The 28th Southeast Asian (SEA) Games will be held in Singapore from June 5 to 16, after a 22-year long hiatus. Halogen’s Social Team caught up with Singapore’s top-ranked shuttler, 26 year old Derek Wong for a short chat on his career, aspirations and thoughts on youth leadership development.
Halogen360 (H360): H360: This would be your fifth SEA Games representing the Singapore National Team. How did it feel like when you were first called up to play for and represent Singapore as a young kid?
Derek Wong (DW): I remember that it happened really quickly and naturally. At the time, I was one of the top players in both my age group and the age groups above me so it was not totally unexpected but just a matter of time. Getting into the Singapore National Team was a priority not just for myself but for the Singapore National Team as well, since they wanted to help fast-track my training and development as soon as possible. Of course I feel a huge sense of pride when representing Singapore. I believe the best feeling any athlete can get representing Singapore or any other country for that matter is when you get to hear your country’s own national anthem being played during the prize ceremony whilst standing on the podium.
H360: What would you say are the toughest challenges you faced when you were young and on the path towards becoming a professional athlete? How did you overcome these challenges?
DW: I think that especially in Singapore, we have a lot of pressure to do well in our studies. Guys have to serve two years of National Service as well. This takes up a lot of time in our youth, and affects the path to becoming a professional player. But I believe that if you are able to work out a good time plan for yourself, have proper rest, and keep to your schedule, you should be able to cope and eventually become a better sportsman. Oh, it takes a lot of trial and error to overcome these challenges! There are many obstacles to overcome and you need to constantly adjust your schedule. For example, when I had to participate in an overseas tournament, I will inform my school and the army, and when I returned from the competitions, I also have to be disciplined to catch up with any work I’m behind on.
H360: As a leader in the Singapore National Team and a role model for many youths, what do you think are the most important characteristics of a leader?
DW: I think you have to be kind, and be passionate about what you do so you can show others the best parts or aspects of the sport you are playing. As a leader you need to be disciplined, work hard, encourage teamwork, and know how to deal with the many failures as well as successes in your career. As a senior player in the National Team, I have been through the problems, challenges and obstacles of becoming a professional sportsman. I can use my experience in the best way possible to guide my juniors and other youths who aspire to turn professional.
“I believe the best feeling any athlete can get representing Singapore or any other country for that matter is when you get to hear your country’s own national anthem being played during the prize ceremony whilst standing on the podium.” – Derek Wong
H360: What are your thoughts on youth leadership development?
DW: I encourage and support youths and kids to practice leadership from a young age, though not necessarily at a high level. Leadership is necessary and important. In a crowd, in any crowd, we need leaders, otherwise there would not be any direction.
H360: Do you have any advice for aspiring young athletes or youths in general?
DW: I would tell them that they’re still young, and they can do anything that they want. It is just a matter of what they like and want to do and how they work their way towards it. Everyone has different goals and aims, and a different path to take to reach their goals. So I would just tell them to do their best and not to give up too easily on their dreams.
H360: Is there anyone who inspires you or whom you look up to?
DW: My father, Wong Shoon Keat, a Gold medallist in the 1983 SEA Games held in Singapore.
H360: What are your goals for this year’s SEA Games?
DW: I think it is very appropriate that this year’s SEA Games is held in Singapore as I hope to emulate my father by winning and taking home the Gold medal.
“As a leader you need to be disciplined, work hard, encourage teamwork, and know how to deal with the many failures as well as successes in your career.” – Derek Wong
H360: What is your most memorable or satisfying victory?
DW: The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last year, when we got to the finals and won a silver medal.
H360: How often do you train?
DW: Right now, Mondays to Saturdays, twice each day!
H360: What is the hardest shot or skill to master?
DW: For me, it would be the net play area. This skill requires a very fine, detailed touch. I’m quite a stiff player so I need to work on loosening my grip and getting a better feeling and mastery of the shot.
H360: Who is the toughest opponent you have played against?
DW: Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei. He is very fast and in my opinion faster than China’s Lin Dan.
— Article by Halogen Social Team