Thinking out of the box to stay in the game
Date: 7/18/2013 4:06 PM
Published by : Manuel Røsler

As the badminton world readies for the biggest event on its 2013 calendar just three weeks away, it is one edition Europe will look on with much anticipation having reaped a record medal harvest at last year’s Olympic Games in London.

Part II: Thinking out of the box to stay in the game

By Jan Lin

While in the business world, “self-made” success stories are not uncommon but in the sports, success is often first appointed then earned through hard work.

Especially in badminton where world champions are often “pre-selected” to be nurtured from as young as 9-years-old in Asia, but for Danish world champion Thomas Laybourn, his journey had barely begun even when he was 19-years-old.

“I was very lazy in my teens. I didn’t want to practice. I just wanted to hang out with my friends”, Laybourn confessed. “Then suddenly, something changed. Usually I just say that I grew up, but I think it is education. When I was 18, it just put me onto the right track.”

“With education, you begin to know you have to gain some sort of success in life. When I was done with my education at 22, people started asking me why wasn’t I in the national team as I was so good, and that was when I started thinking, practicing a little more and trying to get my foot into the national team.”

“In Denmark, it’s typical to get an education then just work, but I wanted to get out of that shell. I mean, we only have one life. I don’t want to use my time to do things that I don’t want to do. And I hope more people would too.”

With that, Laybourn went ‘all-in’ as a 22-year-old. Little did he know less than a decade later, the speedy player would be crowned a world champion at 31.

“To get into the national team, I had to give up everything, my job, my car, moved back with my parents who took care of me at 22, which was kind of crazy!”

Turning philosophical, he added: “But all that have now become just some of the sacrifices I’ve had to make to eventually get something better on the other side. So sometimes, maybe you have to take a step back, in order to get even further.”

At 24, Thomas Laybourn finally got the call-up from the national team. And that, was but still just the beginning of his one-of-a-kind journey to success.

“My dad always told me I have to be curious about things”, Laybourn revealed one of the vital keys to his success. “But when I was young I had ignored that until I was 22, I suddenly started feeling it - it made sense what he said.”

“So while I was playing badminton, I think I was just very open-minded. I have always been really independent and I’ve always had a lot projects on the side. ”

As a retired world champion, Laybourn is today involved in badminton coaching while dabbling in various projects and start-ups in home décor to graphic design.

Upon deciding to retire at London 2012, Laybourn spent the last few years of his career purposefully preparing to get ready for the new life in order to “convert all the skills” he had learnt from the badminton world into his “new life”.

“Playing badminton gave me the spare time to do the other things I want to do.
Sometimes of course it was a bit stressful doing so many things but I was really focused to not letting anything interfere or distract me from badminton”, he said.

“It may seem impossible in the badminton life and I am not saying that everyone will have to do many other things at one time while prioritising badminton”, he quipped, “but what I will say is I think it will make you a better sportsman and especially it makes you more ready when you are done being a sportsman.”

This “alternative” lifestyle kept the lanky Dane going for ten years in the national team. World Champion, European Champion and while en-route to his second Olympic Games for Denmark, Laybourn knew he was ready to hang up his racket.

“My family was there supporting me at the Olympics, so it was really good for me that I could just leave the stadium and just go out to them and have a chat about everything, what was going on in my head, how my career was over”, he shared.

“I remember when I was on court right after we lost, I had chills in my body and tears in my eyes. We were the only ones playing at that time and the whole stadium was cheering for the match”, the chills revisited him as he described it. 

“We played at a very high level against the Chinese”, he added, “so it was mixed emotions, and really special for me as it was also my last match as I will never walk back onto the green court again, not at that level of competition at least.”

“Looking back at what I have achieved, it has been an amazing career. Beyond the dreams I have had as a teenager. If I could do it over, I would have done it again. It really changed my life and made me who I am today”, he said smiling.

Still, the icing on the Dane’s cake is the smooth transition he had from being a world champion on court to championing a winning lifestyle as a retired player.

Ending on an earnest note, he shared: “I hope I can be an example to the rest of the Danes or Europeans that it can happen: Winning the world title while also doing many things that allows us to continue doing after our badminton careers.”

“Anything is possible”, he said with his eyes lighting up. “It’s about having the guts to chose a different path to live your dreams. And I would also recommend young players to just follow their dreams. Jump in, it will change you.”

Click here to read Part I: "Laying it all down to be a World Champion"

Photos by BadmintonPhoto.

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