Yeo Jia Min: a Christian Athlete on the Courts

Issue 52  //  ·  · 

You may know her as Singapore’s national badminton player, but she would say that she is a child of God first. BERNICE TIAN hears from Yeo Jia Min on her athletic journey and how her faith is intertwined with her identity as a sportsperson.

Twenty-three-year-old Yeo Jia Min has been dubbed the ‘darling’ of Singapore badminton. She started playing competitively when she was just eight, and is currently ranked world number 18. Her list of achievements are awe-inspiring — amidst her long list of achievements, she can add beating then world number one Akane Yamaguchi in the BWF World Championships 2019, and representing Singapore at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. After a difficult start to 2022 with a Covid-19 infection and an injury that left her on crutches, Jiamin entered the Hanoi SEA Games in May, and sadly ended her medal run in the quarter-finals. 

When we spoke, Jia Min was warm and friendly. She felt like an older sister, as she shared sincerely about her badminton journey and how she depends on God every day as an athlete. Read on to see how she sees her faith and career are intertwined.

Coming off the back of injuries and illness, how did you feel going into the SEA games?

To be honest, I wasn’t in the best physical condition leading up to the SEA games compared to previous competitions. But I kept telling myself that no matter what, I have to go into the competition and do my best. So yeah, I was just trying to stay positive. 

What do you wish people understood about the pressures of being a national athlete? 

That we are learning as we compete, I guess. Sometimes we make certain mistakes, and we may even repeat those mistakes. It takes time, so, just support us along the way! 

How does knowing Jesus influence the way you see failure and disappointment?

Failure and disappointment are always hard to take, especially when there are growing expectations both from myself and others. It just kind of hurts every time I go through a setback or failure. After I have cooled down and gathered my thoughts, I bring my emotions to God. And there’s always a certain kind of peace that I will feel, and am comforted when I seek Him, so that is usually how I overcome those situations.

What has been your greatest career high and greatest low?

There have been many highs! Winning various competitions, winning high-ranked opponents, going to the Olympics… those are definitely high points in my career. Well, the recent SEA Games was kind of a low for me, because I didn’t reach what I wanted to achieve. And I felt like I didn’t perform at the level that I could. It has taken me a while to get over it. Going into this competition, my coaches and fans expected me to bring home a medal, so with the disappointment I felt, it was a pretty low time for me.  

I do feel like I needed to experience this. The amount of anxiety that I felt just before the match and during the match, was even more than at the Olympics! It was one of the first times that the anxiety was so strong, and I felt that I couldn’t overcome it in the moment using my own strength and ability.

ATHLETES IN ACTION COMBINES SPORTS AND FAITH, WHICH ALLOWS ME TO BE INVOLVED WITH OTHER LIKE-MINDED CHRISTIAN ATHLETES.

I just think that it’s probably an experience that God wants me to go through, so that the next time it happens, I can rely on God’s strength in the situation. 

Could you tell badminton was something God was calling you to do full-time? 

I like to learn and have always worked hard since my childhood. I was blessed to be able to start winning competitions early in my career. Other athletes may only start winning later, so it may be hard for them to kickstart their career. My parents were very supportive and brought me to all kinds of competitions. They were always present in my journey, which I am thankful for. 

I only became a Christian when I was fifteen. My mum is a Christian but my dad is not. My dad did not allow my mom to attend church in the past. I only knew of Christianity through my mum. She would come to my room at night and share about her faith and Jesus. That’s when I learned about God, but I never had a relationship with Him. I did not study the Bible or have any fellowship with other believers. 

I was fifteen when I started attending church because my dad allowed my family to. From my struggles in losses, injuries, missed expectations, or difficulties in training, my mum taught me how to lean on God, trust Him and start having a relationship with Him. I started to learn more about Him and how to live life with Him every day, not just on Sundays. I am also involved in this ministry called Athletes in Action. It combines sports and faith, which allows me to be involved with other like-minded Christian athletes. Over time, I have become more open about my faith online. I want to share my journey and that is how I go through my struggles. I do think I can be more open about my faith online but I also want to strike a balance so I don’t come across as ‘preaching.’ I want to be genuine. I just want to share about how God helps me.

Are you curious to live out the life of another 23-year-old Singaporean who may still be studying or working in other sectors? 

That’s very interesting. I consider being an athlete a job. I haven’t gone into the workforce to experience working nine-to-five, but I’ve always wanted to do something sports-related and use what I have to pass down to others. If I weren’t an athlete I don’t think I’d know what I want to do and will probably still be figuring life out. 

That said, I cannot take being active out of my life. My advice to others would be to find something you enjoy so you don’t drag yourself to study or work. Even if you haven’t found it yet, don’t settle for something you dislike. If you look back on life, you would’ve gone through the motions and not made good use of that time.

I’ve heard you say that sports give us a “stronger faith in God” if we continue to “invite Him into our lives.” What does that mean for you?

It means that you go to Him for wisdom when you make certain choices. Even if it’s for things you haven’t gone through before. Think about what God would do or what attitude you should have to face this problem and how to deal with it. You won’t know how God works in your life until you constantly make the effort to go to Him. He’s not someone far away. Learning how to have a friend in Jesus during the good and bad times shapes the way I think, such as being positive and faithful during struggles.

Valuing God more than my sports eliminates my burdens as well. Of course, I work hard, as God wants us to make full use of our gifts and time. But sports isn’t my everything or my identity. Knowing that God is in control of everything helps me embrace difficult or unexpected events. 

YOU WON’T KNOW HOW GOD WORKS IN YOUR LIFE UNTIL YOU CONSTANTLY MAKE THE EFFORT TO GO TO HIM.

Finally, what would you say to anyone who wants to achieve their dreams like you?

It will be very brave of them. It’s something I encourage but know that it will not be easy. It is fulfilling to chase your dreams. When you’re so determined to achieve something, you will find all ways to achieve it, pushing yourself mentally or physically. For me, I will always push myself to be the best version of what I can be. I’m sure you will look back and be happy that you’ve made a choice to chase your dreams so don’t be afraid to fail. As long as you have tried your best, I don’t think it’s a failure. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kallos Team
At Kallos, we aim to empower young women globally to be advocates of inner beauty and confidence and to boldly live out their God-planned design.

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