For the past half-decade, La Salle College has come out as the dominant champion in local interschool badminton tournaments. They are on a five-year winning streak in the Boys’ Overall category in Kowloon District Division One, and also hope to clinch their fifth consecutive title at the All Hong Kong Schools Jing Ying Badminton Team Tournament next year.
Among the team’s talented players, 17-year-old Ko Shing-hei stands out for his achievements in both local and international competitions. Last month, he won a bronze medal for Hong Kong in the Mixed Doubles event at the 2nd National Youth Games. In last year’s Badminton Asia U17 & U15 Junior Championships, he bagged a gold medal in the U17 Mixed Doubles and a bronze medal in the U17 Men’s Singles.
As one of the most promising junior players in Hong Kong, many people see Shing-hei as a core member of the national junior squad, and the pillar of La Salle’s victorious team.
Being held in such high esteem by his teammates and supporters has put the 17-year-old under a lot of pressure. Shing-hei noted that some people mistakenly believe that players like him, who receive training from Hong Kong Sports Institute, are “invincible”, and that interschool matches should be a piece of cake.
“It scares me a lot to hear people say things like ‘We’ll definitely win this match if we send Shing-hei’. That’s not true at all, because there is no absolute victory in competitions,” said Shing-hei, who has trained at the institute for almost six years now.
Another reason Shing-hei finds school-level competitions more nerve-racking than the top-tier ones abroad is the competition format.
The teenager is more used to competing in singles and doubles matches, which require players to win two out of three games to claim a victory. But in the team event in local interschool competitions, players only get to play one game, which means there is no second chance for them to redeem themselves if things go wrong.
“I would really beat myself up if my team lost because of me,” the Form Six student said.
Though he is regarded by many as an ace of his school team now, Shing-hei still doubts his capability to contribute to the team’s success.
When he was in Form Three, Shing-hei’s coach decided to promote him to Grade A to challenge players who were at least two years older than him. The plan failed, however, as Shing-hei still lacked the experience and strength needed to defeat those in Grade A.
The then 14-year-old was disheartened by his mediocre performance, and blamed himself for letting his coach down.
“Some people think it’s [OK] that I lost because I was younger than my opponents, but I couldn’t let it go so easily. I took my training more seriously, especially when I trained with older players,” Shing-hei recalled.
“I’m thankful that my coach never blamed me. He taught me the importance of reviewing my mistakes rather than fixating on them. I realised blaming myself was not helpful at all,” he said.
Thanks to this change in mindset and diligent training, Shing-hei was able to find his feet again. He has developed a few winning tricks, too; he now wins his rallies with some remarkable net play, such as a tumbling net shot, a net kill and a net lift – moves which require a high level of finesse, rather than power.
“This gives me a great competitive edge. Most players focus on building up their fitness when they’re young, and don’t spend as much time on their technique,” he said.
Shing-hei’s speciality will come in handy soon, when he sets off to Kazan, Russia, on Friday to attend the 2019 BWF World Junior Championships. The teenager hopes he will earn a Singles medal for the city and make it to the top eight in the team event. His best result in the competition so far is reaching the top 16 in men’s singles.
Following the Junior Worlds, Shing-hei is set to turn his attention to his studies, as he is taking the HKDSE next year. While he expects to see a slip in his badminton performance as he cuts his training hours, he hopes he will quickly be able to pick up from where he left off.
“I want to maintain a good form, so my slump after the HKDSE will not be a major one.”