However, the long-time Chinese national team defender never expected the Chinese Ice Hockey Association’s secretary to put her name forward as a candidate for an assistant coach position with the women’s national team.
“This assistant coach [role] was kind of a surprise, because I never thought about being a coach,” Yu, who also goes by “Berry”, said through a translator. “I always thought about being a player.”
Yu accepted this surprise opportunity, joining the coaching staff of Rui Sun (Head Coordinator), Hua Geng (Goalie Coach), and Qian Zhang (Strength Coach) in addition to continuing to play with the team.
A lot has transpired since Yu first represented China internationally in 2007 as an 18-year-old. She added the Olympics to her resume after playing in Vancouver in 2010 and has competed at countless World Championships. Yu has made her mark at the professional level as well. She played two seasons in the CWHL (which included a trip to the Clarkson Cup Championship game in 2018 with Kunlun Red Star) and received an offer to join the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps in the fall of 2019.
“In 2007, I was a rookie player, I was a young player,” said Yu, who was named China’s Top Player at the 2014, 2017 and 2019 World Championships. “[Now] I’m the oldest person on the team and am also working as an assistant coach.” She has also been the captain for the past few years.
While Yu was one of the only rookies on a team full of veterans in her first few seasons, the team’s reorganization in the years following the 2010 Olympics saw that be reversed, with Yu becoming one of the only senior players on a team full of youngsters. She has found that as her role on the team has changed, her outlook has changed also.
One of the most notable differences in how she views the game is in regards to the Olympics. With China preparing to host the Beijing 2022 Games in a year, Yu has had an opportunity to reflect on the last time China competed in the Olympic tournament in 2010. Now with more years of experience behind her, Yu feels that she values the opportunity to compete on the world stage more.
“I’m appreciating more every single day I am training with this team,” Yu said. “I was a young player at the  Olympics and it kind of opened my eyes, and now, 12 years later, we have this big tournament at home.”
Now with additional responsibilities that come with being a coach, Yu feels that the transition to her new role was made easier due to her having been team captain since 2011, and she is passionate about doing what she can to continue to help her teammates be successful.
“All I want to do is serve this team and make this team better,” said Yu. “I want my athletes to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are... Furthermore, I want to provide more individual thinking for my athletes as well. I am willing to let them explore their talent and potential within ice hockey. Most importantly, enjoy the game and enjoy life.”
“I want my team to have a more positive attitude. I want to build up an environment where we all encourage each other despite facing success or failure... I just want to provide positive power for my players.”
While taking up coaching was not something Yu expected, there is a lot that she is enjoying about and learning from the experience as China prepares to welcome the world in 2022.
“Being a coach, the most interesting part is that it contains unexpected challenges... You have to learn how to view problems or issues from a different perspective and you have to figure out how to solve some tough questions. Last but not least, you have to challenge yourself as well in areas such as your own philosophy, your own judgement, your own decisions and your own intelligence. I do enjoy the process of being challenged, because I learn a lot during the process.”