Being a student-athlete - Matt Chau's voice

Monash students Matt Chau and Sawan Serasinghe partner for men's doubles.
From humble beginnings in the outer suburbs of Melbourne's south-east, Matt has risen up the badminton ranks to be one of Australia's premier badminton players. Not only is Matt competing at the highest level in his sport, but he is also studying at Monash University completing his Bachelor of Commerce/Engineering. Matt was kind enough to share his journey with us, including the challenges he faces juggling being an elite athlete and a student.

What has the journey been like to get you to this point?

My badminton journey to date has been a long but enjoyable experience. As a kid I would follow my parents to Monash Social Badminton Club where they would play once or twice a week and I would occasionally play with them. It was only when I was 10 years old that I followed my older brother to a badminton club (Badminton Academy of Victoria) where during my first session the coaches saw some potential in me.

From there I began my journey playing junior domestic tournaments and enjoyed my fair share of success in those competitions. I made my first Australian Under 19 team at the age of 15 where I was chosen for my Men's Doubles and Mixed Doubles.

I became a member of the Australian Senior National Squad in 2013 when I was 18 years old. In 2016 I qualified for the Rio Olympic Games with my Men's Doubles partner Sawan Serasinghe (also a Monash student) - an achievement I could not quite believe even as I was walking into the athlete's village for the first time. Qualifying for the Rio Games took place over 12 months and was the most difficult thing I have ever done - however it is also my most memorable sporting achievement so far. The experience gained from Rio was invaluable to me as I progressed in my badminton career and has helped me improve greatly in the 18 months since.

Matt and Sawan at the Rio Olympic opening ceremony in 2016.

How are you looking for the Commonwealth Games?

We are looking well prepared for the Commonwealth Games. This event is what the last 18 months (since Rio) has been building towards and it is almost a relief that it's finally here. We know we've put in the hard work and are looking forward to putting that on display. We are looking sharp on court and feeling fit and that is how you want to be feeling a week out from a major tournament.

Aspirations and expectations for the Games?

We have set ourselves the difficult goal for the Games of winning a medal in the Men's Doubles. This is a difficult yet achievable aspiration if we are able to go about our game as usual and leave everything out on the court as we always do. The team event is also a great opportunity for Australian badminton to make a statement to the world. I will be competing in the Men's Doubles for the Team Event and will be hoping to get the job done for the team.

Matt and Sawan competing at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

How to do you manage juggling life, university and being a professional athlete?

Being a student-athlete is immensely straining yet hugely rewarding at the same time. As one can imagine it requires a lot of time management when balancing training and travelling for international tournaments with academics as well as working.

I have had to become good at compartmentalising the different areas of my life, something which I struggled to do in the earlier years of my degree. It is difficult to be exhausted from a hard day of training and sit down to study for an upcoming test while knowing that I have to be up early in the morning to go back to train. Similarly, it is difficult to be completely focused on court at training when I know that I have a big assignment due at the end of the day. However I have learned to be present in whatever I am doing at the time and find it is a good escape from the stresses that the other parts of my life may be causing at the time. A large part of that has been setting goals in each area of my life which allows me to focus on those smaller tasks and not get overwhelmed.

My strange relationship with being a student-athlete is that the challenges which can often make it a struggle to get out of bed in the morning (when my body is hurting or I am just feeling overwhelmed) are the same challenges which motivate me to get up in the morning. I am excited to accomplish something that day, week or month to prove to myself that I can do it and that is what drives me.

Any plans for after the Commonwealth Games?

The tournament following the Commonwealth Games is the Thomas Cup - the Men's World Team Championships - which Australia has not qualified for since 2010. I am very excited to be a part of that team and am looking forward to competing in Thailand where the event will be held in May.

A major priority for me after The Commonwealth Games will be to finish my degree (I will have 8 units left after this semester).

Monash University would like to wish Matt all the best as he competes at the Commonwealth Games, we are right behind you! #monashpride #bleedblue 

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