After 3 years of seeing Andre train and play, here's my conclusion:
Competitive sports is tough.
When parents first send their kids for training for any competitive sport, I'm sure many of them have big dreams. Maybe not as grandiose as grooming a national player but perhaps some image of sporting trophies or medals lining the bedroom shelf.
For some of course, these visions do become reality. But I've come to the realisation that for the majority, these are merely pipedreams. The Singapore sporting scene for kids has now become almost as competitive as the academic one, and many kids who start out playing because of the love for a sport simply don't have the resources or the time to invest in what has become necessary to be among the medal-worthy minority.
When Andre first started playing for the school team, we were cheering for them to win matches. Badminton, however, is not a niche sport for Andre's school so when this didn't take off, we revised our expectations downwards to just winning a couple of games in a match. Even that proved to be difficult.
Three years in a row, Andre's school has drawn to match up against the top primary school badminton team in Singapore. What are the odds? Even the coach was stumped. When Andre signed up for individual competitions, 4 out of 5 times, he's met seeded players or eventual winners of the tournament in the preliminary rounds, eliminating any chance of proceeding to the next stage.
Even though we know that in sports, you win some and you lose some, it's very disheartening to constantly be beaten down, especially by something as random as the luck of the draw. No matter how hard Andre trained or tried, he didn't seem to have very much to show for it, or to keep him encouraged. He grew to dislike competitions and would perform below his usual standards under pressure. When he lost, he would cry or mope and I was at my wit's end as to how to keep him motivated.
I struggled with this last year. I asked God, "why can't this child catch a break? Are you trying to tell us that we made the wrong decision in letting him pursue this sport?" I couldn't figure it out.
And then out of the blue this year, something changed. When Andre stepped up to play his first game against the top school (where he was matched up against the best player, no less), I noticed a spring in his step, a new-found confidence I never saw before. He faced his opponent, who was a whole head taller than him, unintimidated. He ran down every ball and played at a level unprecedented for him. He was demolished in the end, but to my surprise, he strode off the court smiling.
The teacher-in-charge turned to me and said, "You should be very proud of him."
To a bystander, it must have been an odd sight. There he was, having just lost the game and the coach was congratulating him on a job well done. But having coached him for 3 years, she recognised, as I did, that Andre had experienced some sort of breakthrough in his development.
It dawned on me: Andre was finally enjoying playing in a competition.
Sports is a school of hard knocks. It's not like a Hollywood inspirational movie where the underdog will eventually be crowned victorious after 2 hours, against all odds. Real life is not Hollywood - David doesn't always defeat Goliath, there isn't always light at the end of the tunnel. (Neither does love always conquer all nor truth always prevail, but that's another story). Basically, real life can be brutal.
Many kids train for a sport all of their school years and never make it even remotely close to the top. I've heard some parents make their kids take up the school's niche sport or pick more obscure sports to maximise their chances of winning, but I find it a little sad that even choosing a CCA has to be so calculated.
I don't want to rationalise. It's convenient to say God put Andre against all these tough opponents just to make him stronger but I can't say for sure. What I'm sure about though, is that you have to be prepared for the disappointment and the sacrifice. You have to lose so often that you become immune to it, that picking yourself up and trying again is, without thinking, the only option.
But even without planning for it, I cannot deny that badminton HAS made Andre stronger. On the court now, I see his tenacity, his drive, his intelligence, and it's wonderful to see his love of the game shine through. He belongs there. Even if he never wins another game, it's all good. That's the true value of sports.
And in reply to the terrifically supportive teacher-in-charge, I'm indeed proud of my son. Very much so.
"You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take." ~ Wayne Gretzky, professional hockey player.