Humans of Harker: Strategy and skill

Isaac Yang progresses from early struggles to number one in the country in badminton


Jessica Tang

“My advice is to never give up, but also approach your problems from a logical standpoint and try to be as honest as possible with yourself. You have to think about what options you have and what path you can take in order to succeed,” Isaac Yang (12) said.

With a quick step to the right and a slight flick of the wrist, Isaac Yang (12) hits the shuttle across the net. His intense focus on the shuttle’s trajectory allows him to react swiftly as it flutters back onto his half of the court during the final round of the 2023 Pan American Cup. He lunges to the left and executes a powerful swing, earning him yet another point.

Isaac has accumulated countless wins since he first tried his hand at badminton in elementary school with his older sister’s encouragement. His call to the sport comes from its technicality, especially its emphasis on quick thinking. For Isaac, badminton is more of a mental sport than a physical one and relies heavily on strategy.

“The strategy is crucial, and once you get to a certain level, you need to constantly think about how you’re playing in order to win,” Isaac said. “You have to make sure to watch where you’re going and how you shoot.”

It is through his acuity in the game that Isaac quickly climbed the ranks, eventually landing amongst the most elite players in the country: he is currently the best player in the U.S. for his age group. To achieve such an honor, Isaac competed frequently in local, national and even international tournaments, where he relished the opportunity to test his skills against other top-level players.

“My most memorable moments were winning Junior Nationals over the summer this year, and representing Team USA in the Pan American games last year,” Isaac said. “The tournaments weren’t too hard, but they were still pretty challenging and fun.”

Although Isaac now has his eyes set on the Olympics, his road to success has been a long and challenging one. He remembers how losing successive tournaments early on in high school discouraged him from persevering with the sport.

“I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to, and during those years, I wanted to quit because I was embarrassed about my performance, and I wasn’t able to get the results that I wanted,” Isaac said. “I was unmotivated, and I was really insecure about what other people thought about me.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the sudden lack of tournaments offered him the opportunity to take a break from the sport and reflect. Instead of worrying about his next competition, he focused on training to become a better player.

“I was given an opportunity to step away from the tournaments, so instead of playing, I spent more time training and focusing on self-improvement,” Isaac said. “Overall, I was really happy that I decided not to give up.”

The pandemic presented Isaac with another opportunity: the chance to train with Beiwen Zhang, who represented the U.S. at the 2021 Olympic games in Tokyo. With many badminton gyms shut down due to the pandemic, Isaac offered to share his with the athlete. Having a professionally-trained coach led to Isaac’s badminton renaissance and provided him with the support he needed to achieve improvement.

“When you’re training around someone who’s on that level, it motivates you to do well,” Isaac said. “You don’t want to disappoint them, and you don’t want to make them feel like it’s a waste of time. If you’re improving, you’ll feel like it’s worth it, and that feeling motivated me to train harder.”

Since Isaac first started playing badminton in elementary school, close friend Matthew Chen (12) has admired his dedication to the sport.

“Once [Isaac] gets really invested in something, he just can’t get away from it,” Matthew said. “He’s been into badminton ever since elementary school. We used to play badminton in PE together, and he’d play one versus five, and he’d still win. You can see his determination in his results.”

Despite devoting countless hours to perfecting his skills on the badminton court, Isaac remains a compassionate and empathetic friend to those close to him. Andrew Reed (12), one of Isaac’s close friends, has witnessed his growth firsthand over the years of their friendship.

“He always had a ton of energy, and during school, he was always really helpful,” Andrew said. “Now, it’s the same. He works very hard, especially in regards to college and badminton, but when he does have free time, he’s still the same person that I knew before.”

Such groundedness is a testament to Isaac’s character, which has been shaped by years of growth and self-discovery in badminton. His journey has taught him invaluable lessons about determination, balance and self-awareness, which he hopes to impart to younger students and athletes.

“My advice is to never give up, but also approach your problems from a logical standpoint and try to be as honest as possible with yourself,” Isaac said. “You have to think about what options you have and what path you can take in order to succeed.”