The last two weeks of January were the start of the zonal inter-school badminton tournaments. This was the first time Andre was participating in competitive badminton as part of his school team and it was an eye-opening experience... not just for him but for me too.
Andre is in the Junior boys team which is for p5s and below (the Senior team is for p6s and below). This was the first time p4s were being fielded for the Junior boys team in his school, as the coach felt that they had the potential to do well, plus she wanted to let them gain the experience of competing. Out of the 10 players, there were three p4s, including Andre.
In Round 1, each group of randomly selected five schools plays round robin against each other. The top two schools from each group advance to Round 2 and so on, until the semi-finals and finals. The four top schools in the zonal competitions will proceed to play in the nationals. Each school plays five matches in each meeting - three singles and two doubles - takes three matches to win.
I'm going to describe the matches in chronological order, just for my own record so I won't forget the details in time to come. I won't be revealing the names of the schools though, for privacy reasons.
The first match was on 20 Jan 2010 and as luck would have it, they met the 2009 zonal champions. Arrrrggghhhh. To their credit, the kids didn't let the name of the school intimidate them. Or maybe they were simply oblivious to the threat, haha.
The coach fielded Andre and his good friend, Paul in one of the doubles matches. It was probably a strategic move on her part to ease them into competition mode. It was a good call too as both Andre and Paul were a bundle of nerves. Plus they hardly practise playing doubles, so their coordination was completely off, they were like a couple of headless chickens.
They conceded the match but the plus side about being the underdogs is there isn't the pressure to win. More importantly, it gave them a taste of competition conditions.
They met School 2 on 22 Jan 2010 and the coach decided to field Andre in his first singles match. I think I was more jittery than Andre! Would he deliver? Or would he crumble? Much to our relief, he overcame his nerves to win the match in straight sets, 21-12, 21-6. The win was a great confidence booster for him, especially since it turned out to be the only match his school won that day. We found out later that his opponent was the Junior team captain, no less.
26 Jan 2010 was the match-up against School 3. Andre played singles and delivered another win. He had to work harder for this one as he lost the first set, but came back to take the match 15-21, 21-15, 21-8. Here's a short video clip of a couple of points from the match (you can hear Kenneth cheering in the background, LOL).
Finally, they met School 4 on 28 Jan 2010. This was another wipeout as School 4 is one of the badminton niche schools. Luck of the draw, sigh. Andre played singles again and gave it his best shot but he was simply outplayed - his opponent's standard was heads and shoulders above his. Final score: 12-21, 12-21. Another short clip to show the level of play we're talking about.
Unfortunately, the inter-school tournament ends here for Andre's school as they didn't make it to Round 2. But for Andre, this experience was priceless. He loved feeling part of a team and relished the opportunity to represent the school. It was a bonus that he managed to get two wins under his belt and as for the matches he lost, the opportunity to spar with better opponents was thrilling in its own way.
For me, I was just blown away by the standard of competitive play. Some of the top badminton schools had students who played like pros, my jaw literally dropped when I saw some of the matches. They even had the luxury to field reserve teams against schools that were not so strong, to save their top seeds for the big leagues. Amazing.
Through these two weeks, I've learnt more about competitive sports for kids than in the past 10 years. Even though there are many plus points, it's not without its stresses, as I've discovered. I will share my reflections in a separate post.
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