BAM’s Shawn Chong, Koh Weat Teck stress importance of physical conditioning at grassroots

The clunking sounds of weights and grunts while exercising were occasionally drowned out by the voices of two individuals. That is the daily scene at the Akademi Badminton Malaysia’s gymnasium in Bukit Kiara, Kuala Lumpur where national shuttlers – seniors and juniors – are put through their paces.

Beyond the familiar faces at the Badminton Association of Malaysia’s (BAM) facility are Koh Weat Teck and Shawn Chong Yao Seng – who are part of the national body’s support team. Koh, 26, has been an exercise physiologist with BAM for the past four years. Chong, 27, a strength and conditioning coach, is clocking in his seventh month with the association.

The duo work closely with national shuttlers, mainly the junior athletes, although Koh has been helping out some of the players who are gearing up for the Paris Olympics next month.

They readily admitted that one of the biggest challenges for those in their line was getting athletes to truly value physical conditioning.

“Don’t get us wrong. Generally, the athletes have been receptive to our programmes. But we can only plan and advise… it all boils down to them,” said Koh.

“We want to have an impact, to create players who are self-sufficient. The goal, for me, is not to be here anymore … it’s (embracing) the high-performance culture.

“If we have this mindset, then they (the athletes) don’t need to be pushed.”

Koh emphasised there were many factors in creating athletes.

“But the grassroots is important … physical education must be given proper attention (in schools). There must also be the buy-in from the coaches.”

Chong added that the situation had improved, compared to 10 or 15 years ago.

“I remember how physical education was like in school back then, and how it’s changed now. In fact, some private schools today have really good programmes and gymnasiums,” said Chong.

“Child development is important. If there is no proper fundamental movement (at the lowest levels), we will miss that golden opportunity. That window is wasted.”

Both Koh and Chong said there should be some form of governance overseeing this discipline in Malaysia. They cited examples like the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association, the United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association in the United States that offer certification for those who want to be in the scene.

There is a Malaysia Strength and Conditioning Association. However, there is no stipulation in the country that requires those in this field to be certified by the national association before they are allowed to practice.

Just before Koh and Chong spoke to Twentytwo13 on June 20, the duo gave the writer an opportunity to experience some of the tests that national athletes go through. Chong got the writer to warm up by riding a stationary exercise bicycle for 15 minutes before carrying out some simple stretching routines.

Koh and Chong then set up some equipment and got the writer to do a countermovement jump, followed by a squat jump. Later, the duo and the writer headed upstairs to the courts. There, the writer was put through a four corners drill test, which is commonly used to test agility. They explained that the data collected from such tests was crucial in helping athletes on the court.

Both of them smiled when asked if they had to deal with coaches who often started their conversations with “During my time”.

“Athletes back then were built differently. Today’s athletes are different and there are many distractions. What we have now are modern athletes who require modern solutions,” said Koh.

He added that it would be difficult to get the buy-in of the athletes if they were told to just “ikut sahaja” (just follow), instead of explaining the rationale or science behind the need for them to do a specific routine.

“The athletes should ask questions because it means that they care, and they want to know why they are doing it. And when they understand the need to do a specific routine or programme, they will appreciate it better,” said Koh.

Main image: Chong (left) and Koh at Akademi Badminton Malaysia.

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