Life in the UK as a student and touring professional
Chua Man Chin, one of Singapore’s future stars, left the country in September last year to pursue a degree in Mathematics, Statistics and Business at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Hailed as one of the top business schools in the world, LSE is often compared to the likes of the Ivy League schools in the United States and to an extent, even the Cambridge and Oxford Universities in some areas of study.
Not knowing what could going to university do to his squash career, Man Chin took the step nevertheless. But what has happened over the last six months is nothing short of amazing. In six months, Man Chin has competed in six PSA tournaments in six different countries. This is not even including the non-PSA events he’s played, such as the British Under-23 Championships.
Man Chin’s journey both as a student and touring professional gave a very positive outlook on the possibility of our players pursuing both simultaneously. Man Chin was recently back in Singapore for the Easter break and to compete at the annual SEA Cup held in Manila, Philippines. We managed to catch up one evening after training for him to share what he’s been up to and how he’s been doing it.
“Squash wise, I am really enjoying it. There are many opportunities to play around the country and region. Even the local squash leagues, where I play for St. Georges Hill in the Surrey League and Cumberland in the Middlesex League, I get to play top-100 world ranked players. It’s been a really good experience and the standards here are very different. Even players over 40 years old, they are actually playing at a very high level.
“Life wise, it can be quite tiring at times. I have to travel quite a bit for squash, so I spend a lot of time on the train. I usually start the day very early and only get back late, especially on league days where I get back about 11-12 at night.
“So for me to cope with my studies, I actually have to really sacrifice a lot of things like my social life. I don’t really go out much to catch up for studies. But when I do, I always make sure I enjoy the time that I have. I try to make the most of the time with my friends and girlfriend.”
While one may wonder how is it possible to juggle both studies, training and competing on the PSA World Tour, Man Chin explained that despite attending one of the top schools in the country, the intensity of the academics are nothing like the schools in Singapore.
There is also a lot more flexibility in terms of the lectures and lecturers. Man Chin added, “I have a fixed schedule of classes, but if I have to skip a class because of competition or even training, I will inform the lecturers and we then arrange a make-up session, which the lecturers are usually very accommodating to do so.”
Of course, all this also comes with a lot of discipline from the individual. One has to make sure that one stays up to date and keep up with all the make-up sessions. Man Chin does this by listing a set of deadlines for all the topics in his subjects to complete. When he is on the road traveling to league matches, he brings his books with him to study along the way.
“It’s pretty heavy and tiring at times, but you just have to do what you have to do”, he adds.
In the six months he’s been abroad, his world ranking has jumped about 50 places to 245 in May, and having achieved his career-best of 243 in January. This was only possible with the points he gained in the six PSA tournaments he played in six different countries – Portugal, Canada, France, Egypt, England, and Slovakia.
This feat would’ve certainly not been possible had he not been based in England. With many events being held all around Europe, it was much easier to travel from London. Cost wise, it was also a fraction of what one would have to pay if they flew from Singapore.
“The thing about London is that it’s a good base. Traveling around Europe is pretty cheap from there. There are flights as cheap as US$ 50 to a European destination. Even traveling to Egypt and Canada where I played PSA events there, it was only US$ 300-350. If I were to travel from Singapore, I am pretty sure it would cost more than US$ 700.”
Additionally, there is also a lot of support from the educational system in the United Kingdom. Man Chin is a recipient of his school’s Sports Performance Fund, which has granted him up to US$ 3,000 to compete on the PSA World Tour.
Man Chin feels that his squash has definitely improved in the last six months from all the experience playing on tour and also in the English leagues, which he described as “very different” to what we have here. With the temperature lower, the courts tend to be a lot more dead and one is severely punished for a bad shot. He has also learnt to take the ball earlier – something which he feels he has alot to work on.
When asked about his SEA Cup performance, Man Chin said:
“Last year was quite a disaster for me. I actually played in the team match against Indonesia and I lost after being 2-0 up, in a match I was expected to win. This time round, I played pretty good and I even stretched the eventual SEA Cup individual champion to five games. That was quite good I thought. I also felt that the experience I have gained in England helped me handle situations better. For instance, knowing what to do and what shots to play when I am tired.”
Man Chin has set his sights on breaking into the top-200 by end of the year. Seeing what he’s achieved in just six months, that’s something that is clearly within reach.
When asked if he had any parting words for juniors in training who might be considering playing professional squash, Man Chin said:
“If they really have a passion and talent in squash, they should really prioritise and learn to manage their time well. This means being willing to make sacrifices, like less social life and using traveling time to catch up on their academics.”
He also added, “Honestly, if one wanted to try playing professional squash and do university at the same time, it will be a lot tougher being in Singapore. Putting the training and playing opportunities aside, the intensity of the academics in Singapore alone will be taxing enough.”