Volleyball player Deborah Sann, 17, speaks to Cheata Seng about how she became interested in the sport and the hurdles she had to overcome to get to where she is today. Photography by Enric Català.

When did you start playing volleyball?

Currently I’m a senior at East West International School in Phnom Penh and also a member of the High School Girls Volleyball team. I have been playing volleyball for around five years now. I started off very inexperienced; I was a very horrible player, to the point where I could not even bump [pass the ball using locked forearms] a ball properly. But I have come so far through this journey as a student athlete, alongside all of my teammates.

Why did you start the sport?

I have always been a competitive person and I had a lot of PE classes when I was a little. I liked sport. One time, when I was in Grade 7, a teacher came in and he introduced me to volleyball. I love being active and I wanted to be part of something big. Volleyball was still something new and I saw it as an opportunity for me to gain experience within the sports department, while trying a different sport.

What do your parents think about you playing volleyball?

My parents are very supportive so I do not face much hardship when it comes to being a Cambodian girl who does sports, like many others people I know do. I am really thankful that they understand the importance of fitness. Despite not having to face the hardships with my family, there are days that I feel like giving up during training when we are in season. Luckily I am still playing, and I am determined to be one of the few who made it to the end after years or training and not backing down.

What was the volleyball scene like in Cambodia when you started?

It was still new to me and not that popular in my school. There’s still this stereotypical view of how the players are big, tall and muscular. What’s ironic is that all my teammates have average Cambodian heights; they’re fit but not bulky.

How often do you train and what do sessions involve?

We train twice a week, around two hours each session. It involves doing basic drills with a tweak of adding intensity into it.

What has been your personal highlight?

My personal highlight was when my team gained the number one seat in the league last year. Unfortunately, however, we did not win the championship. Volleyball is a team sport so we share our victories and highlights, which is nice.

Do you have any advice for people starting volleyball?

I would say, if you really want it, you have to work for it, and always want to improve and find ways to make yourself better. Winning doesn’t happen right on championship day. It was not gained through the nights when people are out partying; it’s gained during the storms and rain pouring. It was gained from all those hot summer days practicing in the baking sun. It’s all about hard work and commitment.

What is the most important lesson you have learned?

I learned that what I can control is my attitude and effort. It’s up to me to bring the energy into the court or not. Volleyball is like a roller coaster mental game.

What is necessary to be a good player?

I would say that it’s the constant strong energy and the will to get better that makes someone a good volleyball player.. There are days where you dread practice but you should leave all the drama aside and focus. Get it done.

How has winning or losing impacted your life?

Winning gives me joy and realisation that it’s all worth it in the end. Losing drives me crazy. It sets a spark that turns me almost into a beast. It’s a motivation for me to improve; even to get past my potential because there are so many things that I could do when I thought it was impossible.

What tournaments have you competed in recently?

As for competitions right now, there are two tournaments that my teammates and I recently took part in. One in Thailand and the other one was in Phnom Penh. Our first ever tournament outside the country was in Bangkok in October. There were a lot of very good teams competing and it was good experience. We learned so much from this experience about sportsmanship and just enjoying the moment of playing against good teams, which will make us become better. The tournament in Phnom Penh was later in October, when we played against other international schools, such as Logos, Hope, ISPP and Northbridge.

What are your future goals?

There’s a quote that my coach told me and it is, “Freshmen want to play, sophomores want to start, juniors want to score and seniors want to win.” I believe this is really the evolution of a high school student athlete. This will be my last year and I really do want toachieve successes with volleyball. My teammates and I are working very hard to win the championship for this year. I believe that hard work and consistency will surely bring my team to success. My other great hope there would be a national girls’ volleyball team, and they are able to join the SEA Games and win a championship.