PROfiles: Jeff Chung

Jeff Chung has had a very successful volleyball career. A four-time All Canadian, Jeff won an OUA gold medal in each of his four seasons as a Varsity Blue at the University of Toronto (U of T). Jeff’s playing resume also includes a Canada Games Medal, 11 N.A.C.I.V.T. 9-Man Champions, member of the National Team, and professional experience with Alcom Capettle Sharks (Holland D1) and Nafels Concordia (Switzerland D1). Jeff still continues to play 9-man with Connex where he is considered one of the best players in the world.

Jeff’s coaching resume is quickly rivaling that of his playing history. He was the Head Coach at U of T from 2004 – 2007, Assistant Coach with the U20 National Team at in 2006 where they finished 3rd at the NORCECA Championship, Head Coach of Team Ontario that silvered at the NTTC in Regina, and he was Assistant Coach of Team Ontario that silvered at the 2009 Canada Games. Jeff has also created the TOPS Volleyball Academy for high performance athletes in the GTA.

Years of playing Volleyball?

20 years or so.

Why did you start playing Volleyball?

Thanks to my father, Robert Chung, he was the main reason why I started the game of volleyball.  At a young age, he would have me involved with various sports throughout the seasons.  During the summers, my father would always have me watch the Chinese 9-man practices and competitions from various club teams (in particular the Toronto Flying Tigers and Ngun Lam volleyball clubs).

What is the biggest difference from OVA Club to the OUA?

There is a huge difference in the intensity and the number of training sessions in a week.  Obviously, we are dealing with older athletes who also have a very focused and intense academic schedule. First year university in the classroom and on the court is probably one of the biggest adjustments an athlete will make if they are serious about becoming a established OUA player.

What was it like winning OUA Gold?

It was a great feeling.  The first one is always the most memorable.  I was very fortunate to win our first OUA gold in 1995 against a very strong Waterloo team.  The Blues were very young, well coached and had an extreme desire to compete against all of the competition in the province.

It was a very special moment in that; we played in front of a wild jammed packed home crowd while trailing the first 2 sets.  Our starting middle, Ross Clarke, had broken his finger the night before (thanks to Marc Dunn) and did not play in the match until the 3rd set because the painkillers that he was injected with caused him to be dizzy.  Our infamous coach Orest Stanko, came up to me, smiled, and with a serious tone but with a very humorous expression, told me that I was going to play middle and set from the middle as well.

Ross returned to the game, crushed a 51 and the momentum was all for the Blues for the remainder of the night.  We won in 5.  Old scoring, rally point in the 5th set, 15-13 Blues. The Blues went on to set a conference record and won 5 consecutive OUA tiles from 1995-1999!

Describe 9-man Volleyball for those who have never seen it?

9-man volleyball is a great game!  It is so much fun and the tradition of the competition continues in North America.  I believe the game originated in Asia, and to this day, it is still played in Japan and the southern parts of China. It’s a fast paced game with lots of exciting rallies due to the restriction on penetrating with your of hands during a block. It sounds a little weird and overwhelming, but it’s still the same concept of volleyball as beach and the indoor game.  You still have to pass, set, attack and play defense with modified rules. One of most unique features of game is how the Chinese community has used this traditional game of volleyball to keep the strong social ties of the communities throughout major cities in Canada and the U.S.A.

How has Connex been so successful in the past?

The Connex Volleyball club has been successful for many years due to simple fact that we transfer the concept of teamwork on the court, and apply it to our tradition of ‘family’ off the court.

Over the years, the club has created an atmosphere where the athletes learn to train hard, work together and build a family bond that is applied to fundraising events, social gatherings and promoting the Chinese culture within our organization.  The ages of the athletes within Connex, range from as young as 13 to 40 years of age.  With the experience and leadership of the administration team, along with the diverse age range, Connex has fostered a hierarchy of role models where the “Big Brother and Big Sister” model is filtered down both on and off the court.

Everyone who is, and has been a part of Connex, is very fortunate to learn how volleyball has brought us together and the life lessons we use in trying to win on the court and everything else that we do outside the volleyball court. Volleyball is what we love to do.  9-man volleyball is our passion. Connex is our family outside of our family!

What is your favourite part about 9-man?

9-man volleyball has allowed many Canadian Chinese and American Chinese to keep our strong cultural (Chinese) ties, remember our forefathers, and be able to compete in a traditional game that has changed many lives from generations to generations.

Personally, it was the sport that helped me fall in love with volleyball and provided avenues where I could excel at a high level and open up other doors to pursue my aspirations in the indoor game.  From here, it allowed me to dream about representing Canada and playing professionally.  Like anything in life, there is always a beginning to every great thing.  9-man was my beginning.

Describe what it was like representing Canada?

Representing Canada was one of the proudest moments in my life and in my volleyball career.  I was very fortunate to grow up in the sport with so many great players from club teams to provincial teams and at U of T that helped me reach my full potential.  In my generation, it was our dream to wear the Canadian jersey.

We were so lucky to grow up and watch the members of the 1992 Olympic team and players who helped Canada reach those games.  In preparation for the Barcelona Games, Team Canada competed in the World League and we admired everything the team did.  The day our provincial team had the opportunity to shag balls at their practice and league game was a real special moment.  They were our role models and gave us the chance to dream.

From what I’ve been told, I’m the first Canadian Chinese athlete to represent our Canadian Volleyball team.  That is a special accomplishment.  Special in that you learn how much of an impact you have on your community by being a role model and allowing other athletes to want to excel in the sport in volleyball.   I never forget where I come from and so, as always, thank our Chinese community and the 9- man circuit (NACIVT- North American Chinese Invitational Tournament)  for giving me an opportunity that changed my life.

All of this passion, has driven me to give back to the sport of volleyball.  Connex continues to motivate me to coach and stay in tuned with our Chinese community.  And most recently, a volleyball academy that I‘ve started, TOPS Volleyball Academy. T.O.P.S – stands for: Toronto Ontario Players Skills development camps. The objective of TOPS is to collaborate with the OVA in providing training camps for athletes who are focused on improving their skills and aiming to play at the next level.  One of the prerequisites of the academy is creating a high performance training atmosphere to challenge the athlete in developing into a complete volleyball player.  Today, TOPS has diversified and now offers camps for both genders, tutoring ( Personalized Training Programs), and specialized positional training.

What was it like playing professionally?

Playing professionally was the best job I ever had.  Not only did you just focus on volleyball but, it provided you with the lifestyle that allowed you to focus solely on training and competition. In addition, playing for Canada allowed you to see the world.  Playing overseas allowed you to learn about other cultures.  This I found very fascinating.  But no matter how many languages you learn and how many cultures you are absorbed into, at the end of the day you are surrounded by those who know one language/culture – VOLLEYBALL.

I’m blessed to have so many great people, teammates, coaches and mentors who helped me through this journey!  Thank you to all who gave me this chance.

What advice would you give to someone transitioning from a player to a coach?

To be totally honest, I’m still learning about this transition.  I guess I have one piece of advice.  Don’t try to demo any of the skills or drills….you might get hurt.

What was your experience like with Team Ontario at Canada Games?

It was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had as a volleyball player.  Winning a national championship at any level is always very special. We had three great summers with our teammates who were so dedicated on winning gold at the ’93 Games.  We were so fortunate to be coached by such hard driven coaches, Brenda Willis, Dave Preston and Jeff ‘Big Mac’ MacIntyre.  We also had the best player in Canada – Paul Deurden – so naturally, we were surrounded by the right people with the right attitude!

As a coach, I had the privilege to work with Shayne White (Head coach of WLU) and Jeremy Hannay in preparation for the ’09 Games.  Along with the coaching staff and the OVA, the athletes that lead the way were exceptional young men and athletes.  I was very proud of our team and winning the silver medal.  Coaching in the games brought back many fond memories that I wanted all of our players to experience.  I want to thank everyone involved in that process and I hope to have another opportunity to work with all of them once again.

Best memory from playing volleyball?

Tough one.  There were many great moments…many of which resulted in winning. One great memory is meeting my girlfriend, who is now my wife – Maja Babic – after a varsity practice in the U of T sports gym.  Does that count?   Volleyball is more than just a sport…

We would like to thank Jeff for his help with this article and wish him the best of luck in all of his volleyball endeavours.

If you would like to recommend someone for PROfiles please contact Josh Nichol | 416-426-7233 | jnichol@ontariovolleyball.org

Please Note: The opinions expressed in PROfiles are the views of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Ontario Volleyball Association.

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