WHEN I was still a junior and coming through the squash system from Kuching, I had a team-mate named Wong Kim Lee.
Two years my junior, he too came from a small town and worked his way through the system. He loved the game just as much as I did.
Eventually we both played in the same World Junior Championships in 1998, in Princeton. He was the No. 5 player then.
We were both approached by scouts there - there were plenty of them. I ended up taking the path of a full-time professional with Kim Lee, who had more time to consider and work things out, also eventually going down the same road.
He did well in Princeton, played some big matches in the Ivy League and today he is working as a banker in Wall Street and making good money.
And that honestly is what a success story is all about.
It’s interesting though how sports in Malaysia has changed over the years.
In those early years, sports was everything to me and I played a variety of games before making squash my main sport.
Video games didn’t mean much to me because I was mostly involved in sports.
Today, the scenario is very different. More children and teens are on the computer and tech gadgets and not as many are involved in sports.
I honestly feel that in order to get today’s generation involved in sports, a lot of compensation is needed. Huge incentives have to be put in place in order to attract the Generation Z kids.
As such, sports bodies need to be more pro-active in their attempts to get youths involved in sports.
There are many ways to do this. One is through the indirect way of engaging youths as volunteers.
Don’t get me wrong, you will still have your high achievers, but not everyone is cut out to be an athlete.
To be a top athlete you need to start at the age of six or seven, go through the system, be self-motivated and have your parents’ support. It’s really great to have kids who are like that but it’s never easy finding and nurturing them.
So it’s also great to have youths volunteering for sports event. It’s a fact that many sports need help and many people are willing to volunteer but we lack the mechanism to get volunteers.
And honestly, more needs to be done in terms of linking up education and sports.
With the SEA Games coming to Malaysia in 2017, we need to start working now as it’ll definitely cost a bomb.
Associations should definitely look into being pro-active in engaging volunteers, students in fact, so that they are involved in something constructive like nation and community building.
In addition, I strongly feel that people need to view sports in a different light now as education plays a very big role in generating the youths’ interest.
As what Kim Lee had experienced, there is nothing wrong in using sports as a platform to further one’s education.
Sports is big in the US and Britain where scholarships are given out to promising athletes.
Just look at Malaysian squash - a significant number of our girls take up scholarships in the US because they know that as long as they have a national cap and decent grades, there’s a place waiting for them in Ivy League schools.
And there is nothing wrong with this picture at all!
Many may think it’s a bad investment to allow our athletes to go overseas for studies. That honestly is the wrong mindset.
We’re talking about scholarships with financial aid provided by Ivy League schools. They should go for it, because it does lift a huge burden off their families, especially those from rural areas.
Being in the US or Europe will also cultivate in our youths a mindset of giving back to society. Whether or not they have money when they come back doesn’t matter.
I honestly feel that it is a shame to cut ties with athletes who go abroad because even if they do not represent the country anymore, at least they can still contribute to local sports in various ways through their ideas, time and work hours.The bottomline is, there are just so many ways to get youths involved in sports and we should build on it rather than just ignore it.