#WJCC2019: Sport Media Trainee blog

Rachel MacRae and Yue Xu have joined the World Curling Federation media team at the World Junior Curling Championships 2019, in Liverpool, Canada.

They are the latest competition winners of the World Curling Federation’s Sports Media Trainee Programme.

Rachel MacRae, 20, studying Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Yue Xu, 19, studying Human Resources at Sichuan University in Chengdu in the Sichuan Province, China.

Among their duties this week is to contribute to this daily blog, recounting their experiences from their first international curling event.

Yue Xu

Return to Canada: day one at the WJCC2019

How could I imagine I would be visiting Canada again because of winning the World Curling Federation’s Sports Media Trainee Programme?

I can’t say the 12-hour jet lag is gone after being up for over 24 hours. I went to bed at 11:00pm after dinner, woke up at 4:30am, and stayed up on the bed until my alarm buzzed at 7:30am. The weather in the airports I was travelling to was bad, so my first two flights were cancelled or delayed. The connection from Beijing to Toronto was delayed for more than two hours, I had to miss the third connection to Halifax and was prepared for a night stay in Toronto. But when I got to Toronto there was no hotel left, said Air Canada, which meant I would spend the night in the terminal. Yes, I had long flights like this several times before, but I had never slept in the airport! Without any choice, I waited for 10 hours (maybe an hour of sleep?), boarded the plane to Halifax and finally made it to Liverpool after a 2-hour drive with Team Korea. Lots of thanks to our drivers!

I am not a fast writer. It took me over seven days to think about and write the application and one more week for polishing it. I told myself not to expect much after sending in my application, but failed to fall asleep before the day of winners announcement. Even now I am still wondering why I was selected. English is not my first language. My major has nothing to do with journalism or sports and there were many strong applicants from all over the world. However, Emily (WCF Media Officer) said my application was “excellent” and it was repeated by Mike (WCF Journalist), giving me more confidence.

What do you want to get from this opportunity? I didn’t know how to answer the question when I was asked by Cameron (WCF Head of Media) and Mike. But now I think I know what I want to get: do something for the sport I love and improve the abilities to do it better. The WCF media team has been hard-working and welcoming. I do enjoy working with and learning from every member of it. When I got my World Junior accreditation around my neck, it weighed as heavy as an Olympic medal.

With too much happening too fast to take in, my first day has been hard and tiring. But I have been learning and enjoying a lot!

Day three: a page from a day in my book

It’s snowing! The northerners in China are always entertained when the southerners see the snow and get excited. Having lived 18 years without ever seeing snow, I had always been curious about it and kept asking questions like “how does it feel to have a snowball fight?” to my northern friends. They told me it’s filthy and tiring. Not fun at all! Finally, I got my first sight of snow on the trip to the Olympics last year and one year later, there is so much snow in Liverpool. Also, I discovered it’s not that horrible to travel north in winter, at least much better than staying in Cantonese wet and chilly weathers.

I had a change in scenery on my second day here and visited the TV broadcast room. Curling is one of the sports that is suitable for being watched on TV. The TV broadcast crew stayed focused on their jobs for a whole day, making sure everything is going well. Behind the scenes it’s so well-organised and it’s exactly the same thing that they did at the Olympics!

After four sessions of shadowing Mike to get flash quotes, it’s my time to fly. Today I did four interviews on my own with players from different countries. I’m still trying to shake off nerves and found myself more comfortable with it. Interviewing is more interesting than writing, to be honest. I’ll start working on feature articles tomorrow, which is also new and challenging. I will talk to Chinese girls’ team and then tell the world what curling is like in China—what a mission! Anyway, I’m here to learn things I’ve never tried before.

Everyone thought I would study languages in university when I was in my final year of high school. To their surprise, I made the decision to learn business with the purpose of trying something brand new. For someone who speaks four languages, I speak Mandarin with heavy Cantonese accent, and sorry Dad and Mom, sometimes I don’t understand what you mean in Cantonese or Hakka because I’m far from home for such a long time. Here I found it hard to understand some teams though they are speaking English. Now, is it too late to learn Korean or Japanese?

Day six: a week or a year

I was in tears last night.

It’s a special honour for me to join the World Curling Federation, but bottlenecks are already appearing. Hopefully I am really helping with their work instead of obscuring it.

Everything seems rather tricky to me. I’m not used to being quiet for so many days. (A real chatterbox I am—I kept talking all the time and when my friends liked it, they suggested I should host a talk show.) Seemingly I was watching the games but all I was thinking about were interviews, blogs and features. Having it on my mind that I did write in English better than now, I can spend hours not being able to type a full sentence. I could do interviews with ease in my Human Resources compulsory courses but speaking to the athletes has been tough. And I can hardly believe anyone who said I am doing well. (I am so grateful to all of you but I know I need to get better and make the most of it.)

The media team were talking about their busy days in some of the curling events held in China, making me eager to be of some help. As they said, the whole curling world doesn’t know about Chinese curling and they had some difficulty communicating with Chinese people. I thought to myself, “what can I do to help with it? A short feature article is absolutely far from enough.” Now with hands-on experience from a World Championship, I’m improving with my writing and interviewing for working in the sports world, maybe some more time is needed for me to feel ready.

The round-robin stage is ending tomorrow so there will be fewer games to cover but even more work to do. The Chinese girls’ team, with whom I had a long interview yesterday are doing a great job. They’re learning from the best curling teams in the world and I’m learning from the best media team. Rachel and I got our first pop tart from the Swiss boys, which lit up the snowy day. And one more thing to celebrate: I thought I had lost my favourite Olympic Soohorang gloves after our lobster dinner but they turned out to be in my pocket. So K-heart to you!

Yue’s final reflections

Already used to flying alone, it’s just one more flight from a place far from home to another. Now being at school for a couple of days, I’ve been trying to recollect and write down everything I experienced during the week, but still avoiding reliving the sadness of departure on the final day.

One year ago, I was traveling home from the Olympics, never imagining that I would be working at a world championship. When following the event as a curling fan, I didn’t know about there was so much going on behind the scenes. Apart from interviewing and writing skills, how the media team works at an event, and techniques for eating lobster, here’s a few of the lessons I’ve taken from this journey.

Never think about “I could have done it better” but “I will do it better”.
No one does anything perfectly for the first time. Now I know it was my lack of confidence that held me back. I was convinced that my abilities were simply not there and that I was the type of person who just easily got nervous. I reminded myself that if I didn’t do well at every task it would be a miserable feeling. So, I’m more than grateful to everyone who encouraged me all week. With your encouragement, I’m now able to believe in myself.

Do the best you can, even in a tight corner.
After the long flight to Canada, the change in pressure led to some hearing problems, which didn’t go back to normal until the end of the week. (I didn’t tell anyone about it so finally I can spell it out. Sorry for being quiet most of the time because I couldn’t hear you clearly!) Since an essential part of my job was to interview athletes, it had made my interviews more difficult. Not one hundred percent satisfied with my performance so far, but I’m proud that I survived this challenge and I needed it in order to grow. You need to step outside of your comfort zone in order to really push yourself and now I feel like I can do it all over again no matter what happens. (But it’s regrettable that I wasn’t able to have more conversations with all of you.)

Persuading myself to give it a try to apply for this programme has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. Thank you to the WCF for giving me the opportunity to join you at the world junior championships and to pass through the door to the international sporting world. As the least experienced person of the team, I’ve learned from so many of you I met in this event and I was lucky enough to find that I truly love this job. If possible, I really look forward to having the honour of working with you again.

So, to those who are hesitating about applying for the programme: go for it! You won’t stand a chance to win it without trying. Also, my advice to the future trainees: stay healthy, get as much sleep as possible, learn from everyone you meet, and make the most of the week.

Rachel MacRae

My first step through the door of ruthless editing

Upon my landing in Halifax, I was greeted by a kind-faced volunteer with a grand smile spread across his face. George donned a handmade cardboard sign slung round his neck, my name written in big letters across the front. “Welcome to Canada!” he chirped as I received a big enthusiastic handshake. He then explained he’d be driving myself and another WCF crew member to Liverpool.

George’s hospitality was later matched by the greeting I received from the media bench crew; hugs and kind words were plentiful as we put faces to email addresses. My nervous, tired shoulders felt considerably lighter following the warm welcome, which I soon came to learn was an invariable constant with both Nova Scotians and the WCF crew.

The gentle introduction was brought to an end on Saturday when the time came to shoot team photos and headshots. Richard, WCF photographer and my mentor for the week, explained that he would cover all of the team photos while I would take the headshots in order to split up the workload. With just about 120 curlers and coaches to photograph around the practice schedule, it was a hectic day of back and forth between photographing and editing as much as possible between sessions. Taking the headshots was one of my favourite moments so far. It was a great opportunity to engage with the players and see more of who they are, rather than what they are. It also proved rewarding when some players recognised me snapping their photos at the opening ceremony and flashed a few smiles!

The most useful thing I’ve discovered so far during my time here, is learning what is a worthwhile use of time and what isn’t. Taking those extra thirty seconds to chat with the players has given me some great shots further down the line; spending ten minutes editing one photo because I can’t quite balance the lighting the way I’d like, just doesn’t help anyone. Ruthlessness isn’t something I pictured myself trying so hard to nurture. Being part of the WCF and therefore part of the main content provider for the WJCCs, equates to having tight deadlines if you want your photos to be of any use to anyone.

As much as the trainee programme is an incredible opportunity for myself (and I’m having a blast), I can’t help but hope I’m doing these young athletes justice. For many of them, this event will be their first step through the pivotal door of international curling, and I can feel the responsibility weighted on us to capture that story. I guess I have the next six days to figure that out. And mooch as many tips from Richard as possible.

Another day, another pair of brave pants

By the end of the third day, I was beginning to settle into my stride. With some advice from Richard, I found the best way to capture a session while ensuring prompt uploads was to do everything in short batches. This meant taking a few dozen shots during practice and uploading my favourites straight after, I then covered the games in the same manner.

Once I’d shared my newfound efficiency with Richard, he asked if I felt happy to start working in shifts. “Great, how do you feel about covering the morning session?”

Bleary-eyed and shivering in the -11 °C air, I marched over to the rink for the first of the Tuesday sessions.

The media bench was empty and bare, a stark contrast to the shambolic clutter of laptops, score sheets, and camera equipment normally splayed across the tables. Everyone on the media team was either off for the morning or taking work calls elsewhere.

Working the session by myself, it was a bit daunting to be responsible for every photograph produced. When I’m working alongside Richard, I always have the comfort of knowing he’ll have taken great shots if mine don’t turn out the way I’d like. But as nerve-wracking as it was, it was a great chance to fully focus on improving the basics of my photography and creating images with media releases at the forefront of my mind.

One of the biggest weaknesses in my photographs was my lack of consideration for backgrounds and this really lowered the quality of my work.

I’ve been spending each session doing my best to capture as many clean photographs as I can and looking back, I’ve improved my work a lot since arriving in Liverpool. I still have a lot of rough edges (my blog writing and inability to confidently crop anything a couple of them), but I’m in the best place I could hope to be for smoothing them out.

On Tuesday night, I had my first night off and joined Mike [WCF senior journalist] and Ashley [WCF IT officer] on a trip to Liverpool Curling Club for their Irish music night.

It was a relaxing few hours of well-played folk tunes and Angry Orchard cider, accompanied by some lovely locals who chatted away to us and asked us about our work here.

Sitting there, listening to Mike speak about the 14 Olympic Games his journalism career had taken him to, I came to the realisation that I don’t want this to be my last taste of the international sporting world.

Despite the long and intense days, not one minute of capturing the World Juniors has felt like work. Well, I could have more enthusiasm for blogging… But it’s a small price to pay.

‘We’ll soop each ither in’

My last Saturday at the World Juniors proved the most hectic. It was full of tremendous excitement and tears from the curlers, with a bit of deflated success thrown in the mix too. I felt fairly similar to them all myself; the end of my trainee week held a range of emotions. I’d made it through the week having only had one minor blogging meltdown (cause for celebration in itself) and had taken shots I was immensely pleased with, but I was gutted to be leaving shortly. Anxious too, having been asked to say the Curlers’ Grace at the closing banquet as a ‘proper Scottish junior curler’, something I did not at all expect.

Returning to my comparably plain and boring life back in Edinburgh was a subduing thought. I’d made such good relationships with people from all sides of the crew, I was really going to miss both the kindness and the wind-ups. Not to mention, having my favourite sport and hobby combined for a whole week was the best experience I could have hoped for, but at least going home would mean getting back on the ice! (Back to freshing double take-outs at Wednesday practice apparently, not quite a world junior curler myself…)

Scrolling through my Instagram feed and Facebook timeline still feels very surreal. I can’t help but feel shocked every time I see my photos appear in articles and media posts, taking a moment each time to stare at the words “© WCF / Rachel MacRae” before it sinks in.

But even though I’m receiving the photography credit, some of my favourite shots were only possible because the players were so eager to help me out. For that, I owe them a big thanks.

It’s quite strange thinking back to the start of my trip, spending the whole flight day anxious that the other crew members wouldn’t take to me. I think I was quite full-on when I first met everyone – attempting to mask my lack of self-confidence – and for a while I then worried I’d come off too strongly and might seem arrogant. But I like to hope my team mates started to see my un-tinted self after a few days. Jokes were being made at my expense and sometimes I was able to quip back at them, having the comfort of this meaning we were getting on fine.

I think that’s a significant part of the traineeship you can’t see from the fun of social media, so my take-home message to any future trainees – never worry about not being good enough. Have confidence in yourself because, after all, you were chosen by people who have had whole careers doing the same thing you are. They know what they’re talking about! Just having the self-assurance to write that myself is a priceless souvenir that the WCF have given me (my mentor especially) that I’d never expected to have. So, with that said, there’s only one way to close my last blog: thank you all for everything.

P.s. for E, C & M: I guess the blogging isn’t so bad, so an extra thanks for showing me I can still write, sort of.

To engage with the World Curling Federation on social media during the World Junior Curling Championships 2019 follow it on Twitter, Instagram (@WorldCurling) and Facebook (@WorldCurlingFederation) and use the hashtags when posting: #WJCC2019 #curling