It’s tiring just to list the sports Alyssa Ho Tsz-ling competes in, let play them: she is a rising star in both squash and ice hockey, plays netball and competes in school-level cross-country competitions. Student athletes are no strangers to multitasking – spending hours training while also keeping on top of their academic work – but Alyssa takes that skill to a whole new level.
Yet the 12-year-old doesn’t find any of them a chore, saying that her eagerness to try new things, combined with her competitive streak, means that she’s always been well-suited to sports.
Alyssa currently ranks No. 2 in the Girl’s Under 13 category in squash, and is a member of the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association team which competes in the local Youth National Team Development League.
She first started playing ice hockey when she was four, following in her older brother’s footsteps. She picked up squash two years later, this time influenced by her father, who plays in his spare time. It’s tough to think of two sports less similar, but Alyssa says having the chance to pursue both makes her the best version of herself. She has trained her brain to switch back and forth between “single player” and “multiplayer” modes in an instant.
“The two sports require very different mindsets. In squash, I have to push myself harder because I have to win the game by myself. It’s not like in ice hockey, where the team wins and loses together,” she says.
The hardest thing about playing two sports at an elite level is working out the logistics. Trying to fit training sessions, school, and rest time into her weekly schedule is like playing a game of Tetris.
She trains for around 20 hours a week, which leaves her little time for socialising. The King George V School student tries to compensate by playing for her school’s netball team and running for the cross country team. It means she can spend time with friends while also getting in a little extra technique practice.
But Alyssa learned the hard way how important it is to have a manageable schedule; putting too much on her plate cost her a championship title in squash two years ago. After making it to the finals of the Under 13 category at the US Junior Open Squash Championships, she was on the cusp of making history for Hong Kong.
But during the gold medal match, Alyssa pulled her hamstring and could barely move her leg. She had no choice but to give up.
“I’d taken part in a cross country race before the squash tournament; that’s why I was so exhausted and got injured,” she explains. “The incident made me become more aware of what I do before a tournament.”
While at the moment Alyssa is happy to keep juggling ice hockey and squash, she knows that as she reaches a more competitive level, she will eventually have to drop one sport to focus on the other.
She admits she’ll probably choose squash – it will give her more options when it comes to applying to university – but says this doesn’t mean she’ll stop playing hockey.
“When people ask me that question, I don’t really worry about quitting one sport or the other, because I won’t really quit. I’ll just take one more seriously than the other.”
“I know lots of universities in the US and Britain have ice hockey teams, so I’m sure I’ll get to play competitively again,” she adds.
For now, Alyssa is still enjoying getting the best of both worlds, and wants to make her mark while she still can.
She has her heart set on making the Hong Kong women’s senior ice hockey team, with the aim of playing for the city in the world championships when she turns 16.
She will also take part in several local and international squash championships in the coming months. First up is the Prince Hong Kong Junior Squash Championships 2019 next month, followed by the REDTone 13th Junior Open Squash Championships 2019 in Malaysia in December.
“I’ve never lost to any of the players in my category in the Hong Kong tournament, so my goal is to keep my winning streak,” she says.
But by far the biggest event in Alyssa’s calendar is the Junior Open, which will take place in the US in December. And she has just one goal in mind: reclaim her lost gold medal.
“The girl I lost to two years ago will be there,” she says ominously. “The competition will be interesting.”