Lausanne, Switzerland, July 4, 2020 – Malaysian beach volleyball player Tasha Mae is leading a movement that aims to renew her country’s competitive spirit in the sport.
Tasha represented her country in volleyball at age 16 but realised that the indoor discipline was not the best fit for her until she tried playing on sand. Now the 18-year-old is eager to learn and compete in beach volleyball more than ever before.
“I had been involved in volleyball since I was 10, and just had so much passion for the sport. When I was 16, I was lucky to represent the national team, but I realised that we did not have a thriving volleyball community in Malaysia like in other countries. I began to lose hope and I even promised myself that after my high school graduation, I would be done with volleyball and move on to other things in life,” Tasha recalled.
“However, as fate would have it, the national federation decided to participate in the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games beach volleyball tournament, which was a year after I had finished high school. I was not keen at all and I wanted to pursue other passions, but my childhood coach, who was a beach volleyball player himself, told me to give it a shot. He trusted that I could do it and said that beach volleyball would be fun and exciting. So I listened to him and I fell in love with the sport. Beach volleyball made me rediscover my true passion and love for volleyball.”
Tasha Mae struggled as an indoor volleyball player, but her mindset changed completely from the moment when she shifted to beach volleyball.
“We were somehow unprepared when we went for volleyball competitions. We felt it was difficult to compete against neighbouring countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. I did not like that feeling and I did not see myself dedicating my life to something that bore no fruit.
“The main thing that motivates me about being a beach volleyball athlete is hope. I know that we can go far here even if it is just a small group of people who are willing to do what it takes to finally accomplish something for Malaysia. That’s what keeps me going.”
Tasha Mae is still learning the ropes of being a beach volleyball player, but competing regularly has taught her a few valuable lessons along the way.
“I think the most valuable lesson that I have learned from beach volleyball is flexibility and adaptability. Whoever can switch it up fast according to the circumstances will win the game.
“There are so many factors to consider in beach volleyball – the weather, the audience, your mental state, your fitness level – all of these and figuring it all out by yourself. There’s no coach who would tell you what you should so, which calls you should make, what plays you should do.
“I guess all of that comes with experience and I’m still trying to understand it all, because the more I know, the more I realise that I don’t know. Beach volleyball definitely challenges my mental state because as a player you have to be really independent and sort things out with your partner as quickly as possible or else you will lose the game. You have to be a thinking player all the time.”
She has been training regularly since playing on the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour and the SEA Games.
“We usually have a centralised training two to three weeks before each tournament. As for the big tournaments like the SEA Games, we had been training and competing all year round. Our training consists of a lot of court sessions but not too many gym sessions because we still have to brush up on our skills.”
In just her first year playing beach volleyball, Mae has already competed in seven World Tour events, including the 3-star event in Port Dickson in Malaysia, where Olympic gold medallists highlighted the competition.
“My most interesting experience on the World Tour was the 3-star event in Port Dickson. It was the first time Malaysia organised such a huge event in beach volleyball with the likes of Kerri Walsh Jennings, Laura Ludwig and Alison Cerutti joining the event. I was super excited the days leading up to this event.
“Based on our FIVB points we were not qualified to participate but as hosts we entered as wild cards. I was grateful that my country hosted this event and I got the chance to meet my idols and watch the world’s best players in action. It was definitely an experience I will cherish forever.
“I was lucky to meet Kerri and Laura! I remember I was stuttering when I spoke to Kerri because I was just awestruck. Kerri was so kind, and she even gave me her shirt, which I always bring in every competition I go to.”
Despite the struggles in her first year, Tasha is seeing progress through these challenges and wants to discover more about the sport.
“The first beach volleyball tournament I participated in was the 1-star event in Vizag in February 2019. It was a really cool experience because my partner and I had to travel to India all by ourselves. Fortunately, my partner had prior experience, so I learned from her how to organise without a coach.
“I quickly realised how different it was to volleyball as we had to go to the preliminary inquiry on our own, arrange our trainings and whatnot. I love the fact that we have to be independent and manage everything on our own. We lost in the qualification round but I made many new friends and it marked the beginning of a wonderful journey.
“My most memorable tournament was the 2019 SEA Games. We had been training hard for the whole year just for that and I think it was the best performance we had ever displayed as a team. I felt so proud to represent my country at such a prestigious event. The atmosphere was just amazing, and it made me think about what I was fighting for. I also got to know many other incredible beach volleyball players from the region and learned from them.
“The last World Tour event I took part in was the Langkawi 1-star before the whole lockdown happened. It was one of my favourite events as it is held in my country. The biggest change for me from my first World Tour event was that I switched from a blocker to a defender when I changed partners. My movement on the court has improved but I still have so much more to learn and discover in this sport.”
Kerri Walsh Jennings is Tasha Mae’s hero but she also looks up to a lot of beach volleyball players who inspire the way she plays.
“I have so much respect and admiration towards all of the beach volleyball players because everyone is so special in their own way, but if I had to pick a few, I would say Kerri Walsh Jennings because she’s a legend yet so humble and kind.
“I love Laura Ludwig’s style and flare on the court. I also like Melissa Humana-Paredes because her ball control is just insane. Taliqua Clancy because of how dynamic she is. Sisi Rondina because she’s small but fiery. And of course Anders Mol and Christian Sorum because they’re so young but already dominating the world.”
Off the court, Tasha Mae is like any regular teenager who has spontaneity and does a lot of fun activities on social media.
“I like to draw people. During my free time I like to read, play the guitar and piano. I’ve recently discovered a new hobby – learning new languages. I can speak English, Malay and Chinese, and I’m trying to learn Japanese and Portuguese. I want to become a polyglot one day.
During the lockdown, Tasha took part in Anders Mol’s T-shirt challenge. She posted the video on Instagram and became an instant success.
“The Beach Volley Vikings were having a ‘King of the Couch’ challenge in which players would either wear or remove their t-shirt while digging the volleyball with one hand. I saw the videos circulating on the internet and decided to give it a shot because it looked like a really fun challenge.
“I uploaded my video and it was reposted. Honestly I was just happy that my story was reposted. Then I saw that FIVB Volleyball messaged me and asked if they could feature my post on social media. I was screaming with delight! It was my dream to be featured on the FIVB page and somehow I achieved it in this bizarre but beautiful way. It really meant a lot to me because it was the first time a Malaysian got featured and I was just so proud.”
Tasha Mae also has a sports psychology blog that relates her experiences as an athlete.
“I think I am someone who is self-aware and driven. I know what my weaknesses are and I will look for solutions to improve myself. I like to constantly learn and upgrade myself to become a better human being.
“I started a blog called ‘Sports Psychology with Mae’ because I wanted to share about what I go through as an athlete. I noticed that sports psychology has not been given that much importance here in Malaysia, so we have athletes competing in international events and yet only a handful of the top players have sports psychologists working with them.
“This is also the reason why I would like to pursue sports psychology in my further studies because I think that the mental aspect of the game is as important, if not more so than the physical side of it.
“In my blog I share about some of the experiences I went through or have seen my friends go through or even just general topics about mindset. I see that players of all different levels actually face the same challenges, but the difference is how they handle these challenges.
“Sports psychology is the toolbox that helps you navigate your way. Although this doesn’t mean that I’m an expert at it because I still face many mental challenges during competitions, at least I am more aware of them. The purpose is to provide awareness of the thoughts and feelings so that you can work on them, because it is hard to find a solution for something you are not even aware of. So I like sharing my experiences and see if people can relate to them and hopefully help them in any way possible.”
Tasha Mae believes that beach volleyball has a lot of potential in her country considering the great landscape Malaysia has to offer as well as its experience in hosting several events on the World Tour.
“I definitely think that beach volleyball has great potential in Malaysia. We are a tropical country and we have great conditions to grow and develop beach volleyball and make it our core sport. However, great potential does not mean anything if it is not cultivated.
“I am grateful to our manager who is willing to sponsor us, thus giving us the chance to participate in many events. I hope that the national federation will continue to plan and organise the development of beach volleyball including grassroots development, national tours, age group competitions. Malaysia is blessed with beautiful beaches and our weather is suitable for the sport, we just have to act on these advantages.
“As an athlete I can share about the sport on social media and highlight the exciting events that will take place. My friends and I were even planning to host a monthly mixed-gender 4-on-4 beach volleyball competition, but the lockdown happened.”
She hopes that her efforts as an athlete will help to build momentum and get her country recognised in the sport and inspire future generations.
“My long-term goal is to be able to bring Malaysia to the world stage and compete in events such as the Beach Major Series, World Tour 4- and 5-star events, World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and even the Olympics.
“I hope that through our achievements in the years to come, we will be able to be recognised by bigger organisations and the government to fund our participation. Hopefully we can have enough funding to organise beach volleyball camps and national tours to attract more people to play the sport. I hope we can inspire the young players to follow in our footsteps. In the future I would like to start a volleyball and beach volleyball school to give back to society and continue to develop young talents.”
Tasha Mae’s story is a great reminder that however big or small your dreams are, commitment to that dream is what counts most. Follow Tasha Mae on Instagram tashmae_ as she works towards her goals.
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