13 | The Only Way To Make Yourself Happy with Ning "Nikki" Zhao

Listen to the FULL EPISODE NOW (32m:19s)

Ning Zhao doesn't mess around when it comes to strangers approaching her online but after a thorough background check on who I am (Ryan Jay Owens) with her former NCAA D1 coach, Chris POOLE, and a big thumbs up that I was not some crazy person she agreed to this interview with a lot of excitement!

She's been waiting a long time to tell someone her story to hopefully inspire other athletes to be goal oriented and not just think sports can offer them everything. Sometimes you must also drastically change your surroundings, like she did moving from China as an 18 year old to the USA, to play at a strong school so her education would be strong as well as volleyball.


Ning Zhao or "NIkki" as many refer to her was born Aug 20, 1976 in Beijing, China. 
She started to play volleyball as a nine (9) year old (!!!!)...

She made the Chinese junior national team which was only 12 of the best young players in China (1.39 Billion people populate China! 4x more than the USA) before quickly deciding at 18 years old to not pursue the Olympics...

She decided to pursue making sure her future after volleyball would be happy, healthy and full of opportunity and accepted a full scholarship to study & play in the USA.

She started at Central Connecticut State university but quickly changed to Barton Community College for 2 years where she was a 2x All American. In her final 2 years of school at U of Arkansas -Fayetteville they were ranked 15th & 8th in the nation as a team.. making the Sweet 16 the 2nd Round of the NCAA tournament.

She was ranked the 9th best setter in NCAA D1 volleyball her senior year & is one of only 3 players to hold the record of 3000 assists. She was honored with SEC 1st Team & AVCA All American,

Now she's "a full time mommy" of a 9yr old boy and 2year old daughter after benign off and on assistant coach for a few years after her collegiate volleyball career. She plans on possibly coaching in the future and/or assisting young Chinese players to get to USA schools to play sports.

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Listen to the FULL EPISODE NOW (32m:19s)

Most Grateful For:

The chance to study & play in the USA!

Personal Motto:

"Smile! I don't own all the problems in the world!"
Read: The 7 Rules Of Life

Most Influential Person In Her Life: 

Former Syracuse Coach Jing Ju. He scouted & brought her to the USA but left her 3 months later to switch schools... "Without him I wouldn't be the strong person I am today!"

Key Discussion Points:

  • What’s her story and how she got into sports?
  • Who is she today after her volleyball career?
  • What was her biggest failure?
  • Why was it important that she go to a school in the USA?
  • What's her proudest moment?
  • What are her future goals?
  • What was the moment she decided to study in the USA?
  • How does she add value to people?
  • What's her next goal?

Key Lessons:

  • She must think about her future

"What am I going to do after I retire from volleyball? We needed to get some education...I needed other life skills other than volleyball."

  • Studying and playing volleyball in the USA is a huge opportunity.

"I saw the opportunities getting a good education besides volleyball... so I decided to come."

  • How graduating from a USA college is why she is a happily married mother of two.
  • Failing can make you stronger.

"First you have to have a strong mind. You have to believe in yourself and be strong. I don't need (the coach). I don't need anyone (to do it for me)."

"Just believe in yourself and there's always nice people around you."

  • Do what you love on a daily basis to be happy

"Cooking is AWESOME but so is volleyball!"

  • She is interested in coaching and also helping young players come the study & play in the USA.
  • Some little things can make people feel much better
  • She should be more goal oriented.
Listen to the FULL EPISODE NOW (32m:19s)


Sleep & Morning ritual: 
Drinking a glass of water every morning & SMILE!

One personal habit to contributes to athlete's health:
Cooking and playing volleyball

Athlete's Learning Resource:

Most grateful for:
The opportunity to study & play for a USA school.

How athlete add's value to others:
Smiling. Tapping them on the shoulder and just giving them a high five when they are stressed.
Believes something little can make someone feel "much better"

Athlete's travel tools:
Phone & Passport

Advice to 16yr old self:
"Be MORE goal oriented!"


Charity/Organizations They Add Value to:
Helping young student athletes come to study in the USA

Full time mom

Past/Current Teams: 
Central Connecticut State University
Barton Community College
University of Arkansas - Fayetteville 

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Definition of Beyond Athletic?

"Sports is NOT the only way to make a person happy! You can't play forever, you must find other passions. There's a whole other world besides the sport you're in..." For example "Family.. Cooking.. Traveling..."