In the world of sports, winning and losing is part and parcel of the game. Every sportsman has to embrace this fact of life as part of a growing process, according to Wong Choong Hann, a former world No. 1 badminton player.
In his 16-year badminton career (1996-2012), the left-handed player has won five titles and 12 runner-up titles in major badminton tournaments. He also has an impressive medal haul of five golds, seven silvers and 10 bronze from world badminton championships.
“In winning, you gain confidence, have more self-belief and get the push to train harder. These are the strengths of winning,” said Wong, 40.
But winning has a downside as well. “Players may get complacent and start to train less, thinking they are better,” he added.
Losing a game seems a bitter pill to swallow. “The reactions of players differ. Some players find (losing) hard to ‘swallow’ and get demotivated. They take some time to recover from the loss mentally. Others find strength and gain advantage from losing instead of getting demoralised,” explained Wong.
From a technical point of view, said Wong, losing shows what you lack in your game. It can help you analyse and rectify your shortcomings and improve your game. The high point of his career, he said, was when he played at the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championships final in Birmingham, England (2003).
“I was in the finals but I didn’t win (a gold),” recalled Wong.
In that three-game match between veteran players, he lost to China’s Xia Xuanze and was the runner-up (he clinched a silver medal). Nevertheless, Wong is the first Malaysian to win a medal in the men’s singles event at the BWF World Championships.
Other than the Olympics, he felt that “BWF World Championships is the second highest accolade a player can earn.” The world No. 1 player, he explained, is a world ranking based on accumulated ranking points from touring events all year round.
The Sting Of Defeat
The lowest point in Wong’s careeer, he admitted, was in 2000. He said: “It was the first singles in the 2000 Thomas (& Uber Cup team in Kuala Lumpur) and I didn’t play well to lead the team. The same year in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, I was defeated in the quarter finals.”
Wong said that it was a hard blow for him at that time. “I was young and uncertain about my direction. People say that time heals but looking back, I would have been more grateful if a mentor had guided me and I could have fared better and recovered from the setback,” he said.
Wong retired from badminton at the end of 2012. A few years before hanging up his racket, he was already making his “post-retirement plans”. He wanted to fulfill all his obligations and commitments to his country and sponsors as a professional sportsman before calling it quits.
Wong also wanted to ready “a decent platform” before he moved on. Pondering about retirement, Wong enthused: “I realised that I would never be as competitive as before and it could only last up to a certain point. I decided that I need to stop and put my energy into a new environment!”
After making plans, he was “relieved and happy to retire”. He said: “It takes courage and guts to get out of your comfort zone and I did it!”
Nonetheless, Wong felt restless in the initial weeks of retirement. “I had so much time to kill in the first few weeks. I was just enjoying the freedom and luxury of time, being spared from the training routine.”
But with too much time, it could also lead to boredom. “Suddenly, all your daily routines have changed. You have to re-learn totally different skill sets to survive and make a living!”
Going Into Business
In 2009, prior to his retirement, Wong’s first move was setting up a badminton centre with a few partners – Chew Choon Eng, Chan Chong Ming and Lee Wan Wah.
“Our one-stop badminton centre provides courts rental services, coaching academy and retail sports shop. That was my focus for the first few years of my transition period. Business is doing fine. We have four badminton centres in the Klang Valley,” he said.
Initially, he took on a managerial role to learn the basic business skills (such as human resource management, finance, marketing) to manage the business. He also took on another role as a head coach in the coaching academy.
Wong also went into the preserved flower business with another set of partners in September 2012. He said: “It was an ambitious project. We’re quite ahead of others in terms of time and product (preserved flowers). But it takes forever to build a brand.”
After almost a year, he quit the business “to channel his energy” elsewhere.
On his coaching, Wong said: “It gives me a lot of satisfaction to see the kids growing to become better players over the years. However, there is also a lot of frustration too, due to the expectations (placed) on them.”
But Wong hopes to bring his business to another level. He said: “Eventually, my goal is to have a full-fledged academy.” By that, he envisages a badminton academy with full facilities such as dorm, gym, courts and training facilities.