Pro athletes take many forms, and many are infamous for being cutthroat and ultra-perfectionist. But in the case of Singapore’s bowling champion Shayna Ng, she’s pretty chill. Her path to becoming the country’s bowling star is indicative of her as a person. I was impressed by her happy vibes and positive outlook on life. If I was learning the sport, I’d definitely want her as my coach. Here’s her story about how she got into the sport, what she faced along the way, and her outlook on life.
Every weekend, 10-year-old Ng would tag along with her parents to the bowling alley in the late 1990s. Her parents were recreational players—they played for fun. Ng admitted that just sitting there got a bit boring. So, she picked up a ball and threw it down the alley for the first time.
Something amazing happened.
“At a young age, I didn’t understand,” she remembered. “You know when the ball hits the pins, the impact? That’s the main reason how I fell in love with the sport. Adrenaline. I kept going ever since then. I never stopped.”
She was hooked. But it wasn’t like Ng was a star player right away, and it wasn’t like her parents pushed her to be the best. Quite the opposite, in fact. The whole experience from picking up a bowling ball to going pro was gradual.
“My parents were just going with the flow,” she said. “No pressure.” As she kept playing, they’d buy her more equipment, wondering if it was a passing phase. Ng enjoyed bowling so much, she kept playing. Then her parents got her a coach. Things picked up pretty quickly after that.
“One thing led to another and in 2004 I was on the national team.” She was only a young teenager at the time.
Rise to Fame
It didn’t take long for Singapore, and the world for that matter, to take notice of the young bowler’s talent. Winning many awards over the years, it’s clear that her training and dedication has paid off.
Some of her notable awards over the years: 2012 QubicaAMF World Cup champion; 2013 International Bowling Championships supported by DHC; 2014 Sportswoman of the Year at the Singapore Sports Awards; 2015 World Bowling Women’s Championships gold medal (a first in Singapore history); 2016 World Bowling Singles Championship bronze medal; 2017 SEA Games two silver medals and three bronze; 2017 World Bowling Women’s one silver medal and one bronze; 2018 PWBA Las Vegas Open title; 2019 PWBA Sonoma County Open title; 2019 SEA Games one gold medal, one silver, two bronze.
Participating in a sport she loves fulltime is something Ng will always be grateful to be doing. The Singapore government pays for her to live that dream. Training and competing are her fulltime job. That’s why her proudest moments have been what she and her team have been able to accomplish for her country.
“My proudest moment is wearing the Singapore flag everywhere I go. We put Singapore on the map,” she said. In the early years of her bowling career, many didn’t know much about Singapore—that it was its own country, that the people spoke English. But now through bowling many do know her country.
Being an athlete, while not a traditional fulltime job, has taught Ng many life skills over the years that have helped shape who she is as a person. That, more than the medals and awards, make all the training worthwhile.
“A sport is not just about how many strikes you can get. It’s about the life skills you learn.”
For one thing, athletes have to be punctual. Period. They can’t be late to the airport, they can’t be late to competition. Time management is essential in the world of sports. With so much traveling, independence and quickly adapting to different environments is key—maps, food, time zones included.
“I have to be able to manage any situation and still be able to perform at my best.”
Of course, not every moment has been sunshine. There have been times where Ng has questioned her career path. But as the doubts creep in, she takes a step back to gain the proper perspective.
“I extract myself from the bubble of doubts, and then just touch my heart and ask myself whether I still like bowling. I bring myself back to why I fell in love with the sport in the first place.”
Her advice to herself and everyone else? Keep things simple. There’s no point complicating things.
“When I feel again and see if I still enjoy the sport. If the answer is yes, it gives me a reason to keep going. The minute I lose interest, I will stop.”
The year 2020 would test Ng and everyone else like never before. Athletes who are dependent on competition watched as the world shut down and in-person events were cancelled. When would things open again? The unsurety of it all was discouraging.
“My motivation went down during that time. Every day I came to training I thought, what am I training for? No goal trying to achieve.”
Ng was never one to let herself get hung up on the negative. Her sense of optimism has her focusing on what she can control rather than what she can’t. She kept training, but she also developed a backup plan for life after bowling. At 32 years old, she had an internship at a sports consulting firm, which was an eye-opener.
“My mentors were a lot younger than me! I had a lot to learn,” she recalled. “They gave me a laptop and I didn’t know how to use it.”
During COVID she also got involved in several causes to support athletes, including the Singapore National Olympic Council Athletes’ Commission and Safe Spot. Then she started a company with a friend and former bowler. The concept? Get sports into the corporate world. Pulse Activ is a team building company that helps organizations put on events like sports day, scavenger hunts, and other programs. COVID slowed them down until they took it virtual, and then it expanded.
Play Hard and Have FUN
Ng has had a lot of wins over the years, but the 2021 IBF Super World Championships in Dubai where she won one gold medal and two bronze medals were extra special.
“Dubai was emotional for me. During COVID everyone in some way or another went through some mental thing,” she explained. “Coming out from the pandemic and having to win another world title, shows we can do it.”
Any doubts she had about whether she was on the right career path melted. The challenges and discouragement of the previous year and a half of training but not competing was finally over. It solidified in her mind that going with the flow, like her parents had taught her, could help her weather the storms of life.
“The truth is, life is going to go on whether you’re happy or sad. And fact number two, life is hard. Let’s say you’re unhealthy—it’s hard to be unhealthy and deal with medical bills. It’s also hard to be healthy and fit.” In the end, you choose your hard, she added, and that’s the baseline of life.
What she’s saying is, don’t take yourself too seriously. Being perfect puts too much pressure on you. So have fun. Keep it simple.
“Enjoy what you’re doing. People are not having enough fun. If everyone can have fun, everything will be better.” In five to ten years from now, people may not remember her accolades. What will be important, she believes, is what kind of a person she is and what she is giving to the world.
“In the future I may not be an athlete, but I will want to be in the sporting ecosystem. I want to contribute and make a difference.”
She already has, and we have no doubt she definitely will.