young athletes now, as it shows more recognition of their achievements. But youngsters shouldn't forget - be grateful to those who have helped you along the way."

Her motto can inspire and encourage budding sports stars: "Dreams are where you're going. Work is how you get there."

Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, chairman of the Hong Kong United Youth Association, and vice-president of the Fok Ying Tung Group, wants to remind candidates that the process is more important than the result.

"Being well-rounded or not, as well as sports achievements, can be measured by the prizes and medals they have won. However, minutes and seconds are not all that count. I will also take into account their passion for their chosen sport, their devotion towards it," says Fok. "I hope to see candidates whose aim is to improve gradually. Having a goal is crucial, but the path you choose to reach your goal - the journey - is often more important."

Fok went to study in Britain at a young age, and since then, he has been engaged in sports such as cricket, rugby, tennis, and now golf. Through them all, he sees the essence of sports. "As the Olympic motto states , Citius, Altius, Fortius [Faster, Higher, Stronger]. I think the sports spirit is really about improving oneself. I would also like to stress that in the centre of the sporting spirit is fairness. No matter on or off the field, we should always play a fair game with no dirty tricks!"

Noel Prentice, Sports Editor of the South China Morning Post, shares a similar view with Professor Ha when it comes to following dreams. "I always encourage young people to try as many things as they can, to find something they enjoy and develop it as a hobby. Gradually they will find their way in life," says Prentice.

Having been a sports enthusiast since he was very young, Prentice is interested in the inspiration behind an individual's sporting experience. He says: "I may probably ask candidates the question, 'What inspired you to join the sport?' Some students fall into sports by accident - like health problems, such as asthma - but it would be interesting to find out who was inspired by their heroes - say cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze or gymnast Shek Wai-hung."

Prentice was one of the judges last year and he recognises the value of the award. He says: "We had swimmer Siobhan Haughey winning last year, so hopefully other kids will take her as a role model and want to be like her."

Many students are nervous about the interviews, but Prentice recommends to just take it easy. "Just be yourself. We are people as well, who play sports, who have ups and downs; so don't be intimidated."