by Ela Howard
Charleen Wong was named the MVP in U12 division in Bangkok Women Ice Hockey Tournament 2019. Her mother, Clara Wong, who has always been an avid fan and supporter of the sport, supports her daughter in whatever way she can. This includes taking her to every practice and competition. Clara and her husband were both introduced to ice hockey when studying at university in Canada. When they moved back to Hong Kong, they wanted Charleen grow up to be a brave and confident young lady and they believed playing sports especially Ice Hockey could be the right sport for her.
One day Charleen was walking past the ice rink when she saw a game of ice hockey going on and was immediately attracted to the sport because of the teamwork and speed that it required. That’s when she decided she wanted to try ice hockey. She ended up falling in love with the sport and has kept playing it ever since.
Although ice hockey is not a common sport in Hong Kong — especially among women and girls – playing the sport has given Charleen and Clara a community, where mother and daughter share a common passion for the sport with their friends.
I interviewed both Clara and Charleen about what it meant to play ice hockey in Hong Kong, and the opportunities as well as adversities that they face playing a male dominated, high contact sport.
When and why did you decide to let Charleen play ice hockey?
Charleen started ice skating when she was around four years old in the summer of 2010. When my husband and I were both studying in Canada we used to watch NHL games and loved how exciting the sport was. So, when we found out there was ice hockey beginning class for young children, we both thought it would be a great sport for our daughter to learn. We decided that teaching our daughter how to ice skate would be a good skill to have and from there Charleen progressed to playing ice hockey. She was the one who decided to play the sport; we didn’t force her into playing it.
Through ice hockey she has made so many friends and even though training can be tough sometimes, she always wants to come back. She’s developed so much confidence from playing and the will to never give up no matter what, but most importantly she has fun.
“Everytime when we watch her playing ice hockey, she always has the biggest smile on her face.”
Whenever the season is about to begin she gets very excited and is always asking when the trainings will start.
What are the differences that you notice about the sport being played in Hong Kong versus. in Canada?
There are many differences. Mainly, we don’t have enough people interested in the sport, but that’s also because of the lack of facilities. There are not enough ice rinks here compared to in Canada. Along with the fees being very high and lots of equipment to invest, it makes it a difficult sport for people, especially kids, to get into.
There aren’t many girls playing ice hockey in Hong Kong, so Charleen used to train and play with the boys. She is 13 now and just started to play in the HKWIHL (Hong Kong Women Ice Hockey League) since 2018 and train with the older girls. In her team in HKWIHL, all the girls range between 13 and 18 years old and Charleen’s team recently made it to the finals of the league which consisting of 4 teams. (Charleeen’s team ranked 2nd in the finals at the end)
Author’s Note: From my own observations I see that it’s especially difficult to attract many girls in Hong Kong to play ice hockey because for many girls growing up here, it’s implied that full contact sports can be dangerous and are seen as more male dominated. For instance, when another ice hockey player Christie Cheung’s started playing ice hockey, at first her mother was apprehensive of her playing because her mother thought that “girls should play gentler sports that didn’t require so much physical contact.” However, after seeing how much joy ice hockey brought to Christie, her mother quickly changed her mind and became supportive.
It may not be the girls themselves who are reluctant to try ice hockey; rather it could be the older women in their lives and their perceptions on girls playing high contact sports,that is limiting more girls joining. The good thing is, this perception can change, as seen in Women’s Rugby, with more women playing the sport and with more opportunities for girls to start playing at a younger age.
Why do you think it’s important to support children playing sports in Hong Kong?
Through sport we are able to teach them time management, healthy lifestyle, responsibility and so much more. Children need to finish their school works before trainings. They also learn to rest well and eat healthily in order to perform well Also, the team is counting on each of the teammates! One thing I have found through ice hockey is this community of other mums and dads, and over the years we have formed a really close bond. We all just want to go and watch our kids play and enjoy the game. Not only have our children become friends through ice hockey, but we, as parents, have as well.
I think as parents we need to show encouragement and enthusiasm from the stands. We should never criticise them; but rather encourage them by asking how they thought the game went and led them to find ways to improve. As parents, we choose to sit back and let the kid take us on the ride. My duty is to get Charleen to the rink on time. Adults along with our children can have so many great learning experiences through sport. For example, there was a tournament called Hockey 5’s in Hong Kong where many teams from around the world are invited. I remembered once, the coach in one of the youth team was so mean to his own players and the referee decided to send the coach out of the ice. So, one of Charleen’s coach took over the opponent team as well.
“Playing sports is so much more than just about winning, it’s about teaching your children morals and showing them the meaning of good sportsmanship. “
How has ice hockey helped you in other aspects of your life?
Ice hockey is a very unique sport, it’s not like any other sports that I play. It’s fast and it relies heavily on the team. You have to control the game together as a team. Ice hockey has taught me how to better work with others and also the importance of team spirit. Working with teammates with good passing is the key in ice hockey. Without cooperation, it is hard to dominate the puck and score. You need to trust your teammates and take responsibility. For example, if your teammates get into an argument with the other team you have to pull them apart. Throughout the years, I travelled to many different places with my team for ice hockey camps and tournaments, including Toronto, Niagara, Vancouver, Kelowna, Hokkaido, Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei and many places in China, etc. On the ice, we worked hard in the trainings and fought hard in the tournaments. Off the ice, we explored different countries and enjoyed various cuisine around the world.
What are some challenges that you face playing ice hockey as a girl?
Most people don’t know what ice hockey is when I tell them that I play it, they are usually like ‘ohhh ice hockey? Interesting…’ They are more curious than anything else.
I used to train with boys when I was younger and I still train mostly with boys, though there are also two or three other girls training together. Sometimes the boys don’t check me* with so much momentum, I think they just don’t want to hurt me. It’s understandable though.
There aren’t many girls playing ice hockey in Hong Kong. Some girls think it’s not for them but when they give it a go,I think gender doesn’t matter. Ice hockey is for a certain type of person who like challenges regardless boy or girl. Ice hockey is a sport for someone who’s not afraid to fall down again and again, it’s for someone who loves a fast paced game. But most importantly ice hockey is a sport for someone who is a great team player and understands that you cannot win a game alone, that it is a whole team effort.
* A check is when the opponent swings their hips towards the opposing player, sending them off balance, usually done up against the board
What type of role models have you had in Ice Hockey?
I like watching NHL games and I look up some NHL players because they have so much skills and work really well with their teammates. Ice hockey has also made my relationship with my parents stronger, they watch all of my games and my mom likes recording my games. In our family time, we like watching NHL games online together. We travelled more frequent because of ice hockey tournaments and overseas trainings. They encourage me and always say ‘you can do it’! They also wake up early to bring me to the game (We need to wake up 5am as some games start at 6am), so in some sense you can say that my parents are my role models too.
Reflecting on Clara’s and Charleen’s story, I learned that at the end of the day, children don’t necessarily remember the clothes or the shoes that you bought for them, but they’ll remember seeing your face in the crowd cheering them on when they play on the sports field. And that is more precious than any materialistic item.