The BYU men’s tennis team traveled to Asia this summer and visited Taipei, Hong Kong, Beijing and Xi’an.
On Aug. 10, 13 BYU tennis players traveled to their first destination on what would be a two-week trip that included tennis competitions, cultural experiences and discovering unexpected commonalities.
Four of the 13 team members are fluent in Mandarin. This skill helped the men’s tennis team act as ambassadors for BYU and communicate with Chinese players, Taiwan officials and locals in each of the four locations.
David Ball, a senior from Palo Alto, California, served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sydney, Australia, where he learned to speak Mandarin.
As one of four teammates who speak Mandarin, Ball was able to facilitate communication between his competitors and teammates. He used this skill not only to assist the team through their travels but also to develop a deeper understanding and relationship with those they came in contact with.
“Before we played China, (we were) able to get up and say some words in Chinese to the Chinese team,” Ball said. “(It was) super eye-opening to have that experience.”
Ball said the trip not only gave them the opportunity to play the game they love but also a greater understanding of life beyond tennis.
“We did an opening ceremony in Taiwan as well, where the (BYU) Chinese speakers got up and said some words,” Ball said. “We were able to say, ‘This is why we speak Chinese; we went and served missions for our church.’ Also, (we were) able to say our school is a religious institution, but we accept everyone.”
BYU and the men’s tennis team were featured in two articles written by Chinese online newspaper Sports Vision. The articles describe the tennis competition and positively sheds light on BYU by calling it a “first-class university” and the largest religious university in the United States.
“I was really thrilled to get such great exposure,” BYU men’s tennis head coach Brad Pearce said. “I think that’s another aspect of the trip. We want to represent BYU abroad, and all that it stands for, as well as the Church.”
Pearce, along with his wife, Cindi, planned the foreign trip to reward the team and provide them with an optimal opportunity to grow.
Pearce said that instead of going to Europe, as was initially considered, he specifically planned the trip to Asia where the team’s ability to speak Mandarin could be capitalized.
“I think what kind of tipped the scales for us in terms of this trip, going this direction (is that) we have a third of the team speaking the language spoken in all those areas,” Pearce said.
While the trip’s itinerary revolved around the tennis competitions, Pearce said it was also important to schedule cultural experiences that got the players out of their comfort zones and provided them with learning experiences.
Some of the team’s cultural experiences included going to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, viewing A Symphony of Lights in Hong Kong, hiking across the Great Wall of China in Beijing and viewing the Terracotta warriors in Xi’an.
Senior Sam Tullis from Centerville, Utah, said that the trip was an incredible experience and that he doubts he will ever go on another trip quite like it. Tullis said the tennis team grew closer throughout their two-week foreign travels abroad, which he called one of the highlights.
“It helped us know who each other are off the court,” Tullis said. “Everyone has that competitive drive, but it’s nice to see that not everyone’s always competitive. You can still be brothers off the court.”
Through their experience in Asia, the BYU men’s tennis team played the sport they love and enjoyed an unprecedented cultural experience. The team arrived back in Provo on Aug. 22.
“It was really humbling to see. Like yes, the culture is very different and yes, maybe (the) customs are very different,” Tullis said, “but at the end of the day, we’re all one big human family.”