Shuttler Derek Wong out of dad's shadow

Shuttler Derek Wong out of dad's shadow
From left: Irene Lee, 54, Wong Shoon Keat, 56, Jason Wong, 15, and Derek Wong, 24.

SINGAPORE - Badminton coach Wong Shoon Keat is in a quandary: Does he let the youngest of his four sons pursue badminton full-time next year?

"Jason's coaches say he has fire and can develop into a good doubles or mixed doubles player," says Mr Wong of the 16-year-old, who is in the national intermediate squad.

But he does not want history to repeat itself. His second son Derek trained full-time with the Singapore Badminton Association after his O levels but lost momentum when he enlisted in national service.

"My number one regret is that Derek didn't get a deferment for national service. If I had known that would be the case, I would have asked him to continue with his studies," says Mr Wong, 56, who was Singapore's last South-east Asian Games men's singles champion back in 1983.

When Derek returned to badminton full-time at 19, it was "difficult for him to make up for the lost time", says his father.

Derek, currently Singapore's No. 1 player and the world's No. 51, says he trained at a "60 per cent" pace while serving in the Singapore Police Force. "You lose the momentum."

The 24-year-old and the other local male singles shuttlers lost their matches during the Li-Ning Singapore Open qualifiers last month.

His mother Irene Lee, 54, also a badminton coach, says: "It would be ideal if they could defer national service during the best years of their life. But as long as my boys love the game, I will support them if they want to go full-time."

The Wong family - including eldest son Shawn, 27, a badminton coach, and third son Jamie, 19, a national serviceman - live in an HDB executive maisonette in Serangoon.

What was Derek like as a child?

Mr Wong: He was often mistaken by his teammates in the association's junior team as cocky.

Ms Lee: He was on the quiet side, like Jamie. But the other two boys are chatty, like me.

Derek: I remember I just wanted to play badminton. I wasn't interested in other things.

Mr Wong, did you nudge your sons into becoming badminton players?

Mr Wong: We used to own a shop in the old Singapore Badminton Hall in Guillemard Road, selling badminton equipment. It was the frequent hangout for Derek and his brothers. That's probably how they learnt to love the sport after being surrounded by it in their growing-up years.

How high were your expectations of Derek?

Mr Wong: If he didn't play to the No. 1 or No. 2 standard which he was capable of for his age group, I scolded him.

Derek: I understood his point. I also felt disappointed if I didn't do my best.

Ms Lee: I didn't want to say too much because the daddy would already have made the comments. I might point out, say, a drop shot.

Derek, do you ever feel like you are in the shadow of your father?

Derek: I did during secondary school because I wasn't up to standard, not having played or won any big matches. But my game is more mature now and I've grown out of feeling inferior.

Mr Wong: He won against Taufik Hidayat, the former Olympic and world champion, in the 2011 World Badminton Championships. I'm also proud that he represented Singapore in the Olympics last year.

Who was stricter, mum or dad?

Mr Wong: My wife is very strict in getting the kids to greet all the uncles and aunties every time they meet.

Ms Lee: I remind them to do so, even till now. We are Chinese, that's our custom and that's how my parents taught me to show respect for my elders.

Did you cane your sons?

Derek: When I was in lower primary in Catholic High School (Primary), I'd watch TV the whole day after coming back from school.

Mr Wong: We worked till 10pm daily at our shop.

Ms Lee: When we came home to find they hadn't done their homework, it was frustrating. So they got caned.

Derek: My brothers and I also fought about anything and everything.

Ms Lee: I nudge you, you irritate me - that sort of thing. I didn't like them fighting. The one who argued about who started the fight got more strokes.

Derek: Though mum is the strict one, I had to watch that I didn't get on my dad's nerves. I was a show-off when I was eight. In one practice session, I made my opponent run around the court while I sat on it.

Mr Wong: I don't remember the incident.

Derek: He gave me a tongue-lashing. It was a small incident but a big deal to me - I learnt to respect my opponents after that.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Mr Wong: If I were Derek, I would not have given up studying to play full-time. There aren't enough good players here to compete against and push him and others to the next level.

Ms Lee: I would still take up badminton full-time after my O levels.

Derek: I would encourage my child to pursue a career in sports if I thought he had the talent.

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