YOUNGSTERS who have been involved in Astro Kem Badminton stints overseas are reaping the benefits years after training with Japan’s national junior team.
Junior shuttlers like Tan Zhing Yi, 16, and Eogene Ewe Eon, 14, both from Penang, described their time in Tokyo a few years ago as eye-opening.
Zhing Yi said watching the 2012 Olympic Men’s Singles final between Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei inspired her to take up badminton seriously.
“At first, I only trained once or twice a week with my father who is also a badminton coach. After some time, I became hooked to the game and trained more often, ” she said.
By 10, she was training on a daily basis with her father and at 12, continued her studies at a Singapore sports school.
Zhing Yi decided to return home after a year as she found that she was not getting enough time on the courts and was experiencing a drop in form.
“Chong Wei is a big inspiration, but these days I try to emulate Tai Tzu-Ying and Kento Momota, ” she said.
Since entering the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) this year, Zhing Yi is aming high — she hopes to become the first Malaysian World Badminton Champion but knows that she will have to make it to the national backup team next year and the elite squad by 18 if her dream is to be realised.
Eogene used attend games with his father when he was eight and it did not take him long to pick up a badminton racquet.
“As I played, I became more interested in badminton and trained harder and more often. I saw the professionals on television and wanted to become like them.
“Of course I watched Lee Chong Wei as a young boy and was inspired by him. Now, I look up to Kento Momota because of his skill, focus and movement around the court, ” he said.
Eogene, who entered BJSS in 2017, has his eyes set on making it to the national elite squad and qualifying for the 2028 Olympics.
By making a name for themselves through school sports, both Zhing Yi and Eogene were able to earn a spot in BJSS.
And like any aspiring athlete, they try their best to gain as much exposure as possible. So when the opportunity to train with Japanese national coaches for two weeks came knocking through Astro Kem Badminton, they were ecstatic.
Even though four and three years have lapsed for Zhing Yi and Eogene respectively, the experience they gained in Japan has left an indelible mark on their badminton careers.
Tzing Yi said it made her realise the qualities needed to become a well-rounded athlete.
“I was influenced by what I saw and when I returned home, I started to emulate the Japanese players by paying attention to my own habits. I saw what I was doing could be improved.
“They had a strong fighting spirit but were always respectful.
“I don’t believe that we are that different from them. We are able to be like them or better. It is whether we choose to or not.”
Eogene also tried to emulate what he saw, especially when it came to discipline and dietary habits.
“Their positive attitude and commitment to training left an impression. Ever since then, I have been trying to make changes to become a better athlete.
“I had the habit of being lazy when training. When I got to see how hard the Japanese trained, that really opened my eyes. I realised I was just not doing enough, ” he added during an interview at Astro’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
Rigorous selectionEver since 2012, Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) coaches, led by former national players Wong Choon Hann, Lee Wan Wah, Chan Chong Ming and Chew Choon Eng have been sifting through thousands of applications for Astro Kem Badminton.
They are playing a part in discovering and honing potential world champions through the camp which is Astro’s annual hunt for the best junior players in the country, organised in partnership with the Education Ministry and BAM.
To-date, the programme has seen some 16,000 youths graduate through local clinics held in six locations, including Sabah and Sarawak.
Astro communications director Tammy Toh said 70% of current BJSS students recruited by BAM had gone through Astro Kem Badminton.
“Astro has always had a strong association with sports in Malaysia, so we wanted to help young badminton players below 12 build their skills and gain experience.
“Astro Kem Badminton and Astro Junior Championships have given thousands the opportunity to learn new skills and excel in what they are passionate about.
“We believe that a company of our scale has a responsibility to go beyond our business and into the community.
“Astro Kem Badminton helps nurture promising young badminton players with potential to be the next badminton star, ” she said.
After eight years as Astro Kem Badminton head coaches, Wan Wah and Chong Ming are still excited about the programme.
“The level of play is much higher now than when we were their age, ” said Wan Wah who joined the state team at 16 and the national team at 19.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t have clubs, coaches in our hometowns or even proper badminton halls. We also did not have these kinds of programmes which give youths opportunities to improve.
“Astro has done a lot of grassroots work with the training and selection camps.”
He said the overseas badminton camp and classroom sessions gave those selected a well-rounded education.
Chong Ming added that more corporations should become involved in grassroots programmes not only in badminton but other sports as well.
Wan Wah, who has been heading the development of the Japanese boys junior national team since April, said there was not much difference between players from both countries.
The coaching methods do not differ that much either. However, it was troubling that some Malaysian juniors struggle in developing the right mindset.
“Most of the juniors from Japan are very focused and know what they want, ” he said, adding that local players were just as good technically and tactically.
Chong Ming added that qualities like mental strength could be taught if both coaches and players were willing to work together.
“Young players really need to know how to approach the game in order to score points and win.
“In addition to commitment and discipline, a desire to win is also very important, ” he added.
Working with Astro has also honed the coaches’ skills in identifying talents who will go far.
“What impresses us is seeing how a player approaches a match against an opponent who is more skilled.
This goes back to mindset and attitude, which is crucial. If someone does not have a good attitude, they will never be a good player, ” Wan Wah said.
This year’s Astro Kem Badminton will see 30 shuttlers and two former participants as mentors undergoing a joint training programme in Tokyo from Dec 8 to 17 where they will take part in sparring matches with junior Japanese shuttlers.