CHINA –– Li Yan, famous head coach of China’s Short Track Speed Skating Team, was also head coach of the United States Short Track Speed Skating team in 2003. She has groomed numerous young Olympic athletes and has also won several ‘Coach of the Year’ awards. Says American sportsman, Apolo Anton Ohno, a two-time Olympic Gold medalist in Short Track Speed Skating who was coached by Li, “I have a lot of respect for Li Yan. She is one of the best coaches in the world!” Li Yan is regarded by many young Chinese short track speed skaters as a miracle-maker. She brought the China team out of the doldrums to the peak of their sport. Winner of four Olympic Gold medals in Short Track Speed Skating, Wang Meng said, “Li Yan has taught me how to give it all and control the game in the women’s 500m.”
To an athlete, the coach is the team’s leader. To Li Yan, God is her spiritual leader. The faith of this committed Christian, who has brought many young men and women to victory in the sporting arena, is the motivating force behind her success.
Before an athlete enters the race, there is a period of grueling training. Even if the chance of winning is low, a sportsman will put in a million times more effort to attempt to win it.
Sharing about her convictions, Li Yan said:
“To have a ‘conviction’ means to have a belief that an event which has yet to happen can become a reality. To this end, when you gave all you’ve got, your dream would soon be realized. Let’s take for an example, the Olympics. If you feel that your present skill is not up to Olympic medal standard and you procrastinate until just before the games to start training hard, you would be making a mistake. Begin by setting a goal, believing that it is an achievable one, and then put in every effort to attain it.”
Li Yan likes the following verse very much: “So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above.” (Philippians 3:14)
Having such a conviction would eventually give an athlete the true inner peace he needs to maintain composure and focus in a competition.
“Many people, including athletes have a form of ‘reliance’ or belief in their hearts — a hope that whatever they belief in will give them inner peace and help them achieve their aspirations.” Li Yan believes it is important for an athlete to have a conviction. Therefore, she has communicated this to the young men and women under her coaching and she has lived this out in her own life.
“If you want to be a professional speed skater, you have to be passionate about the sport. You work hard not for your parents or for your coach but for yourself. It is a hard journey, but if you love this sport, you will be able to overcome yourself. As for me, whenever I face challenges, I return to the Bible for God’s Word. ‘But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm…’ (I Corinthians 10:13). Nobody can harm me because I have Jesus in my heart. He will protect me and I feel secure. I can still lead a normal life despite the stress. I will not cave in to pressure. If you are currently facing some difficulties in life, look for the answer in the Bible. God will help us.”
Li Yan acknowledges that she is a pretty tough coach. But whenever she corrects her team, she always begins with an encouragement instead of a criticism. Li Yan likes to carry her Bible with her wherever she goes so that she can read it anytime. She would read it on the go in the day, at night before she sleeps, and even before a practice. Li Yan needs words of encouragement to motivate her team members. She found inspiration for most of these words from the Bible. Other sources would include books that Li reads or encouraging words from her friends. Li Yan loves her team members and encourages them to become channels of blessings to others. It is in this manner of love that Li Yan led her team to win the 2010 CCTV Best Sports Team of the Year Awards.
To Li Yan, “Mutual respect is also an expression of love. I encourage my team to come up with creative new ideas or ways to encourage their fellow team members. When everyone contributes, every person will in turn receive more from the group. If the coach is the only one talking and the team is merely following blindly, nothing new or creative will come out of it. When everyone unites, there will be a common goal. I encourage the team members to love, forgive and treasure one another. Although I cannot increase their salary, as their coach, I can do my best to bring out the best in them.”
Li Yan knows very well that love is best expressed in hard times and not in good times.
“Whatever God brings your way, accept it sincerely as the best arrangement regardless of the circumstances. Sometimes we face difficulties and trials. These can be taken as tests to see if team members really care for one another; or whether they really support one another to overcome the obstacles.”
Li Yan says reflectively, “Over the years, I have learnt that if the heart is not humbled, there is a high chance of exercising poor judgments and making terrible mistakes. When someone is not humble, he has no desire to learn and things will go wrong. Many things go wrong because of pride, which leads to undesirable behaviors and thoughts. Humility makes a person alert and cautious, and to be more like Jesus.”
The achievement of four gold medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics was a tremendous feat and a historic breakthrough. After the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Li Yan’s words to her team were these：“We have obtained gold medals and accomplished our mission. But let us remember one thing; to always stay humble. The better we do, the more humble we must be, so that people will know that this is a team of the highest quality. Do not behave in an unbecoming way just because you had performed well. That will not be in keeping with the good character you are building.”
A Message to Young Athletes
“We are so blessed to be able to enjoy the sport we love. Because you are passionate about it, you will have the ability to overcome challenges and grow. You will become an athlete with a good team spirit and a person with a good character. Regardless of the outcome, you must believe in yourself and enjoy everything you are doing now. Be proud that you have given your utmost best. And that is enough.”
Original story in Chinese by Eva Qin & Yeo Tan Tan
Translated by Angela Teo
Edited by Pamela Choo
2014 © United Bible Societies China Partnership