April 2007, Confederation High.
I was the first to arrive. Anxious and impatient, but not tired. The time was 7:00 AM. I had woken up at 5:30 AM that day; I don’t think I’ve ever woken up that early during my 4 years of high school.
This is what it all comes down to, I thought. After all these years of practice and dedication, the results of today will reflect all the hard work I’ve put into it. However, “one can’t be result-oriented” though. No. That only applies to poker. I hope.
I just wanted to become the best.
After being introduced to my badminton coach, Dominic Soong, in 2002, I realized badminton wasn’t just a game of reflexes and precision; it was a game of deception and precision thinking. Badminton is like a game of chess, there is a perfect counter to every move, and when the skill differentiation is similar, it all comes down to the deception and the strategy. I’ve often said many times that badminton parallels StarCraft in terms of strategic management, but who knows anything about badminton and StarCraft anyway?
That day was probably the most important day I was looking forward to in my life. The opportunity to become city champion and being able to compete in OFSAA (provincial finals) and the opportunity to watch and play the most prestigious players really meant a lot to me. I’m sure everyone who showed up to the city finals thought the same too, but only few would take this as seriously as me.
I knew I was ready. After all, why wouldn’t I be? I’ve been playing very actively for 3 years: around 2-3 times a week during school, and up to 5 times a week during the summer. When I go to my competitive training classes every week, the drills are not particularly tiring or tedious; however, they having provided with me inspiration to reach my potential. I wanted to push myself to the fullest during each drill, so I can receive maximum returns for my efforts. School practices, although only at a casual level, were highly stimulating thanks to my coach. Sometimes the only reason why I looked forward to school was badminton practice on Fridays, and sometimes when time moved slowly I would think of my upcoming tournaments and how to prepare for them.
More people started to flood in; it was almost 8:00 AM now. The tournament was scheduled to start at 8:30.
I didn’t really feel like talking that day. I only focused on the moment. My only words were, Rally? Hi. Wanna hit? I just wanted to warm up.
My partner arrived promptly, but not early. Within a few minutes the matches began and we played our first game, we won. Then we won our second game again, we were in the semi-finals.
However, what worried me the most was that our opponents weren’t at our skill level, so the wins would be insurance. The only skilled players were on the other side of the brackets; everything will be fine until the finals.
Despite our self assured confidence, we lost the next two games and were eliminated in the double elimination brackets. I don’t think I played poorly, if you see me diving for the bird it means I’m giving it my all. We lost because of inconsistencies. We shook our opponent’s hands and left the battlefield.
I had nothing to say. We lost to the same team twice. They were clearly below our levels but we were given the loss. I felt heartbroken. I quickly took my things and headed towards the change room.
As I walk down the school’s corridors to the change room, I saw my coach pacing from the other way. I felt I let him down. I didn’t want him to see me. He approached me however and said in a calm voice “too tense”. I nodded and I walked toward the change room.
“Pain is weakness leaving the body”, I thought. I tried to find the answer to our loss… Maybe my partner never practices. Maybe he doesn’t put badminton over school like I do. Maybe he should have practiced with me after I called him multiple times to train. Maybe he is just a bad player.
But those were ignorant thoughts, albeit logical thoughts. Maybe I am better than my partner by just a little. Maybe he doesn’t practice as much as me, because he was very busy with school. And he probably doesn’t think about badminton on the bus or eating dinner.
Although he was my friend, I hated him from that moment. This is a fact that I cannot deny. But as ignorant as I was, I blamed all my faults upon him. I didn’t talk to him for the next few weeks.
This feeling I had probably felt as bad as losing a girlfriend, perhaps even more. I didn’t feel like doing anything in school anymore. There was nothing to look forward to.
* * *
May 2007. I’ve been accepted to the University of Toronto. I’ve been playing more badminton than ever. I go to the RA Centre (provincial badminton facility) to practice footwork by myself at noon (since I have spares during the 2/3 class slots). Although I am the only person at the courts, I do not feel lonely. I knew this was the only way to get stronger. I realized that I lost in the city tournament not because of my partner but to stronger opponents. I realized that I was far from being a “good” badminton player and I needed to work much harder to become one.
June 2007. Playing badminton almost everyday at the RA Centre. Trying to get games with people better than me and listen to their advice.
July 2007. Vacation to China, but that didn’t stop me. Trained for 2 solid weeks with my uncle, a provincial badminton coach, and played a lot with my cousin. The non-air conditioned gym nor the 4000m above sea-level altitudes did not bother me, because I was playing badminton.
December 2007. My semester is almost done. I have not played any badminton since school started. Maybe that’s why I felt something was missing. Maybe that’s why I had feelings of emptiness. It’s time to return to my loved sport, it’s time to fulfill that part of me that has been nostalgic, and it’s also time to study for my exam in 2 days so I can finally return home and prove that I am still a contender within in the badminton community.