The desire to leave and the impact with the United States. The initial fears and adaptation to a new culture, a new way of life, a new country. Satisfaction on and off the field, study, daily commitments and differences with Italy.
We interviewed Chiara Cucco, student-athlete of Hofstra University, who told her story at 360°.
Let's start from the field. Many recognitions, many prizes, many satisfactions. What moment are you experiencing and above all what is the award that has made you proud so far?
I am very satisfied with all the prizes and awards that I have been awarded. These first two years have been really fantastic from this point of view: they show that I am doing a good job and that I am not the only one who notices it. Of course, though, being extremely competitive myself, as grateful as I am for these awards, I aspire to get more and more. Without a doubt, what made me most proud was the "Libero of the year"; award obtained this year, in a very difficult year for me because at the beginning of the season I suffered a knee injury which prevented me from expressing at best my game and forced me to play in a lot of pain for about 3 months. The fact of having obtained this recognition despite my not very good physical conditions filled me with pride and I felt rewarded for all the efforts made.
The fear of many student-athletes is that of a slow and difficult acclimatization. What was your impact with the States?
Surely, I also had this fear before leaving, I think it's normal. Personally, I consider myself very lucky because once I arrived in the States I was immediately welcomed in an extraordinary manner by my new teammates, by the coaches and by all the people I met. It took me a while to settle in because it's a completely different reality from what I was used to, but I was never alone, and I found people willing to help me with anything I needed. A factor that certainly helped me was the fact that many of my teammates were not from the States and therefore they perfectly understood what I was going through and how they could help me.
Let's go back to the field, always talking about impact. How different is American volleyball from ours? Let's talk about training, approach to the race and mentality.
The game is essentially the same, but there are some differences both in terms of game rules and in terms of mentality and approach to the match. First, regarding the game, the fact that the ball can hit the ceiling without stopping the game (which still seems very weird to me to be honest) or the libero having to serve, which I have never done in Italy and that I had to learn once I got here. Furthermore, the championship is structured very differently, the season lasts only 3 months, from September to November, so everything is organized differently. Having such a short season and playing two games every weekend, there is no time to have more than one day off a week and each training session is at least 3 hours, to which must then be added the time spent on weights and videos before a game. I often happened to be in the gym even 6 or 7 hours in line. Consequently, the physical effort is considerable, and you must therefore learn to play not being in the best physical shape or having small pains, because there is no time to stop.
Another different thing, perhaps the most different of all, is the importance given to relationships within the team and the effort that is made to create as compact a group as possible. I've really spent a lot of time with my teammates, both on and off the court, doing so many different things, which has allowed me to get to know all of them better and establish deeper friendships. This is very important because, having so many people from all over the world, it would be impossible to develop a good game without first finding commonalities and creating bonds between us.
It's a very different mentality from the one I've known in Italy, here the focus is exclusively on the team, not on the individual, and to be part of it you have to be willing to sacrifice a lot of free time and always put yourself at the service of the team, but in the end, it allows you to develop real relationships that go beyond the simple game.
The student-athlete journey is as exciting as it is difficult. What is your typical day between training and studying?
My typical day varies depending on my commitments and this year has been greatly influenced by the injury I suffered. I usually arrive at the gym around 7:00 in the morning, do an hour of therapy or exercises for various injuries or pains, and start training. After training, which ends around 11:00/11:30 we have about 1 hour of weights and then further treatments and therapies. In some cases, we also have videos after weights, it depends on the days. I usually leave the gym around 2:00 in the afternoon and have just enough time to grab a bite to eat before classes start. I have two or three lessons a day and once I am done, I dedicate myself to studying, homework or, if I've completed everything I had to do, just relaxing. This happens practically every day, except on Fridays, when we do not have lessons because we are usually on the road if we play away, and on weekends, where we have a game on Saturday and Sunday.
What is the thing you miss the most about Italy and what is the thing you like most about the States?
Surely the thing I miss the most about Italy is the food, apart from family and friends of course. It sounds banal, but it's the truth, Italian food has no equal. While I have to admit the food here is better than I expected, nothing will ever be like a plate of homemade pasta.
One thing that struck me a lot is how much student-athletes are recognized within the university, not only by the people who support us during matches, but by all the students, professors and even the staff who work on campus.
While walking around the campus, I happened to be stopped several times by people I've never seen before who wanted to congratulate me on a victory or an award. This is a very nice thing, it makes me feel very appreciated and it also spurs me to give more and more: I know that when I play I do not do it just for me or my teammates, but also for all the people who support us and I have a duty to represent my university at its best.
We close this interview with your point of view on this experience. What has this adventure given you so far from a human, sporting and academic point of view?
This experience has taught me and is teaching me a lot from every point of view. From a sporting point of view, as already mentioned, I had to adapt to a new type of game and above all to a different mentality. From an academic point of view, it was certainly an important step, due to the fact of having to face university and having to do it in a different language, in a different country and in a completely different system.
I think, however, that the biggest growth for me has been from a human point of view. This experience is making me grow a lot as a person, I had to learn to take care of myself, to relate to people from all over the world, to assume my responsibilities.
Especially this year, when I was named team captain, I had to learn to listen to others, take responsibility for problems and find a solution. All of this has grown me a lot in a short time and is definitely preparing me for the life that awaits me once I leave university.