December 2022. Istanbul. Thousands of Turkish fans are chanting. It’s a round of 16 European Cup game against Turkey's Galatasaray S.K. Ludvik is the only part-time volleyball player for Chênois Geneva Volley. The fact that he is on the court at all is down to a series of lucky circumstances.
Ludvik started playing volleyball with his brother when they were about 10. "At the time, I also played football for Etoile Carouge, one of Geneva's main football clubs." The pressure from the club and his friends’ parents escalated quickly and soon Ludvik had to choose between the two. At 14, he was invited to join the national junior volleyball team. "I’d have to travel to international tournaments. That was compelling, so I chose volleyball."
Ludvik successfully played in Switzerland's League B with the VBC Servette-Star-Onex throughout his teenage years, before being invited to join Chênois Genève Volleyball, one of Switzerland’s best teams when he was 19. He began playing in the Swiss National League A while studying business and economics at the University of Geneva. "I trained three hours every night after uni." Most of the other members were full-time players. Reluctant to get shouted at by his coach, Ludvik chose to take the criticism as an opportunity to improve individually and as a team. "The harsh routine and pressure to perform consistently taught me to prioritise and to welcome constructive criticism." Inspite of his success and many hours on the court, Ludvik had never envisioned a professional career in volleyball.
So Ludvik started a Master's in business analytics in 2017 where he learned to crunch data and the basics of machine learning.
He started his career at Givaudan, first in Geneva and then Paris as a data scientist. He joined a volleyball club wherever he was and always carved out time to train. But when Covid hit Ludvik returned home to his family and friends. It was then that he came across Pictet's graduate programme.
Ludvik joined Pictet as a Product Research and Development Graduate in PAM in September 2021. The same month, he returned to Servette-Star-Onex, his former club, to win the Swiss National League B 2021-22. "Winning the championship with a team of old friends was the culmination of a long-held dream and a big achievement. I felt I had reached the pinacle of my volleyball career. But was I ready to retire?"
Going back to Chênois wasn’t an option. "The club was building a competitive all-star team for the 2022-23 National League A season with eyes fixed on the European Cup*. I was due to go on rotation to Pictet Asset Management in London in January 2023, which meant I’d only be around to play half a season. As a result, I would probably spend most games on the bench as third wing. That, combined with the effort of juggling League A training with a full-time job, didn’t seem worth it."
Then in a weird twist of fate, one of the lead players of Chênois got injured over the summer and wouldn’t be back before the end of the year. From ‘play to win’, overnight the team’s strategy became ‘play to stay in the game’ (at least until Christmas). That is when Ludvik got a call from the new coach: "I need you on the court, now." Ludvik knew it was a chance to step up and live something big.
Unexpectedly, the team didn’t just ‘stay in the game’ but rose up the leaderboard of the Swiss championship and started winning games in the European Cup. They won against one of Czech Republic's major teams which brought them up against Turkey’s famous Galatasaray S.K. club.
"Galatasaray is well known internationally for their football team, but they also have a very popular volleyball team." Ludvik's first glimpses of Istanbul were from a bus escorted by local police. "Galatasaray's ‘ultra’ fans are legendary and can be hostile with overseas teams. We didn’t feel very welcome!"
On game day, Ludvik entered the famed TVF Burhan Felek Sport Hall’s 7,000-seat arena. "Even half-full, the space is intimidating. The ceiling is so high you can't even reach it shooting the ball. It felt like a cathedral." Playing on their home turf, star-player Thomas Edgar, atop his 2 metres 12, and the other Galatasaray players underestimated the Genevan team. "Our team's previous win against Liberec, the Czech club, had boosted our confidence and against all odds we won the game 3-2. It was one of the most remarkable moments of my life."
Two weeks later came the return game in Geneva. Chênois usually plays in front of ~300 spectators. But with Galatasaray in town, 1,300 people showed up, including the Turkish club's fan-base from France and Germany. "We were playing at home and the chants of Turkish supporters were the only thing we could hear! We gave our best, but in the end they were just the better team."
Looking back, Ludvik is thankful. "Not many people with a full-time desk job get the chance to compete in professional league sports championships. I’m just grateful to have been asked to play! I learned so much from the players and coaches. The value of discipline and self-confidence are precious assets I cherish in both work and life."
His move to London in January 2023 has meant Ludvik left the team as planned though he has joined a club in the City and made new friends. He's pondering potential next steps. "Chênois wants me back next season. Let’s see. Why not try another sport, maybe tennis?"
When he's not training and playing volleyball, Ludvik is a Product Research and Development Graduate at Pictet Asset Management, currently on a 6-month rotation in London.
*the equivalent of the UEFA Champions League in football