In the 40 years of his coaching career, coach Dick Ng spent a lot of time with one particular player US Olympian for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the 2012 US Head Coach, and nine-time US National Champion, Ben Lee. Lee started training under Ng when he was 8-year-old, and eventually came to be known for his “41-inch vertical” jump smash. Let’s find out how Ng coached future Olympian like Lee in his early age.
How did you come to know Lee?
Ben is the nephew of one my good friends. I remember one Saturday, I was supposed to pick him up for badminton, but for some reason, I forgot. It was a rainy day, and he was waiting for me by the window watching every car passing by. Then his aunt called me to say that I was supposed to pick him up. He was 8-years-old at the time. He looked sad and disappointed, and I felt so guilty. Then I made up for it by taking him to badminton the next week. That was the start of the legendary Ben Lee.
He became like a little brother to me. He even called me, “Uncle Dick”. I gave him the opportunity to play badminton on one condition: he needed to finish his homework first. That forced him to manage his time better.
What was your early impression of him?
He was a good athlete and had a good smile. We would go to Oakland twice a week, Foothill College once a week and Palo Alto [to a club that Ng’s long time coaching partner Len Hill opened] once a week to train.
Ben was an OK player at firsts. I could not know that he was going to be so good he would eventually win nine national titles and join the USA Badminton Hall of Fame. I spent more of my time coaching Ben Lee compared to the other kids I coached. He was part of me. I did a lot of things for him, taking him all over the country. In return, he ended up being a great kid, getting a college degree, becoming a police officer, having a nice family, and even owning a badminton gym.
How was he as a junior player?
I took him to Manhattan Beach for his first tournament. He played under 11 category. I told him to clear to his opponent’s backhand side and press to the front because there would be only a straight drop or crosscourt drop coming back, but Ben just manhandled and overpowered the games and won the category. He was physically so strong.
Next year, I put him in under 13. He played against an boy with an excellent footwork. After the game he lost, he told me, “Uncle Dick, I have never been so tired in my life”. I said, “Good, welcome to the world of conditioning. You got to work harder”.
Everybody needs to learn lessons like these to become a better player. He was 11 years old, and he had to play against somebody almost 14 years old. A year later, it was a different story. He won the category. That’s how quickly he improved himself. He was an very interesting player, steady, with great hand-eye-coordination. Probably the smartest player I have ever coached.
Your approach to coaching him?
Ben is a both a tremendous defensive player and smart player. One of my coaching philosophies was that I did not put a lot of pressure on him. I believed that he was able to think for himself and make a decision. He does the same with coaching his daughter, and that is the right way to do it. He talks to her and makes sure that she understands what’s going on.
Did you ever have any difficulty with coaching him?
I did not have any real trouble coaching him, but every kid goes through temper tantrums. One time, he was mad and threw his racquet at a practice in Palo Alto. I immediately straightened him up by warning him that he would sit for the rest of the day if he did that again. If he displayed behavior like that one more time, he would never pick up racquet again. First of all, racquets are not cheap. Also and most importantly, it is not good sportsmanship to act like that. In the end, I never really had to punish him. That is my way of tough love.
How did you feel when he made it to the Olympics?
Very happy. His family threw a party honoring him. It was not an easy qualification. He spent a lot of time in Europe to get qualified. When I heard the news, I was so ecstatic, that I got goosebumps. Ben and his family honored me at the party.