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Chua takes on a different form of national service

Chua Yong Joo, the next Singapore Badminton Association chief coach, will take over in October and wants to hone his players' self-belief.
Chua Yong Joo, the next Singapore Badminton Association chief coach, will take over in October and wants to hone his players' self-belief.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

As the Singapore Badminton Association (SBA)'s longest-serving employee, Chua Yong Joo can joke that he has become part of the furniture.

But 14 years on, having been a full-time national player, trainee coach, team manager and senior technical manager, he admits it is now - as chief coach - that he is truly in the "hot seat".

The 36-year-old was announced as the SBA's new chief coach last week, the first local-born person to helm the national team. He will succeed Liu Qingdong in October.

The SBA has relied on foreign coaching expertise for more than a decade. Hamid Khan, who served as director of coaching from 1999 to 2002, was the last local-born person to fill a coaching role.

"It's a challenge. It's a big task," he told The Straits Times shortly after the SBA's surprise announcement.

EMPATHY THROUGH EXPERIENCE

I've been through this system as a player, and through the positions that I've held in the SBA. I can understand what the players are facing and the struggles that they have.

CHUA YONG JOO, who will be Singapore's first local-born national badminton chief coach

Chua will go from largely coordinating matters such as sports science support and looking into youth and coach development as the SBA's director of team performance to also taking on a front-end role when he doubles up as chief coach in a few months' time.

Not that he is intimidated. Having understudied the SBA's coaches over the past decade and led the team to the SEA Games and the Olympics, he feels he has more than earned his stripes.

Said Chua, who is married to former shuttler and 2008 Olympian Jiang Yanmei: "I've been through this system as a player, and through the positions that I've held in the SBA. I can understand what the players are facing and the struggles that they have."

Chua is inheriting a largely young and inexperienced team. Senior players such as Gu Juan, Yao Lei, Ashton Chen, Terry Yeo and Huang Chao have departed, leaving Liang Xiaoyu, 19, Yeo Jia Min, 16, and Loh Kean Yew, 18, with big shoes to fill.

The youthfulness of the team - coupled with what Chua perceives as a gradual move away from relying on foreign talent - is why he feels the national players need room to grow, and time to achieve.

"It's a work in progress," he said, when asked if he is satisfied with where the national team are currently at. "Over the years, there has been a move to more local-borns in our team. There have also been more local-born players stepping out and taking up this path."

The shuttlers have had an encouraging turnabout after a torrid 2013.

That year, no Singaporean made the last eight of the Singapore Open - the team's worst showing since the 2006 edition - and the squad returned with just one bronze from the SEA Games in Myanmar.

After Liu became chief coach following sweeping changes at the start of 2014, the team have won silvers in the men's singles and doubles, as well as a mixed team bronze at the Commonwealth Games.

"We've made progress and some of our young players have done well on the junior circuit," said Chua.

"But the game, once you reach the senior circuit, is quite different."

Chua wants the team to believe they can challenge the world's best, and even win. That, he feels, is his biggest challenge.

He said: "Our players need this mental strength and self-belief."

The ultimate target, for Chua, is for Singapore to be on the podium at the Olympics.

"It's not going to be easy at all. And it'll take a lot of time and hard work to achieve it."

But should Chua's ultimate dream come to fruition, he can then proudly boast that the old furniture in the SBA office also has some gloss to it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'Chua takes on a different form of national service'. Print Edition | Subscribe