Toby Ng

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

Mountains To Climb

Let me tell you a story:

There once was a boy who started playing badminton with his family. He enjoyed playing for fun with his parents and his brother at the local community center. It was just supposed to be for fun, as his parents were hoping that playing badminton would keep him out of trouble. He also did other activities like piano, Chinese school, and he even joined the boy scouts. However, his interest waned in those activities and he ended up quitting them all for more badminton. He was a decent player, but never did extremely well. Fortunately, when he was 15, he was able to find a doubles partner with a very good player at the time. He started playing and training more, and inevitably, he got better. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t good enough to win him a coveted junior national title. He tried until he was out of juniors, and he even had a chance to try at the U-23 level that fortunately began while he was still of that age group.

In his final U-23 year, he had that national title lined up for him to win, but he opted to join the Canadian men’s team at the Thomas Cup Finals in Indonesia. Perhaps that was a major turning point, because if he had opted to get his U-23 National title, he could have retired happily and gone on with his life like the rest of so many other badminton players. But, we all know that’s not how the story turned out…

Fast forward 8 years, after many different opponents, coaches, and even partners, the boy has almost become a professional badminton player. Let’s say APAP (as professional as possible), or part-time professional, because amateur sounds… unprofessional, literally. He ends up competing at the 2015 Pan American Games, held in Toronto, Canada, almost a home away from home. To be exact, the venue was in Markham, where there is a huge badminton population, similar to that of Richmond, in Vancouver, where he lives and trains. He had high hopes of doing well at this tournament, but in the end, the expectations fell short again. Just like his junior national titles, he failed to get that one accomplishment that he wanted… but, maybe there’s a reason for that. Perhaps it’s the loss that keeps him continuing; perhaps it’s the failure that keeps him longing for redemption.


It’s not how many times you fail, but how fast you get yourself back on your feet each time.

That’s my story so far, and maybe someday I can be more in depth, but the story hasn’t ended yet. I feel it is coming to an end, and there are still many other ‘hurdles’ I have to overcome. ‘Hurdles’ might be an understatement; I feel they are like ‘mountains’. I can jump over a hurdle because I have a pretty good vertical, but mountains can’t be jumped over. Although climbing a mountain is arduous, perhaps I can find a way to overcome the obstacle by going around or through it. “How can I?” is the question I always ask myself. This allows for introspection, finding weaknesses, and uncovering solutions to problems. I don’t ‘meditate’ in the stereotypical sense of the word, but I do a lot of thinking… and I also do a lot of writing.

There is actually one question that has been eating at me for the longest time, because I did not have an answer for it. I encourage those who are serious about their badminton to ask themselves the same question. I encourage you to ask some of the current players right now this question, and I do hope you get an honest answer:


“Why do you play badminton?”

There are also variations, like “why do you STILL play badminton?” or “why do you compete at the level you play at?” Probe and keep probing until you get to the root of it. I’ve asked myself the same question over and over, and it did bother me that for a time, I couldn’t answer it.  It ate at me, because why do most athletes compete? I would say probably for fame, fortune, or a combination of the two. Do I play for fame? It feels good to be noticed, but for badminton? In Canada? In North America? I tell people and it’s like I can read their minds: “Oh, I’ve played badminton before in high school!” (or worse, backyard style). Fame in North America is also another problem, because although I don’t want to pull the race card, can you name me a famous actor or actress that is Asian, and is the star of a movie in Hollywood that doesn’t do martial arts, or is some kind of nerd or other stereotypical Asian role? It’s pretty tough, isn’t it? Remember, USA won the Worlds in 2005, and what has that done?

Playing for fortune is also not the case, although there is potential for it. I honestly believe those in the top 10-15 should be able to make some decent money, but what about being Top 25? Nope. Nope. Nope. Let’s just say I made Top 23 last week and I’m down about $20 000 for the last year. Thanks for reminding me. So why is it that I still choose to compete?

There are a few reasons, some I’ve come up with along the way, but the number one reason I play is for respect. To be respected as a good badminton player by other people who compete, or have competed. This is a critical point, because I noticed it the most this week. There are so many people who have congratulated me on a silver medal, and I thank them for that. However, if you had a legitimate chance of winning gold but failed, it feels a bit uneasy. For example, imagine if you had a friend who went out on a date with someone they really liked, but it didn’t work out because he/she got friend-zoned. It’s pretty much the equivalent on congratulating him/her for being “just friends”.

If I seem a little bitter, let’s put things into perspective: as a team, Alex and I were 4-0 head-to-head against our opponents, and with Grace, I was an additional 1-0 head-to-head. I have nothing against Phillip and Jamie, for the record. I think they played an excellent strategy against us, and they have been creeping closer and closer with every time we compete against them. I suppose maybe I’m fortunate to have won the last couple of encounters against them, as they have been all 3-set matches. So what’s the difference? Where are we going wrong? How is it that they can catch up to us?


REALITY CHECK!

I suppose they have a lot more support, although not from USAB. They seem to have the ability to play many more international tournaments, and even get international players to train and spar with them. I barely even train with Alex. She’s training in Ottawa while I’m stuck in Richmond, because I have really no other choice. I don’t even make enough to pay rent each month in Richmond, let alone even thinking of moving to training in Ottawa. I don’t get enough hours to coach, and I train as much as I can, while trying to find other ways of making money. I was not funded by Sport Canada last year (minus $18 000) and I need to appeal Sport Canada’s decision for not wanting to fund me again this Olympic Year. I have so many “mountains” to climb, and to be honest, winning or losing that Pan Am Games final would not have changed anything financially. For some sports it’s all-or-nothing during Pan Am Games, while for me, it’s pretty much nothing-or-nothing… so I definitely shouldn’t be bitter, although in terms of my goals and reasons for winning, I fell short.


Here are the mountains I have to overcome:

  • Losing the Pan Am Games
  • Appealing Sport Canada’s decision for not giving me funding for 2015-2016 (Olympic Year). For the record, Alex and I had the 2nd highest World Ranking, won Nationals, and qualified for Sudirman Cup and Pan Am Games. Aside from Michelle, the other players considered for funding don’t have better results.
  • Having little financial support for the Olympic Year. I also have a brother, and my family can’t even support one of us. Anything from our family usually gets divided into 2 (and so does my prize money, for the record).
  • My partner is training on the other side of the country. The conflict here is that I have a unique style which I acquired from a world-class mixed doubles player. Everything I do is more detailed than what I have seen done in Canada in my event (I cannot speak for other events, e.g. Men’s Singles). I consider this to be post-graduate level technical skills versus high-school level technical skills. No offense to anyone, but let’s be outcome-based: if your methods are working at the international level, then that’s fine. If not, hey, I have 8-years of experience now.
  • If I wasn’t clear in the previous point, creative control of how to approach the mixed doubles game is a huge problem.  To sum it up: the coaches we work with at these big events are National Team coaches. They have a large range of experience, but I think many of them specialize in one of 2 things: 1) select events that they competed in themselves; 2) NCCP/NCI-based programs. The weakness here is that when they work with us, it’s extremely limited and there is not too much they can do for us aside from helping us do drills that WE decide on before/during the week of the tournament. Any things to adjust/improve on the next time are left to ourselves or our personal coaches to work on. Then, the cycle continues where they don’t see us for a year or so, then they work with us with their last memory of us playing. Can you see the problem with that? It’s the problem that plagues beginners who decide to train really really hard for a short period of time in hopes that it makes them better than their opponents, even though they don’t realize that their opponents could be training just as hard, if not harder than they are. So why do we have National Team coaches? They make excellent managers, which actually plays a significant role at big events.  


Asking the Right Questions

I think being positive is very necessary, but I agree with Daniel Pink when he says that being blindly positive is not as good as asking it in a question. “I can do it” or “I WILL do it” is nice, but lacks essence. Pink did research and found that people who asked themselves “Can I do it?” were more likely to find a solution to their problem. To take it further, I like to adapt the ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’ question, “HOW can I afford it?” to “How can I do it?” to make it a question while staying positive. “How can I afford it?” is also a legitimate question I need to ask myself constantly.

How Can I Do It?:

  • I will appeal the Sport Canada decision. It’s a no brainer because I deserve the funding and I have to overcome this extra ‘mountain’ due to a glitch in the BWF’s World Ranking system.
  • Badminton Canada doesn’t have money to support us as they would like to, and I have to accept that. They are doing what they can, and I’m sure if they get something, they will do what they can to support us. In the meantime, I cannot sit around and hope that they do everything for us (and if nothing comes I blame the system). My goal is to find ways of getting funding, and if successful, maybe I can teach other athletes to do the same. This could take a significant burden off Badminton Canada and they can spend their resources in other projects to generate more revenue. My dream is so that Badminton Canada can get an independent revenue stream outside of government funding, where government funding simply acts as a bonus. It’s about being win-win and synergism. Badminton isn’t doing so well, but because of that, there is always that potential of growth. Perhaps if we can get the right people involved, we could make it a profitable thing and finally, we would see well-deserved people in the sport prosper.
  • I will be fundraising, although I plan on doing it differently. I want to be able to give something back, whether it is badminton, fitness, or nutritional consultations, to products or services that help promote badminton or something related to health and wellness. I want there to be value so that things can be win-win, because sustainability is necessary. Consider if every athlete went to do crowdfunding, asking something for nothing? Who would you decide to give to? Or would you have to divide your resources between 6-12 athletes? I’ve long accepted ‘part-time professional athlete’ a long time ago.
  • I want to give back. I don’t just want to take and then leave. There are so many gracious sponsors and supporters who have definitely helped me along the way! Badminton has been a part of me for so long that it will inevitably always be a part of me, and I want it to succeed, or at least break even. I think sometimes we feel that we need that ONE thing that will help the sport come along, like a sponsorship from a big company. But what if that’s not the case? What if it’s really finding 10 small companies that help make badminton a popular and successful sport, and it takes many years to do it? I may not know about business that much, but what if we started accumulating assets for Badminton Canada, instead of hoping for that big thing to kick in? Why can’t we all work together and synergize?

Perhaps I’m just being a dreamer and not realistic. I’ve always been the realist or the critic, or even both at the same time. However, I learned that success is often outcome-based, and if something doesn’t work, you have to make adjustments and keep going.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to do…


“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” - Bruce Lee

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