Azlan Iskandar holds up his book on the fundamentals of playing squash when he announced his retirement from the sport in 2012. He came out of retirement last month to win the selection trials for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Team Championships. - BERNAMA
ONE of the keys to a successful life as an athlete is to be able to do a balancing act.
I know how important it can be – I learnt it the hard way!
Not many know that I left Kuching to come to Kuala Lumpur to pursue my squash career when I was only 13.
I just told my mother that I was leaving and that I’ll see her later!
I was quite stubborn then as my parents were going through a divorce – so it was kind of tough.
I needed to re-group, so I decided to come to Kuala Lumpur to chase after my squash dream.
I joined the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) programme together with players who were 15 and 16 years old.
At 13, I was already taking care of myself. I learnt to cook and did my own laundry.
Life was tough but it also made me tougher. I was always competing against more senior players.
When I was 15, I was beating the 17-year-olds. When I was 17, I was beating the 19-year-olds.
My world ranking also began to go up. (Azlan was ranked as high as fourth in the world at one stage).
I knew school was necessary to keep my mother happy. So, I completed my Form Five before leaving for London, where I joined Ong Beng Hee there and trained under Neil Harvey.
I will be eternally grateful to Beng Hee. He paved the way for many youngsters – by taking this bold move to venture outside of Malaysia. That really brought Malaysia’s squash standards to another level.
I worked harder. It was not that simple. There were a lot of injuries too but I was mentally driven.
Youngsters must also be aware that they have to make plenty of sacrifices.
I visited my mom only once or twice a year. I never went out much. And I don’t have any friends from school because I kept moving.
Now I am 32 years old and the father of a child. I run academies in various states and also organise the national junior circuit. I have a supportive wife and a wonderful team, comprising former squash players, to run the development programme.
In fact, I have come out of retirement to represent the country at the coming Asian Games in Incheon City, South Korea, in September. (Azlan is the defending champion in the men’s individual event).
I need to train six to eight times a week – that is additional work on my plate now.
I believe that this juggling act depends a lot on the athletes themselves – no matter what sport they are involved in. No amount of force-feeding can help if the athletes do not help themselves.
It is a whole new generation of athletes out there now. Unlike our days, they have more options now. Those days, it paid to be a doctor or lawyer. Now, one can run an online marketing company and make more money!
The world has changed but the basic fundamentals of being a successful athlete – or a person – have not.
It is all up to the athletes themselves – it’s about what they want. Their lives can be totally different from mine and that’s fine.
If they are focused, committed and disciplined – no amount of distractions can stop them from achieving their dreams.
The system can only help them to a certain extent but 90% of the efforts must come from the athletes themselves. There are enough tools out there for athletes to help themselves.
Besides help and guidance from coaches, trainers and mentors, they can learn so much more from the Internet too.
I always believe that one has to be his or her own critic in order to move forward. Reflect and review where you stand now – and be inspired by your own goals.
If you really want to make it big in your career – any juggling act is possible if you put your heart into it.
Former national No. 1 Mohd Azlan Iskandar won an Asian Games squash gold medal in Guangzhou in 2010.