KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia may be one of the most successful countries in producing world junior badminton champions. Unfortunately, none has gone on to be a world champion.
Therein lies the problem – the transition from a junior champion to a full-fledged world champion.
China do not seem to have such a problem, though, with a big percentage of their juniors actually making the grade at senior level.
Sun Jun, Chen Gang, Bao Chunlai, Chen Jin, Chen Long, Wang Zhengming and Tian Houwei are all former world junior singles champions while Lin Dan is a former Asian junior champion himself.
Is it that our juniors are just not good enough to make the step up or is it that the coaches in the senior ranks aren’t good enough to tap these players’ potential?
The Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM), while aware of the problem, are struggling to find a solution. Many have tried but failed.
Former BAM high performance director Wong Ah Jit prepared a comprehensive project paper to beef up Malaysia’s junior programme when he was seconded from the National Sports Institute (NSI).
His plan, to get the structure at the grassroots level right so that there will eventually be a smooth transition of players into the top level, never got off the ground.
“There is a wealth of talent in badminton, so it’s timely to intensify the programme and increase the talent pool by expanding the junior development programme through a structured approach for all states,” said Ah Jit.
“Talented juniors should be identified at a much younger age and nurtured to win world titles and Olympic medals in their early 20s.
“Some states are more advanced in their emphasis on development than others. There are many reasons for this but the most common one is the lack of qualified coaches and finance.”
Under Ah Jit’s proposal, which he named “BAM Juniors”, the target was to have 500,000 junior shuttlers in 10 years.
His proposal called for the registration of national juniors from all states, districts and clubs.
“All juniors must register with the state associations as members of the BAM Juniors,” he said.
“A token fee of RM10 was to be collected for each registration. The fees were to be used by the respective states for the BAM Juniors’ activities.
“Once there are 500,000 members, the total fee collected annually would be RM5mil ... a fairly substantial amount to run the BAM Juniors programme.”
His proposal also emphasised national junior rankings, striking a right balance between studies and sports and exposure to sports science at an early age.
All these, he said, would help produce a new generation of players who are intelligent, independent, confident and professional.
Ah Jit, however, admitted that the most crucial part was the implementation.
“It will be challenging but it can be a reality. with the full support from all the stake holders, especially the Ministry of Education and the private clubs,” he said.