Toby Ng

It’s not what I have done, but what I will do next…

Back To The Underdog

“How 'bout that, I’m somehow now back to the underdog
But no matter how loud that I bark, this sport is somethin' I never [bow-wowed/bowed out] at”

– Eminem in ‘Kings Never Die’ ft. Gwen Stefani

This week at the 2015 K&D Graphics / Yonex Grand Prix was one of those times where you have to take a step back and really figure out things hard. You gotta take a step back and just learn to observe; learn to watch for the smallest details to have the best idea of what is going on. And once you find out what you need to do, you ask yourself that question: “Do I want to quit and feel better about myself now, or do I want to grind it out for the chance to win in the future?”

After a disappointing loss to France in the first round, it really made me think about it again. ‘Disappointing’… is that the correct word to use? They are a good team and perhaps we underestimated their abilities, or perhaps we overestimated our own. Isn’t that how you get an upset in sport most of the time? Expectations aren’t what they are, and it proved to be the case this time. I hope I don’t have to learn this lesson again. I will do my best to remember it. That’s also why I am writing about it.

To make matters worse for our Olympic qualification run, the American team had the fortune of getting a walkover in their first round because their opponents suffered an on-court injury, followed by a double-walkover in the next round, between Ireland and Japan which both withdrew from the tournament. To make matters worse, Sweden had an amazing result against Singapore, made it into the quarterfinals, but lost to the American team. It was a great opportunity for both teams, but the Americans came out on top, which now directly affect us as we will fall behind about 1000 points or so, which is fairly significant given that there are 4 months of competition left in the New Year.

So here I am… stewing in this moment of frustration, trying to figure out the best course of action because I know that what I do here may make or break me down the road. This discomfort and pain is a clear sign that something needs to be done, because if nothing is done, nothing will change. I have done my best to communicate with my partner, with coaches, and with other players, but with all that is said and done, I need action. I need to start moving in the right direction.

It’s so easy to look for distractions: it’s so much more comforting. Although there are time and places for distractions, and everyone does things their own way, I also believe that is the reason why some people succeed and get the results that they want, and some don’t. This brings me to a quote I happened to come across today… oddly, I’ve been fortunate to have glimpses of insight this entire week based on the material I’ve been reading, movies I’ve been watching, or articles that I’ve come across… such impeccable timing. Anyway…

"Never mistake activity for achievement." - John Wooden

I see it a lot in my sport. I see a lot of activity and I see that everyone wants to train. However, often times, I don’t see purpose, and because of that, I often don’t see achievement. Perhaps this is one thing that has helped me get along over the years, because I’m constantly looking for purpose to activity. I have to, because I have no choice but to find a way to maximize everything I do with the little resources that I have. Consider trying to cook a whole chicken. Most people will just eat the best parts and discard the rest of the scraps, but for some families in Asian cultures, they use every last bit of the chicken (chicken hearts are delicious, by the way). In my sport, I can’t afford to "buy another chicken", so I have to use all that is left of "the one chicken". In other words, if I can’t get as much activity as other players and teams, I’ll have to do what I can with what I have. I don’t even get to train with my partner outside of tournaments, but financially, it is really not an option given our minimal funding, large expenses, and the geographical nature of living in one of the largest countries in the world. There is no centralized training center, and even if there was one, I cannot guarantee that living and training expenses would be subsidized. So when I hear people who believe that badminton shouldn’t get funding because they aren’t getting results, I smile and walk away. I have to choose my battles.

This week I’ve forgotten I was the underdog, and it took me a couple days of reflection to finally figure it out. Of course I have to credit all the people I’ve been fortunate to chat with and ideas from books I’ve been reading (i.e. ‘Mastery’ – Robert Greene), it helps to go back to my own “Why”: “Why am I trying so hard?”; “Why do I still do what I’m doing?” I was listening to an audiobook by Tony Robbins and he was talking about a concept where there were no plateaus, only ups and downs. Stealing that idea, I reflected on how life itself was constantly up and down, and perhaps plateaus only occur as a concept. The progress of my badminton, for example, may look like it is at the same level, but with anything in life, it should be more dynamic, and perhaps just flip-flopping between ups and downs. And if I was given a choice, would I want to be on the up, or on the down? Perhaps when we are comfortable because we’ve built ourselves so high, we simply stop working on getting back to “up”, but just delay the speed at which we are going “down”. To me, I borrowed the concept of lean muscle mass with age, and that as we age, we are going to lose more lean muscle. However, with proper exercise, we can delay that from happening. Sure, some people may be able to put on a bit of extra muscle over the years, but our maximal potential declines with age as well.

Looking at my badminton then, if I feel like I’m in a plateau, are things really getting better, or are they getting worse? The comfort zone is the worst place to be because that’s when you get soft and other people behind you start creeping forward slowly. It’s no different than a badminton match where you may lead by a couple of points. Comfort is often the last thing you want, ironically, if you want to achieve success in what you do.

So the lesson I’m hoping to take away from this week is simple: I AM THE UNDERDOG. Always was, always will be. I will be content knowing that I have to try harder than everyone else and to maximize the opportunities that I can get. There is no comfort zone, at least until the end of my qualification period. And then, it would be time to set some new goals and get going again.

And if I can do it, so can you. We all have our own obstacles in life, but we can do it. Let’s do it!

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