A badminton racket is as common in Indonesia as a hockey stick in Canada or a baseball bat in the United States.
Kowi Chandra, however, grew up in an Indonesian family that didn’t play badminton. He discovered the game as a 7-year-old in his neighbor’s backyard. Two years later, he was playing competitively, winning tournaments throughout Indonesia, and at the age of 13 he earned a spot with the prestigious Djarum Badminton Club.
Chandra devoted his teenage years to professional badminton.
“There wasn’t much time to hang out,” said Chandra, who also sacrificed his studies for the sport. “I lived in the dorms and trained six to seven hours per day, six days a week.”
The champion player with seven Indonesian tournament victories on his résumé accepted an offer in 2006 from the Golden Gate Badminton Club in Menlo Park.
Fresh out of his teens and with limited English language ability, Chandra moved to the U.S to become a full-time U.S. badminton player and part-time coach. His playing, coaching and English-speaking skills all flourished. In 2009, Chandra was the U.S. national mixed doubles champion as well as the men’s doubles semifinalist.
A growing passion for teaching and developing young players prompted Chandra’s decision last year to reverse his professional priorities.
As the current coaching director of the Bay Badminton Center’s three Bay Area clubs, Chandra, now 25, has become a full-time teacher and part-time competitor.
The Daly City resident has been selected as one of the U.S. coaches for this summer’s Pan American Junior Championships in Jamaica. Ten of the 68 player spots on the U.S. team will be occupied by kids coached by Chandra at the Bay Badminton Center.
“I love coaching. I have the patience, and I just love to help,” Chandra said. “I have learned so much through the kids. I have to feel like them, to think how they think.”
His enthusiasm and dedication to the game are infectious. Although his kids don’t train the way he did as a junior athlete, Chandra encourages them to devote free time to badminton, improving their speed, agility, power, stamina and strategic understanding of the game.
And there’s been a change back home in Indonesia. Badminton rackets are now prevalent at his family’s home, as Chandra’s father Hadi has become hooked on the game, playing seven days a week.
“If his clothes aren’t dirty, he doesn’t go home,” the younger Chandra said proudly of his dad.
LOCATIONS: Bay Badminton Centers are located in South San Francisco, Burlingame and Milpitas
COMPETITION: Pan American Junior Championships, July 24-31, Kingston, Jamaica
CHANDRA’S PAN-AM TEAM: Two boys and eight girls from the Bay Badminton Center, ages 9-18, will be competing