Badminton is one sport that all Malaysians are familiar with. No matter your race, culture, background or education, you must have held a badminton racquet at least once in your life.
As we aspire to achieve what Dato’ Lee Chong Wei has done for the country in the last decade, many young Malaysians also dream to represent Malaysia in the national team one day.
But this is no piece of cake.
This is why programmes like Astro Kem Badminton (AKB)
is very productive because the goal is to identify talented children between 10 and 12 years old who have potential to become badminton prodigies.
A series of comprehensive training programmes and competitive play experiences are conducted at both regional and international levels.
Each year, AKB organizes six Selection Camps
nationwide and it is open to all boys and girls. This year, the camps were held in Penang, Kelantan, Johor, Kuala Lumpur, Sabah, and Sarawak in March and April.
The best part about this training programme is that they are conducted by a professional team as well as qualified coaches from Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), headed by the former Badminton World Federation (BMF) No. 1 player Lee Wan Wah, Chew Choon Eng and Chan Chong Ming.
Following the Selection Camp, 60 to 64 of the best participants will be selected to take part in a one-week Intensive Training Programme
in Kuala Lumpur.
The kids will be evaluated based on their skill, physical, game strategy, match play, and attitude. There will also be classroom sessions to help them develop more soft skills, including media training, health, and motivational and lifestyle talks.
Last but not least, the main highlight all the participants look forward to is the Overseas Intensive Training Programme
Since 2017, AKB is a collaboration between Astro Kasih Foundation and the Ministry of Education Malaysia, Badminton Association of Malaysia and Nippon Badminton Association in Japan.
After the intensive training programme, roughly 30 outstanding participants will be chosen to attend a two-week training in Tokyo.
Under the stewardship of Japan’s National Coach, Park Joo-Bong, the selected group will be tested on their physical and agility, and be part of a joint training and friendly match with the Japan National Junior Team.
Not only will the young participants be placed outside their comfort zone, they will be more exposed to their peers from a foreign country, and pick up on skills and techniques that they may not have been aware of before.
During the Merdeka weekend, AKB organised the Malaysia-Japan Youth Badminton Development Programme where a group of Japanese junior players trained and played with the participants.
Ayu Fu Sheng, who first started playing badminton at five years old because his dad is a badminton coach, first joined AKB in 2018.
“I joined Astro Kem Badminton because I really want to go to Japan. The Japanese are very good, so I want to learn from them,” the 12-year-old said.
Ng Wen Xi, a 12-year-old student from SJK(C) Kuang Hwa in Pahang has also been part of AKB every year since 2017.
But this will be her first year as one of the chosen ones to go to Tokyo in December and she is thrilled.
“I love the whole experience because there are professional coaches here to teach us and point out my mistakes. I feel like I improved every year,” she said.
As repeating participants, they both feel that the talents are getting stronger in badminton each year.
In fact, the head coach Chan Chong Ming also noticed that the standard of players is getting better and better after being with AKB for the past six years.
“The talent pool is improving and increasing year by year. Last time, out of 10 players, maybe five can play well. Now, it is a lot better,” he shared.
Nowadays, children are more exposed to different kinds of skills and techniques from all over the world. It is no surprise that most of them come to the training programme prepared.
However, there is still a significant difference between the Malaysian and Japanese players.
“The Japanese are stronger in their physical performance, discipline and fighting spirit. Whereas our strength is in our technique and skill,” Coach Chan said.
“I think we need to improve more on our physical and mental strength, as well as the never-give-up attitude.”
Having said that, the Malaysia-Japan exchange programme will be a good avenue for the kids to learn and see how the Japanese train, especially since they are becoming quite a superpower now.
Over the years, AKB has reached out to more than 15,000 children since its inception.
The industry hopes to see more companies and organisations come out and show their support towards the badminton sport, namely in terms of monetary assistance.
“The children need to start developing their skills in badminton from a young age, at least in primary school. and if we want to train better players, we need more financial support like they do in Thailand and Taiwan,” Coach Chan added.
Now, as the young players prepare for their two-week training in Tokyo later this year, we look forward to see another wave of national badminton players rise up in the near future.