Why I Play series: Hockey player Laura Tan

SINGAPORE — After winning the women’s hockey bronze medal during the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore, vice-captain Laura Tan took a break from the sport for about half a year, and admitted that she was not sure of returning to the sport.

Fast forward to 2019, Yahoo News Singapore sits down with her to talk about what made her come back to the sport that she loves and her current goal in growing the sport among the younger generation.

Q: How did you get involved in this sport?

I was introduced to the sport during PE lessons back in my primary school (St Nicholas Girls’ School) and was identified by the school’s hockey coach to join the school team. That’s how it all started.

Which muscle groups are most involved in this sport? Which part of your body ache the most after a hockey training or match and why?

Every part of my body could possibly ache. Hockey is a sport that is pretty much a full-body workout – legs to run, arms to control the stick, body for posture and strength in movement.

Tell me the biggest misconceptions people have of this sport.

The first common misconception is that the sport is very dangerous, but I think all sports have their inherent risks. In fact, after properly learning the skills involved in hockey, you would be able to learn how to protect yourself and play the sport safely.

 Why I Play series: Hockey player Laura Tan (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian/Yahoo News Singapore)
Laura Tan picked up hockey during her secondary school days at St Nicholas Girls' School. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian/Yahoo News Singapore)

The other misconception is that you will get a backache from playing hockey because you constantly have to bend over. However, if you learn the proper posture in playing the sport, you will learn that it is more about bending the knees than bending the back.

While playing this sport, what has been your most memorable experience?

The most memorable experience would probably be the 2015 SEA Games. That was crucial and special in so many ways – it was the edition right after our 2013 heartbreak (see below), and it was held on home ground again for the first time since 1993, which was the only edition Singapore women’s hockey had ever won a gold at the Games.

We were a team of friends who had been playing together for many years and it was probably one of the last tournaments we would have played together. We had a coach who came on board for the final six months leading up to the tournament whom we really respected, and he had driven us to work so hard for the Games. He gave us as much hell as he gave us so many fond memories to look back on and laugh.

We didn’t come away with the gold as our predecessors did, nor did we get a silver that we were all gunning for. But we secured the bronze at the end of the day and it was a crazily incredible journey. To top it off, the bronze medal match-day was also my birthday, so it was a very, very memorable day.

Your most heartbreaking?

The most heartbreaking was the 2013 SEA Games in Myanmar. We were in the running for at least a silver medal at one point in the competition but, all too soon, it became us losing out on the bronze. Throughout the bronze-medal match, we were in our attacking half and relentlessly going at our opponents (hosts Myanmar), who were desperately throwing themselves at the ball just to defend our goal shots.

But they had just one breakthrough late into the game, just once they managed to penetrate our defence, and they managed to scramble through and roll the ball past our goal line. And that was it, we returned without a podium finish that SEA Games.

Share an inspiring story you have of a tournament or an experience with teammates that made you love this sport even more.

Back in B Division in 2006, my school team had got ourselves in a very unfavourable position in the quarter-finals, which was down to six teams in two groups of three, with only two teams per group able to advance to the semi-finals.

We had lost our first quarter-final match by just one goal – which if I remember correctly, we were expected to win – and so we were left with one game against the hot favourites then. After that first loss, we were dejected and pretty much resigned to fate that the tournament was over for us, because it seemed too far a stretch to beat the hot favourites.

 Why I Play series: Hockey player Laura Tan (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian/Yahoo News Singapore)
Laura Tan helped the Singapore national women's team clinch a hockey bronze medal at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian/Yahoo News Singapore)

I remember that I was in a corner then sobbing my eyes out, when a senior from my club team came up to me. She was not there to console me or make me feel better, but instead she gave me a good scolding. I was captain of my school team then, and she said to me that if as the leader of the team I had already given up, then how would my teammates ever believe they could do it? She was harsh on me, but that taught me so much.

So in the next match, it was 0-0 for the longest part of the game, and as the match was drawing near to its end, it almost seemed like an impossible mission, but my team kept running and trying. I remember my legs feeling so tired, but as I looked around I saw every single one of my other teammates continuing to push their hardest, so we kept on going together.

And as the final minute of the match approached, we had one last opportunity to convert. I don’t quite remember how we scored, but we did. We put the ball across the goal line, and the final whistle went off and we all just fell to the ground in exhaustion. To us, we did the impossible and it was the most amazing feeling ever.

We eventually went on and won the B Division title, but this was definitely the match I will never forget.

Was there a time you felt like walking away from the sport? What made you stay?

There was a time I took a break from the sport in 2016 – a break I wasn’t sure I was going to come back from. The 2015 SEA Games was almost too great a time, and 2016 saw many changes and everything just did not quite feel the same – a new coach, a new team of players – and everything just felt challenging.

Work and adulthood had also picked up, which just added up to the stresses in continuing to feel motivated to train and play.

But after about a six-month hiatus, I returned to training. Many factors contributed to it, but mainly I missed playing the sport competitively. I saw the team and some friends continue to train and go for tournaments, and supporting them was quite different from being together with them on the pitch. I did continue to play for club in the national league, but this level of competition was nothing compared to the international stage.

Why I Play series: Hockey player Laura Tan (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian/Yahoo News Singapore)
Despite walking away from hockey in 2016, Laura Tan eventually was persuaded by her friends to return to the sport. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian/Yahoo News Singapore)

My friends asked me to come back to play with them, and it is just good to know you’ve been missed. I felt that I lacked something in life to look forward to, something to work hard towards. Sure, not having to train so often gave me a lot of time to do other things and lead a social life. But after a while, I missed having that sense of purpose.

Worst injury experienced?

Worst injury would have to be my knee. This hit me some time in 2017, where I was told I had a partially torn ligament, swollen fat pad, worn out cartilage and a strain on the quadricep. This just meant a lot of pain and instability in the knee from here on out.

What life lessons has this sport taught you?

What it meant to be a team – pushing one another on, getting along despite differences, team before self, putting in your best for the team. Playing hockey also taught me to be tough and resilient – not giving up when there were challenges, not giving in to pains and pushing through all the negativities thrown at you. It also taught me on managing life and time and the importance of discipline.

How can people get involved if they’re interested in this sport?

If your school offers it, definitely take up the CCA (co-curricular activity). But now with ActiveSG Hockey Academy, it is definitely one outlet for people to take up the sport if they are interested or looking for more opportunities to play.

Can you tell me in one sentence why you love this sport.

Battling it out on the pitch with your team, and the excitement of challenging and out-smarting or out-playing your opponents – the adrenaline from this sport is unmatchable and this is why I play.

Why I Play series: Hockey player Laura Tan (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian/Yahoo News Singapore)
Why I Play series: Hockey player Laura Tan. (PHOTO: Stefanus Ian/Yahoo News Singapore)

Related stories:

Why I Play series: Ice hockey player Liu Zhi Yang

Why I Play series: Freediver Jonathan Chong

Why I Play series: Para swimmer Theresa Goh