Volleyball News

Suwon, Korea, December 21, 2015 – After sweeping all major international and domestic competitions with Italy’s heavyweight Trentino Volley and spending two seasons in Russia for Dinamo Krasnodar, Czech giant Jan Stokr finally fulfils his lifelong dream to play in Asia.

One of the world’s best opposite players and a very disciplined, yet kind-hearted person every coach would love to work with, the 32-year old Stokr recently embarked on another adventure, now wearing a shirt of Suwon Kepco Vixtrom in the Korean national league.

“It has always been a goal and dream of mine to play in Asia, and after checking the date of birth on my passport, I realised it was time to make this happen, otherwise I could have missed out on this opportunity,” Stokr said with a smile. “I always thought about moving to Asia, be it China, Korea or Japan, to play for at least one season in the national league of one of these countries and to understand how it feels living and playing here. Once I retire from competitive sport I will be able to look back and say – this is something I always wanted to do and I did it.”

Stokr made up his mind already to play in Korea at the end of second season with Dinamo Krasnodar.

“After the great years I spent in Italy, and the tremendously successful seasons I had with Trentino, I decided I wanted to test myself and my skills in a national league which is as tough and competitive as the Russian one,” Stokr said. “It has been a good experience but after two years I was a bit tired since I spent most of my time alone there as my family could stay with me for only a few weeks or maximum one month. We travelled very extensively across Russia and these trips take many hours and are quite tiring. On top of this, since I am now 32, I wanted to put some extra focus on my family life and spend more time with my wife and five-year old son.”

Though Korea is so far away from his native Czech Republic, it seemed to be the right place to achieve his goal.

“After I found an agreement with this club I first came to Korea for some medical checks and then came back later on for World League matches that I played against the Korean national team,” Stokr said. “I have spent four months now in Korea and my family joined me two months ago. The club wanted me to come well before the start of the season and so I ended up missing on the men’s EuroVolley in Bulgaria. This way I had some more time to adjust to the local conditions before the start of the season and to prepare everything for the arrival of my wife and son.”

Jan is the only foreign player in the ranks of Suwon Kepco Vixtorm, a rule which applies to all seven teams performing in the highest division of the Korean national league. However, he is not the only world-class European player playing there. Gyorgy Grozer and his good friend Martin Nemec are also leaving their mark with their respective teams. They have played some interesting duels as the Europeans are expected to score the most points.

“That is especially true for Grozer and sometimes it looks like he is almost the only player spiking in that team,” Stokr said. “When two European or foreign players meet, they end up engaging in a duel on who scores the most points and they try to block each other, so it really feels like playing one against the other.”

The Korean national league is organised in a very different way than in Europe.

“We have seven teams competing in the highest division and matches are played every day from Monday to Sunday,” Stokr explained. “There is one match a day and they are all broadcast live on TV. This means that our programme is extremely intensive as we play every three, maximum four days.”

“This is maybe similar to what happens in Europe to teams busy with their national league and participating in the European Cups as well. The advantage you have in Korea, is that even if you play away, you do not have to travel that long.”

The interaction between players and coaching staff is sometimes not that easy because of language problems, but the Korean clubs are very well-organised and know how to cope with this.

“I have an interpreter who is with me all the time, he is almost like a second wife,” Stokr joked. “He translates for me all instructions from the coaching staff, and this applies to trainings and matches as well, including timeouts. He is always available and ready to help even if I need something beside volleyball. The Korean players have a quite limited command of English, but at least they quickly pick up and learn some basic volleyball jargon and words so that we can understand each other on court.”

Stokr and his family are happy with life in Korea and have are already well-adjusted to their new home.

“Korea is a very safe place and people here are very proud of this. My son is now attending a local English-speaking kindergarten and he has already picked up some Korean words as well, like for instance ‘kamsahamnida’, which means ‘thank you’,” Stokr shared. “Seoul, which is a real metropolis and a very interesting place to visit, is just nearby and we regularly travel there for some sightseeing. We just went there to see how people are getting ready to celebrate Christmas and they do so because Korea has a large Christian community. We have also discovered there is a Czech society in Seoul and my wife has already been there.”

Stokr talked about the difference in the style of play and preparation in Asia compared to Europe.

“They put a lot of focus on defence and indeed you can see the results of that, because sometimes I spike over the block but their liberos are doing some crazy things and can get the most difficult balls,” Stokr said. “You also have to adjust a bit to a different style and speed, so I still have to find the right timing and chemistry with our setter, but things are improving day by day. They do a lot of exercises which they repeat a hundred times, like machines, and do not seem to get tired at all.”

“The physical preparation, on the other hand, is almost in line with what we do in Europe because some other teams have Brazilian trainers who have brought their expertise whilst our guy spent some time in Australia. The only thing, which we did in the pre-season and was a bit strange to me, was a lot of running. I can sprint and do that kind of stuff, and I always did that, but here they took us to a stadium and we had to run quite a number of laps.”

“The goals we have set for this season are high. Last year this club finished the national league in third place, and of course the management would like to improve on that. The standings are very close and there is room for improvement since we have a good outside spiker who is also on the Korean national team who has not performed his best yet. I am just hoping to continue to perform well and help the team make it to the top.”

Waiting to complete a demanding regular season, which includes as many as 36 matches.

“We want to do well and make it to the top, Stokr said. “After this season, I will see what is next. I always thought it would be an interesting life experience to spend at least one year in Japan or Korea and I am happy with this opportunity. As for the future, I do not know. I would like to stay injury-free and continue to play as long as possible. I do not rule out a comeback to Italy, which I consider my second home, or maybe one day I will go back to the Czech Republic and finish my career where it started.”

Stokr also revealed his interest in coaching and passing on his experience to the next generation.

“I definitely will never coach a women’s team,” Stokr said and bursted into laughter. “It may be difficult also to deal with a professional team because I do not like the many excuses that players sometimes try to find for not performing well. Maybe I could and would prefer to work with young players, something like an U18 team, which is a more genuine environment, where I would probably feel more comfortable.”