Kem Badminton Astro recently sent 30 young Malaysians to a badminton camp in China.
Can success be manufactured, trained or moulded?
Some might say you need inherent talent to be successful, but stepping through the gates of the Li Yongbo Badminton School in Dongguan, China, one can’t help but feel that this might be the place where champions are made.
And when you’re a small town boy from Alor Star like Kok Jing Hong, being in such a place only heightens your dreams further.
“I really can’t describe it ... I guess I am in awe,” said Kok.
“It feels very surreal actually to walk the halls frequented by the likes of Lin Dan and Chen Long or train in the same court, sleep in the same hostel or even eat at the same dining hall,” added the 12-year-old from SJK (C) Keat Hwa (H).
“It’s not every day that you get an opportunity like this, so it is very humbling for me, being a simple kid from Alor Setar.”
Kok was among 30 very lucky young Malaysians who recently went through an intensive 10-day training at the school during the Kem Badminton Astro programme.
The programme began in May this year with tryouts conducted in Kuala Lumpur and five states – Penang, Johor, Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak – to select 60 players.
From that number, only the top 30 were shortlisted to travel to Dongguan.
It was an experience none of them will forget soon, seeing as it was the first time travelling out of the country without their parents for almost all of them.
Kem Badminton Astro
Launched in 2012, Kem Badminton Astro was initiated by Astro Kasih as a platform to engage youths aged 12 and below to encourage and drive their dream of becoming the next world badminton champion. Over 4,300 kids have participated in the Kem Badminton Astro over the past two years. This year’s camp had 1,500 participants, with the top 30 (20 boys and 10 girls) selected to undergo an intensive training programme at the Li Yongbo Badminton School.
The training at the prestigious badminton school is hoped to inspire the young ones to excel and achieve their dream of probably becoming the next Lee Chong Wei or Lin Dan.
Part of the intensive training programme included fitness drills, some gym tutorials, a hill run and skills work, as well as an exhibition match.
“The first couple of days took some getting used to and the training was really tough, but rather enjoyable because I was exposed to different methods from what I was used to. There was a lot of focus on perfecting footwork, sharpening skills like chopping and stamina, basically learning to be more efficient on court,” said Kok.
The current Majlis Sukan Sekolah Malaysia (MSSM) boys’ singles champion took on Cheng Xing, also 12, the Chinese No. 2 junior, in a friendly match on the group’s last day in Dongguan.
Kok won the thrilling encounter 21-17, 22-24, 21-16. And his efforts throughout the week did not go unnoticed as he was recognised as the best participant of the camp by the school’s head coach Xiao Jie.
Lots of spunk
Another participant who impressed was 10-year-old Poopathi Velayutham. The youngest in the group, he was given the nod as the most promising player among the boys.
Poopathi, who hails from Kulim, Kedah, showed no signs of home sickness or being out of place despite the language barrier with the Chinese coaches.
In fact, the SJK (T) Kulim student seemed to assimilate himself effortlessly, displaying an independence that belies his age.
“I don’t miss home actually ... I’m having a lot of fun learning new skills and playing the game that I love,” he declared confidently.
“It has been a very exciting experience to be part of the camp. I don’t understand the language, but that disappears when I’m on the court and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
“I’d say the best part of the camp was playing my friendly match and winning,” he added with a wide grin.
Kem Badminton Astro’s head coach this year was former national shuttler Wong Choong Hann, who with a hearty laugh, admitted: “They are much better than I was at their age!”
“I am from a different era – the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nowadays, the kids are exposed to so much more compared to us back then. So, they should be better!” he added.
The former world No. 1 and 2003 World Championships silver medallist enjoyed his role in the Astro programme.
“I think with the support from Astro Kasih (Astro’s CSR division), the camp created a platform for us to work closely with the kids on a sport that is dear to our hearts.
“It was quite a challenging project to take on actually. Kids are very straightforward – they want something fun, that interests them and which they can learn from. And, those are the elements we tried to incorporate this year.
“It was a great opportunity for us to go down to the grassroots level and try to affect some positive change to get the right outlook at a young age. It will help them tremendously in the years to come,” said Wong, who runs the Pioneer Sdn Bhd badminton club in the Klang Valley with former players Lee Wan Wah, Chan Chong Ming and Chew Choon Eng.
He admitted that the hardest part of the whole camp was cutting down the players to the top 30 as there were many promising young players and it was hard to say no to half of them.
“The selection was purely based on their performance and only a few were given the chance because of their potential.
“Take Poopathi for instance, he’s only 10, but he shows a lot of spirit and determination when he plays. That’s what we want to see from our young players,” explained Wong.
“We also did things a little differently this year where we opted for a more holistic kind of selection. So we were very careful to choose those who shine both on and off court, and had good character.
“They might have the full grasp of the experience now. They probably can’t visualise, but we can see their potential and with the right mentality and proper guidance, they can achieve anything,” said the coach, beaming with pride.
Awards (presented by)
At the end of the camp, a few youngsters were rewarded for their hard work. The awards, presented by LYBS head coach Xiao Jie, were for best participants (Kok Jing Hong, 12, Kedah, and Valeree Siow Zi Xuan, 12, Perak) and most promising talents (Poopathi Velayutham, 10, Kedah, and Cheah Wen Jun, 12, Penang).
School for champions
The Li Yongbo Badminton School (LYBS) was established on Nov 11, 2011. It is named after China’s former doubles specialist and badminton great, Li Yongbo, who is currently the national head coach of China’s badminton team.
Li is well know for his agility and speed, having amassed with partner Tian Bingyi two world titles (1987, 1989), three All-England titles (1987, 1988 and 1991) and three Thomas Cup titles (1986, 1988 and 1990).
The pair also won the bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The school boasts two international badminton stadiums (28 courts in total), gym, clinic, physiotherapy centre, themed hotel and restaurant, and sauna.
It’s principal, Tang Xianhu, was unmatched during his playing days from 1965-1975 and was the coach responsible for moulding Chinese players such as former world No.1 and two-time Olympic gold medallist Lin Dan, Xia Xuanze and Ji Xinpeng.
The school can accommodate 200 students, with the age of enrolment eligibility as young as six years old.
It is also home to the Chinese national team and the Guangdong Century City Badminton Club.