Not long after bidding goodbye to a stellar playing career when she lit up courts with her graceful and fluid style, Sung Ji Hyun is back, this time in the role of coach.
It’s just a month since she took up the position as singles coach with Korea, and already a big test awaits her and her team – the Uber Cup.
Sung puts her young players – An Se Young, Kim Ga Eun, Sim Yu Jin, Lee Seo Jin – through the paces. Korea are in Group D with India, Canada and USA, but Sung believes the team has the ability to not just top the group, but even stake a claim for the title.
“If they believe in themselves, they can win. As coach I want them to have the goal of winning the Uber Cup. I had many good moments as a player, so as a coach, I want them to target the title,” Sung says.
An Se Young and the two strong doubles pairs give Korea a chance in any tie, but Sung knows that the second and third singles too might have to step in. She reckons Kim Ga Eun, in second singles, would have to play a key role.
“Ga Eun could be the key,” Sung says. “There is pressure on her; she has to relax and calm down and focus on her play. I want her to believe in herself. Once she realises her abilities, she can do much better. I know that. She can get nervous but I try to calm her down.”
It isn’t often that players transition so quickly into coaches – usually there’s a gap of a few years. But Sung says that even in her playing days she knew she’d want to be a coach once her competitive days were behind her.
“When I came out of the Korea team, there was a slot for the singles coach. I wanted to follow in my parents’ way. My father was in the national team and my mother is a university professor, so I knew I wanted to follow them. Even when I was a player, I’d work with my juniors when I had the time.
“As a player you only need to focus on yourself, working on your game, but while coaching I run many things and I have to keeping thinking on how to improve the team. Sometimes it’s hard, but sometimes it’s exciting and you become really happy.”
Having completed her graduation four months ago – she has a degree in sport psychology – Sung was ready to take up the coaching position.
Arriving at a major team event albeit in a different role, Sung knows all about the challenges of not just competing in it, but actually winning the title, for she played a vital role in Korean campaigns that won the Uber Cup in 2010 and the Sudirman Cup in 2017.
“Sometimes there’s more pressure in a team event, but when you win, you feel happier,” Sung says. “You feel happy and proud. Winning a team event is more important (than an individual event). There’s more pressure, but if you’re successful, you’re happier.”
Does she miss competing?
“I miss being on court. I’m now a coach, so maybe the team can improve and set a high target and I want to improve with them.”