I sat down with Minh Đỗ on a Sunday afternoon for an interview I asked her to do 2 days earlier. Confessions first, I thought it would be all fun and games. After all, those who know Minh have probably been accustomed to her light-hearted disposition with physical jokes and addictive laugh. But 15 minutes into the interview, she completely changed my perspective of how girls do sports.
Although she did not begin with any sort of heroic backstory to her basketball journey, Minh recalled having a role model back in her 6th grade. Minh told me of her first-ever captain: a girl of her age with an impressive track record as a basketball player in Primary School and the determination to form her own female basketball team in Junior High. So like how Han agreed to train the American boy in the Karate Kid, the captain took Minh under her wings and taught her everything she needed to know about basketball. Not everything, though. In her first match, Minh admitted to only being told the rules 10 minutes prior to her first match, which occurred just one week after her first training. If Minh were in a movie, she would probably still ace the match and carry her team to success. In reality, she got summoned from the bench right before they switched sides, confusing her as to where the opposing team’s basket is. Thankfully, her lack of hand force somehow managed to prevent her from scoring an own-basket, making two wrongs a relieving right.
After the comedic break, Minh started sharing more about her playing basketball throughout Junior High and High School. She decided to break her male teammates into two kinds. The former are those who shuddered at the very idea of a fellow female player on the grounds that she might weaken the whole team. It would annoy some of you to know that most of them would not blatantly voice their distaste and contempt, but rather treat you in such a condescending manner that you feel looked down on. And then there were the others, boys that went to great lengths to make Minh and other girls feel comfortable, either by telling them all the tips and tricks to get past a bigger opponent or making acts of chivalry not so obvious. “I know they are loosening up their defenses, but it did not make me feel bad,” Minh was smiling the whole time, but it was left to ponder the matter of chivalry and gentlemen’s acts in sports. As someone who used to train for badminton, I was no stranger to the concept of fair play, an argument often raised to defend unmerciful acts when playing sports. It seems to me and probably to Minh that every player is born different and to demand fair play is to deny people of these instinctive parity and the weaker ones of opportunities to get help and get better. It was great to hear that most of Minh’s teammates understood this very well and helped her all they could to become the player she is today.
However, to Minh, she was most grateful for her female team captain. Speaking as an introvert who finds herself struggling with meeting new people, she managed to make many new friends who also love sports thanks to her captain.
“When you practice together, you talk about more things than just basketball.”
Basketball might be their common language but it also breeds trust and friendships that last years after they stopped training together. Basketball also strengthens the bond between her and her father, who was also a fan of sports. “My father would cheer for me during my matches and buy me all the professional basketball gear that I did not know I needed in the first place.” The more I talk to Minh, the more I realize how much better we, as a society, can do to encourage female sports players. Yes, we all need high-quality facilities and sports clubs that accommodate female players, but we also need supportive friends, family, and teachers, who provide girls and women with the kind of security and guidance they deserve to play sports. With one girl confident enough to go in sports, come hundreds of others made to believe that sports are for them. In the case of Minh, had it not been for her female captain, we would likely not have been able to witness such an athletic and outgoing Tue Minh, who excellently attained prestigious medals for her High School team and continued to contribute to the growth of female basketball at VinUni.
We ended the interview on a silly note as Minh told me about the time her team trained so hard just to lose to that year’s champion at the very first round or how she had to beg the school principal to let her team compete in the city’s tournament. Minh probably does not know this, but the first time I saw her at school, I was told by my friend that she played basketball and I kept thinking to myself how cool she must have been. In retrospect, it must be nice having basketball as your introduction to the world.
Happy International Women’s Day, Minh!
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