Wilfredo Leon, is currently by many the best volleyball player in the world. Leon plays for Sir Safety Perugia and is considered the highest-paid volleyball player in the world. He started playing volleyball as a boy, at the age of 6 or 7.
Leon: "I was a very active kid, I loved to play, I didn’t live a sedentary life like I do now! Both my parents were working and every time they came home, they saw I still had a lot of energy to play and do other things.
They realised they needed to find a way to wear me down a bit. My mum (Alina Venero Boza) used to be a volleyball player and decided to talk with her former coach and she took me to train with a women’s team. I was six or seven years old and I thought it was a good opportunity to meet older kids."
- he said in an interview for olympics.com All the things in his life happened very quickly. "At nine years old, I started to train with other male athletes of more or less my age, I started to train with proper balls, I competed in local tournaments and then when I was 11 I represented Cuba for the first time in a tournament abroad, in Venezuela, in 2005 or 2006.
We won that tournament and I was able to play well and stand out. In Cuba, I managed to win six consecutive national tournaments in different age classes and that gave me the chance to be noticed by coaches of the junior national team.
They offered me to train in Havana, in the National Sport Centre which is home to the best athletes in the country. I was very young and some people questioned if it was the right age." His parents were skeptical if it was the best decision for him but he wanted it and they couldn't tell him NO.
"My parents sat down with me, asked me if I really wanted that and I told them that the biggest dream for an athlete was to represent his nation and go to the Olympic Games. So they said yes and reminded me that I had to stay there alone because I’m from Santiago de Cuba, which is more than one hour away by plane."
What impressed many is that he made his debut for Cuba at the age of 14!
"In the junior team I trained really hard. I played for the second time in an international tournament although it was a disaster and we finished 13th.
I learned a lot from that experience and I came back to the Cuban league much stronger, scored many points and the senior national team coach decided to call me up despite my young age. I was a kid and, of course, I was very happy to receive that call.
Everybody dreams of playing with the national team… I couldn’t believe it, I was a kid, but I wasn’t scared and I said yes. When I was 14, my coach told me I was ready to play. We had a few games behind closed doors, against Serbia, China… I played very well, I had a hitting rate of over 40%, not bad for a 14-year-old.
I made my debut in the [FIVB] World League in 2008 against Russia and I think I scored 13 points. Everyone was saying that that was a very good start for a kid so young. Even if we didn’t do well in that campaign, I was feeling good.
It was my first experience with the senior team and I ended up becoming a regular which was quite an achievement"