Interview Transcript

Part 1: Football Story

Lucy 0:00

Hi! I'm Lucy from Passion FC and welcome to the career series. Today I have Tang Han with me. She is a team member of the Chinese national football team from U14 to U18 and currently a student athlete at the University of Cincinnati's women soccer team which competes in Division 1 of NCAA and thanks for joining us in our career series. To give a little bit more context, we hope to show women footballers that having passion in football can provide you with opportunities in your career as well. Today's interview will be done in Mandarin, but English subtitles will be available. The first part of this interview is self-introduction, including your experience, your background stories. Then the first question is can you briefly introduce yourself, for example, where are you from, where do you go to school now, what are you doing now and so on?

Tang Han 0:57

Hello everyone! My name is Tang Han, I'm from China. I'm currently studying and playing for the University of Cincinnati. I'm a sophomore this year. I've been playing football for 10 years. I also played for the U14, U16, U18 Chinese National Women's Football Teams.

Lucy 1:16

Ok, great! Then I want to ask you how you started playing football?

Tang Han 1:20

It's actually very interesting. Before I started playing football, I didn't really know much about football. I started practicing karate when I was six, and I practiced karate for five years. Since I was very fast as a kid, and I got selected by my elementary school's female football coach, then he wanted me to try football. Actually, I didn't know what football was at the time, but then after trying I thought football was interesting and new. Therefore, I went home and talked to my mom about it. The coach then also asked me to try and go compete in games because he found out that I have the speed and I’m always able to score goals. So, he thinks I'm pretty good. At that time, since I come from Sichuan, I was selected by the coach of Sichuan Province. They convinced my mom to let me continue to play football because they thought I was good. At that time, my mom was hesitating too because she liked karate and she wanted me to continue practicing karate because I have won two championships in karate. I had purple belt in karate, so pretty high level. So, she didn't want me to give up karate. But then when the coach of Sichuan team came to talk to my mom, she thought maybe it's also good to try something new. Although Chinese football is relatively unpopular, the Chinese women's football team is pretty decent. However, my parents were divorced at the time, and both my dad and the relatives on his side all didn't want me to play football. They felt that Chinese football is so overlooked, why do I still want to play football? They even verbally abused my mom. But my mom still respected my ideas. She asked me if I wanted to continue to practice karate or play football, and then I thought I want to try something new. So, I said I want to play football. Since then, I pretty much started my football career.

Lucy 3:37

So why do you love football so much? What do you love the most about football?

Tang Han 3:42

Well, football is very attractive. Except for its competitiveness on the football field, its physical confrontation, its technical aspect, I think It's more beautiful when off the field. Like 28 different people are put together, your hearts must be united. So how to unite? It’s to unite the minds of 28 people and try to do the same thing together. We work hard to accomplish one goal together. When you train, the thing that make football so attractive is that from your life so many things will impact and inspire you. So that's the reason why I always like football.

Lucy 4:30

Ok good, so now we have the last question of this part. In your whole football journey, from when you started as a kid to later, now, have you encountered any big difficulties individually? Or what kind of big difficulties did your team encounter as a whole? And how did you get over it?

Tang Han 4:51

In China, there is a big sports meeting called the National Games of China. It's called the National Games for short. So, at that time we were like in 7th or 8th grade, I joined Sichuan's semi-professional team the first semester of 8th grade. At that time, there were 20+ teammates together, living together every day. We used to go to school over there too. But we didn't go very often. So basically, we were together every day living together, training and eating together, sleeping in a dorm for four people. It was about 2012, 2013, our provincial team began to train together for the National Games in 2017. That game was very important. It's because of this competition, so we were all gathered. In the process if you play better than others or like you perform well, during this training process, you can be chosen to be part of the U17 or U20 team. So, you can go participate in some international level competitions, playing against South Korea, Japan, North Korea, and so on and compete with girls aged between 14-16. Then it was National Games in 2017. We played very hard, and they all thought that our Sichuan team was a dark horse. But the thing is nobody would have expected that in the last game, the game we had to win, unfortunately we were tied. At the end there was a penalty kick, but our penalty shooter missed, so we ended in a draw, which means we didn't make it out of the preliminaries. So basically, in the prelim stage we couldn't even finish our own dream and goal. Since then, our whole team just felt like everything's changed and everyone collapsed. Everyone felt so frustrated because at the same time, after 2017, we would have more options.

After 2017, some of us could choose to go to college, and some people can choose to go continue to play football. Yes so basically everybody wanted to accomplish one goal while all of us are together, do a great thing together. However, we still lost that game, then felt like all of our dreams and all the things we wanted to do were destroyed. The whole team also entered a slump, for myself also, I entered a slump too. My dad knew that I wasn't successful in the National Games in 2017, so he was kind of sarcastic to me. At that time, maybe I had bad temper, so I fought him hearing him saying those. So, at home my relationship with him was completely broken. In the team, we didn't want to play football or play games too. However, in 2017, my luckiest time also came. That is Gao Hong, the head coach of the U17 team, selected me to play in the Asian Cup in Thailand. So basically, when my team didn't make the National Games, I followed coach Gao Hong to play Weifang Cup. Then we won the first place. So, Weifang Cup is like a friendly tournament, international friendly tournament, participating teams include Japan, the United States, Canada. The American team was very good, but we still won the game 5:4. We won the first place, at the same time, in our Sichuan team the players' emotions were out of control and fought with another team. Also, since it was pretty serious, all the videos of them fighting were handed over to the Chinese Football Association. Then among our Sichuan team, nine people were suspended, four of them were suspended for 2 years, five for 1 year. Being suspended means you can't play in the national games. It was tough. However, at the time I was at Weifang Cup tournament, and I also got first place at the tournament. To compare to them, it's a huge contrast. After I finished the National Youth team's training, I went back to Sichuan team and I just felt weird. Because my teammates thought I just wasn't there. If I were there same thing would have happened to me, being suspended, because they thought I would have fought for sure too. So yes I just felt a difference there. My relationship with them at that time was very bad, and I didn't know what to do. But I couldn't do anything about it anyways because at the time my only goal was to be in Thailand and be able to qualify in Thailand to help the Chinese National team win the game in order to get the "ticket" to the FIFA U-17 World Cup. At that time, I have also experienced a lot in Thailand, but in the end, we didn't get the "ticket". Anyway, it was a pity.

Stay tuned for our second segment: Career in Football

Interview Transcript

Part 2: Career in Football

Lucy 0:00

Let's start with the second part of questions, your football careers. What your daily life is like?

The first question is can you talk about your football life in China? Even though you may have already said a bit before, can you talk about your everyday life? What is your daily life like on the U-18 team and U-16 team? And topics like training regime, training intensity or competition arrangement, can you talk about these in general?

Tang Han 0:30

Basically, the training regime is relatively restrictive in China. Everybody gathers and has breakfast at 7:30am. And then we have our first training session from 9:30am to 11:30am. We take a shower after that, and we have our lunch at 12:30pm. Then you can take a nap or do whatever you want. From 3:30pm to 5:30pm we have our second training session. Dinner at 6:30pm. After dinner the coach may show some videos. We will watch a game video or have a meeting together. If you are injured, this is the time for treatment. Because we were young, they will take away our phones. They collect our phones every day. And then after dinner we will have our phone back for the evening. We have to return our cell phone before 10 o'clock, and we turn off the lights and go to bed at 10pm. If you fail to do it, you will be fined. Basically, that's for every day. We seldom go home. Basically, we can't go home. During Spring Festival or other holidays, we only got one to three days off.

Lucy 1:46

So, it's impossible to go back home on weekends.

Tang Han 1:48

We can only go back a few times a year. For weekend, huh. Our weekends are short, It's usually only Sunday. We basically go to the mall or somewhere. Buy some bubble tea, or sleep for most of the day. So, we seldom go home. We are inside the facility or follow the team most of the time.

Lucy 2:11

What about the frequency of games? In addition to international competitions, are there any warm-up matches or friendly matches, something like that? How often will the team play a match?

Tang Han 2:25

National team training is basically monthly. Sometimes one month, or 25 days for national team training. The training places are different. They are all over the country. We have been to the facilities in Beijing, Shanghai, or Jiangsu. The location changes every time. And then after you come back from the national team, you'll be back to your local team. There is a league for the local teams called Chinese Women's Super League. They organize league matches and other tournaments. You're going to be representing where you're from, competing against those from other cities like Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangdong. It's like a tournament. During this process, they will evaluate and pick players for the national team. If the national team has a goal, like the Olympics, or friendly matches against other nations. They will continue to gather everybody, call in the players, and prepare for the game.

Lucy 3:29

So, the next question is, what is your experience of playing soccer in college in the United States? If you can briefly introduce the NCAA and your daily life. I'm sure you need to take classes. And then you have training, so what is it like? The training regime, style, and the competition. Basically, the same question but under the background of United States.

Lucy 3:51

So, the NCAA is a system that enables student athletes to study in full-time universities. And then train and attend school level competitions on behalf of their school. There are about 600000 student athletes in American colleges. And they provide more than $3 billion of related scholarship programs to support this system.

Tang Han 4:13

In the United States it's relatively freer. Because the coach in our college prefers having the training session in the morning. So basically, we start at 6 o'clock or 8 o'clock. The training session plus strength and conditioning together is about two and a half hours, and then all the rest of the time is your own time. Our school's rule is that we are not allowed to train for more than 12 hours per week. Because you also have to maintain your academic performance, so our GPA cannot be lower than 3.5. If your GPA is below 3.5, your coach won't let you train. The competition here is very different from Chinese competitions. So, the official competitions here are all in fall. Because this year is, well, last year because of the pandemic, we moved our games from last fall to this spring. Our normal season is in fall. During spring, we normally have friendly matches and practice matches. The rules are not the same as the Chinese ones either. For example, only five substitution are allowed within 90 minutes in Chinese competitions. While in the NCAA, rules there are no limits for substitutions. You're subbed off, take a break and then you can get back subbed in again, it's unlimited. The tournament is also a knockout tournament format. First of all, we will be playing in the AAC tournament. If you win the championship, you will enter the NCAA tournament. The NCAA tournament is in a knockout format. If you win, you move forward; if you lose, you stay at that ranking. Well, that's why it's different here. And then the academic side, well, student athletes all have an advisor. And then if you are having trouble in your classes or you have other problems, you can go to them and they will help you out. So, the school here is the same. They want you to perform well in sports as well as school. But for me, it's a better for my self-discipline. In fact, they do not care about our school work that much in China. As long as you are good at football, it doesn't matter whether you study or not. So, a lot of football players are actually concerned about what should they do when they don't play football any more. They don't know because they didn't get to go to school much So, this is a very different point.

Lucy 7:05

So, the next question. Why did you choose to come to the US, playing football while studying at school? How did you get this chance?

Tang Han 7:15

Actually, I can come to the United States to study is largely thanks to the support from the Chinese national team coach Gao Hong. He was supportive about Chinese players coming to the US to study and play football at the same time. Because it will really change our lives. When I was on the Sichuan team, his training style and my everyday life made me feel like I was a useless person. Every day I feel unmotivated. In addition to training, I had nothing to do. It makes me feel scared. If I want to continue playing football until like 28, 30 or 31 years old, will my life in the future 8 or 10 years be like this, feeling aimless every day? For football, I don't have any very extraordinary goal. For academic, I learned nothing. That's when I started to want to leave the Sichuan provincial team at that time. And then I happened to hear the words from the coach of our national team. He told me that I can go to the United States to play football. I was like “em?” I felt like an opportunity fell in front of us. And then I talked with my mom about this, she was very supportive as well.

Lucy 8:31

So, when you applied at that time, did you have to prepare like a personal football resume, like preparing a lot of videos of you playing football or something like that, like contacting the coach?

Tang Han 8:42

Yes, yes. Now we all need to send those videos to the coaches. Our coach found me on Google. After he saw the videos, he got more excited. And then, yes, he searched my name on Google and he happened to find me.

Stay tuned for our third and final segment: Career Advice

Interview Transcript

Part 3: Career Advice

Lucy 0:00

Ok so, this is the last part of our interview. What are some other difficulties you faced? Or what are some advice for others? Well, I've always heard that professional athletes face a lot of mental pressure, like you have a lot to deal with. So, how did you face it? And especially now you also have academic pressure? Because your requirement for staying in school team, GPA 3.5, is actually quite high because I think for a lot of people, I feel like even if they don't play football or do college sports, they can't get 3.5. So how you deal with the pressure?

Tang Han 0:34

So, to be honest, I faced different kind of pressure in China compared to playing in the United States. It's just different. If there's pressure but I don't see hope, I would think the pressure is too much. But if the pressure shows the way for me to move forward, I feel like I'm going to enjoy the pressure, Well, so in fact, there are also a lot of athletes have mental pressure and stressed because most of them always think about whether it is worth it or not doing what they are doing right now. Because they always ask themselves, do I really know what am I doing? Sometimes it's like because of losing one game, then for you maybe three or four years of hard work will be in vain. I used to think about these at the time: should I continue to play football? Or should I try something new? I've been struggling to decide. But I like football, I love it, should I go? So, this kind of thing makes you face dilemmas, and it will make you very stressful. So basically, in China, you have mental pressure because you can't see your future. If you can see the future, then everybody is like no matter how hard it is, I can keep going as long as I can. No matter how tired I am, I'm willing to give all I have. On the other hand, in the US the academic requirement is pretty high. But for football practice, I think It's all OK, like it doesn't give me too much pressure. Having this kind of pressure makes me happy. It's a driving force, a source of motivation for me, to move forward. But actually, sometimes if, for example we usually don't train during the second half of the semesters because you have to take all kinds of exams during the final weeks. It was quite stressful for me during that time. Last semester, we had to stay at home because of the pandemic, so, I have to face all kinds of exams and schoolwork. When it comes to the afternoon, I always feel so stressed and crazy, like really want to scream it out. I felt so uncomfortable, and I feel very depressed staying in my dorm room. Then I opened the window and made a cup of coffee and drank it, wanting to calm down and letting it out but all of a sudden, it broke out.

Lucy 3:01

So now you actually have more academic pressure, but not so much mental pressure from playing football.

Tang Han 3:08

Yes, for me playing football it's all free now. There's not a lot of pressure except for losing games. But actually, losing is ok for me now too because it's still an experience and I will find things to change for the next game. So basically, I only feel a bit pressured from schoolwork.

Lucy 3:25

But for example, before when you were in China, maybe you put all of your attention on playing football, this one thing and just focusing on yourself. So that's why when you lose a game or can't see hope, it's a great blow to your mental health.

Tang Han 3:41

Yes, so there's a very common type of people or mindset in China and Chinese football. It's a very common phenomenon. You know "the frog in the well"? What's scarier is not the frog in the well, it’s that the people, the frogs, that know they are at the bottom of the well, but they don't want to jump out. They just want to stay there and not going anywhere. For me, this is the scariest and this is why I wanted to leave and come to the US to start a new chapter of my life.

Lucy 4:15

So, the last question is, do you have any advice for those girls who want to develop a career in professional football? Are there any more suggestions? Or if they want to play football at US universities? What advice do you have for them? For example, some suggestions for preparation or other considerations.

Tang Han 4:35

Well, I think whether you want to choose professional football or not or want to go to the United States and other countries. You must be firm in your choices. Don't care about other people's opinions too much. You must have a firm voice. The most important is you may not see the effect in the short term. You can't see the end results. But when you stick to it, you will eventually get what you want. So, for example, I knew when I came to the US, there would be a transitional period. This is for sure. There would be problems like discrimination and language barrier. Indeed, later on, it did happen. But I didn't regret my decision. I was ready to face the unknown. Well, for example, when you choose a path, taking an unknown road, you feel excited instead of being afraid then I think that's the right choice for you. At the time, the moment I got on the plane, I just knew everything would change after I arrived the US. Although I didn't know what the change was going to be exactly, I knew it would definitely be a very big change. So, I was very excited. I was really looking forward to something new, something that would happen in the future. I'm looking forward to both the good and the bad.

Lucy 6:10

Yes, exactly. So, for those who are slightly younger than you, those who have not entered college but should be preparing soon, if they are interested in coming to the United States to play football and study here. As a person who has been through this, what do you think they should do? Especially since you prepared in a harry, what would you do if you could do it again? In other words, how would you recommend them to better prepare themselves?

Tang Han 6:32

First of all, when you come to the US, whether you were in China or not, coming to the US will allow you to see more and know more people. In terms of language as well as cultural differences, you have to be as prepared as possible because I was at a disadvantage since my English wasn't too good. In addition, in terms of economic problems, if it's really hard for your family to support you to come to the United States then I wouldn't recommend you come. Because the truth is international students can't really work here and there's no way to go home to make more money, so you probably have to rely on your parents to support you. This is the real situation. But you can also try to get a full-ride scholarship, so that it may reduce your financial pressure as well as your family's financial pressure. So, these are something you must consider and prepare: whether or not you can receive a full-ride scholarship; what's your education and English level; then the financial problems, if it is hard to afford? Basically, that's it, and also, you have to prepared mentally. You have to be prepared for what you would face away from home by yourself. Be prepared to face difficulties. You have a full-ride, right?

Lucy 7:59

Yeah, right, for a full-ride scholarship, you still need to cover your own living expense right? Like it only covers tuition?

Tang Han 8:08

Yes, tuition is covered, and then housing and all other things are covered too. They also give me some extra stipend, like spending money, but not too much.

Lucy 8:17

So, you live in the dorm right now?

Tang Han 8:21

Ah, yes, but I live in a single room because I don't really like sharing a room with others. I told them I want a single room.

Lucy 8:29

That's great! Ok then, this is the end of our interview. Thank you! Thank you very much!

Thank you everyone for tune in to our career series brought to you by Soccer Girl Goals and Passion FC! Mentioned at the start of interview, we hope that this series can show people that playing and having a passion for football can provide you with opportunities both within and beyond football.

This is the sixth and last interview of #TheCareerSeries. We hope this series shed some insights into the stories of Asian footballers around the world, and also gave you some advice whether you choose to pursue football full-time or in parallel with your careers in other areas.

Thank you for tuning in!

This concludes #TheCareerSeries interviews, thank you for tuning in!