YOG paddler Koen learns valuable lessons
Away from school and on travels, YOG paddler has learnt to manage his nerves and gain mental strength
While his peers can put examinations out of their minds, national paddler Koen Pang will sit for his at the end of the year as he focuses on the Youth Olympic Games (YOG).
This past year has been an eventful one for the Singapore Sports School student, with the 16-year-old travelling to almost 20 countries to compete and train.
However, to fit his travels into his schedule, he has had to take leave from school several times.
When he made his major Games debut in April at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, he took a break of over one month from school, causing him to miss out on a few topics.
This sometimes leaves him with a backlog of work to catch up on, which can get tough at times.
He said: "It was a bit intense for me. For the end of the year, I'll need to restudy those topics."
But the year has taught the teenager many lessons, ones that have helped him to strengthen his mental fortitude and develop his skills on the court.
It really taught me to control my nerves during the crucial points in the match.Singapore youth paddler Koen Pang, on playing in the Commonwealth Games in April
Stepping onto the international stage at the Commonwealth Games was an overwhelming new experience for the teenager, but it was also one that has taught him to manage his nerves.
Koen, who put up a formidable display to reach the semi-finals of the men's doubles event together with fellow debutant Ethan Poh, said: "The Commonwealth Games were my first ever major Games and playing in front of so many people was very nerve-racking and exciting; it was definitely an eye-opener.
"It really taught me to control my nerves during the crucial points in the match."
His mixed-team event partner Goi Rui Xuan has also observed significant progress in her own game since taking a two-year break from school to commit to the sport that earlier this year.
Like Koen, the 17-year-old's experiences have contributed to the physical and mental aspects of her game, noting an improvement in dealing with pressure at pivotal moments in matches.
She said: "I've gained a lot of experience and made some breakthroughs through the competitions.
"I feel like I have been mentally stronger, especially when I compete during my final set. Previously during my final set, I tended to panic but now, I'm more stable and able to fight it out and win the match."
The duo have set themselves quarter-final targets in both the singles and doubles events and potentially a podium finish if they advance past their initial goal.
They recently won the mixed doubles event in the South-east Asian Junior & Cadet Table Tennis Championships and are confident of their partnership, and hope that they can carry the momentum to South America.
Rui Xuan said: "Being able to become champions after pairing up for the first time is something that shows that our partnership is not bad.
"I believe if we work harder together, we might perform even better at the YOG."
Both players see the Oct 6-18 YOG as an important springboard for future competitions like next year's South-east Asia Games, for which they hope to meet the cut.
As with previous competitions, they both feel that the YOG will provide them with a platform to continue developing as players.
Koen, who is currently ranked world No. 14 in the International Table Tennis Federation rankings for players aged 18 and below, said: "It will definitely improve me as a player in my mental side of things, teach me a lot of lessons and how I should cope with different types of playing styles."
Rui Xuan added: "In the future, I think I will still meet these opponents as they are the ones in our batch and it will help me gain confidence in my ability to play at a different level."