Saturday, June 8, 2013

2013 Sudirman Cup Overview

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and I know I wanted to be more regular, but I couldn’t get around to writing all the time. It takes me a while to blog, and since I don’t get too many views, I figure I will blog more periodically so I can spend my time more efficiently. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate those who take the time to read what I write, but it’s tough to compete with the incredible amounts of information we’re faced with every day. Perhaps people don’t have as much time to spend reading, but I’d like to capture concepts and thoughts at a higher level, instead of just making brief commentaries or memes about pop culture. Anyhow, I will not bore you with this drivel any longer :P

Currently, I am taking 2 courses at UBC in the summer, meaning a condensed 2 month semester. One course is a coaching course which is my final kinesiology course toward my degree, and the other is a nutrition course, the first of which I hope to make a one year minor. If I could take it all back, I would do a double major in Kinesiology and Nutrition, and then go into medicine or physical therapy. I believe the nutrition would add a good touch to my coaching, and although it is only a minor, I feel that it is a good way to keep the nutritional things I come across in Kinesiology in check. Optimally, a combination of diet and exercise is the way toward a nice, healthy life for most people. One or the other doesn’t seem like such a great idea, but we can only do what we can, with the information we are given.

I will discuss the coaching course first, as it will lead into my review of the 2013 Sudirman Cup in Malaysia. My coaching course involves writing our own coaching philosophy, which I will attach below. Unfortunately, we had a limit to a page and a half, so I will leave the condensed version here. I feel I am missing a lot, but in a way, the philosophy stems from being both a coach and athlete:

Note: I will be using “he/his/him” for the coach, with primarily an individual sport perspective.

                The coach should be a support figure and act like a reference manual for the athlete. He should be knowledgeable, keep sport specific techniques and scientific/evidence based methods, and keep up to date with the current trends of the particular sport. The coach should be process-based (vs. outcome) and strive towards development and problem solving. Mistakes and errors can and should be identified, but without punishment. Learning from mistakes, identifying them, and brainstorming innovative solutions with or without other people are critical life skills which can be practiced in sport. Mistakes are inevitable and athletes can develop an awareness of their own errors through practice and self-reflection. The goal of error analysis is to problem solve and develop a solution to a problem. Each solution is in itself a mini-successful event. If anything, mistakes are encouraged to develop persistence through methods such as trial and error, which is ironically how motor control is thought to be developed. In this case, the negative connotations toward errors should be removed and communicated early on to the athletes. The entire system should be process-based, which ultimately leads to athlete-centered goals.
                Athletes should have written goals that have been prepared with great care and constantly updated and reviewed. Team goals should also be considered for doubles teams and athletes are accountable for their behaviour based on their goals. If their primary goal is to have fun, then the coach should work to help athletes enjoy sport. If their primary goal is to make the Olympics, then the coach will work with the athletes in a much different way. Although the coach cannot force the athletes to do anything, he should make suggestions to help the athletes come to a proper conclusion. Ultimately, the athletes make the final choice, but should remain accountable to their written goals. Goals may not necessarily have to be realistic, as they can simply be targets to aim for. Becoming an Olympic gold medalist may not be reasonable in some sports, but to train as if the athlete were an Olympic gold medalist is very possible.
                The coach should be humble enough to realize if the athlete is no longer improving under his care, and should recommend the athlete to a better coach should an opportunity arise. As the coach is trying to assist the athlete the best way possible, even reference manuals get updated, and the most current version may be what is best for the athlete. Communication should also be always open between the coach and athlete(s), enabling clarification of concepts when necessary, discussing different perspectives to various approaches, etc. The goal of the coach is to transfer his knowledge to the athlete and develop the athlete to a stage where he/she is good enough to function on their own. At this stage, the athlete should find another coach and continue to progress.
                Finally, the coach should always instill the Olympic values: Excellence, Fun, Fairness, Respect, Human Development, Leadership, and Peace. No value should ever have to come in conflict with another and coaches should model these values as well. In summary, the coach can tell the athletes “who, what, when, where, why, and how” they should do things, but ultimately, it is the athlete’s choice.

As you can see, I threw in the Olympic values, because I feel that they are important to have in mind, especially since I had the fortune of being a Canadian Olympian. I didn’t think it was such a big deal before, or even for a period of time after, and I still don’t think it means anything or that I should get any special benefits because of it. However, it does make me feel more accountable for my behaviour and my actions. Striving for these values in everything I do and to model these values wherever I go, that is a whole other challenge in itself. The coaching course has really given me new things to think about, as we started the course with a more spiritual perspective. I really felt uncomfortable at first, but I also learned to take my ‘ego’ out of things. Learning to deal with anger, although with a spiritual spin on things, really did play a role in my performance at the Sudirman Cup…

The 2013 Sudirman Cup began at the end of May, and Derrick and I flew to Malaysia via Hong Kong. We had about a 12 hour flight, a 7 hour layover, and another 3 hour flight. With the additional time it takes to wait at the airport, wait to get picked up, wait to get to the hotel in Malaysia, it came out to be about 25 hours! Fortunately, we didn’t have to play for 2 days, so we had ample time to adjust to the temperature and conditions of Malaysia, minus the jet lag. The first day we arrived, we had an opening gala with all the athletes and Jessey, a fellow Canadian working for the BWF in Malaysia advised us to dress up for the banquet as it was also an awards night for certain players and officials. We had a pretty awesome complementary Chinese/Malaysian dinner and pretty much everyone was dressed up on the Canadian team. It was a pretty good night overall :)

(Source: Martin Giuffre)
Over the next few days, we played the other countries in our pool (France, Netherlands, and Austria), and we played a full 5 match round robin, meaning that even though we had lost or won 3 matches already, we would still play the remaining matches. As we had lost to France and Netherlands, we came out 3rd in our pool and had to play against Sweden. Although it was first to 3 matches, it actually came down to the last match… It also happened to be my match, but we lost pretty badly, giving Sweden the 3-2 win.
Up until this point, the details are rather thin, but I would like to write a bit more on what happened behind the scenes, from my perspective. My goal is not to blame anyone for anything, but to identify ‘problems’ AND offer solutions. I believe both are needed, kind of like how I view diet and exercise. I hope I don’t offend anyone, and I don’t want anyone to take anything personally, as that was also one of the lessons of coping with anger from my class. With that said, one of our coaches was actually sick and could not make it to Malaysia, so we were technically understaffed at the start, as Jeff White, our coach, had to run all managerial tasks and coaching tasks as well. He sat behind all 20 of our matches by himself, and I think that is a rather impressive feat. He also did his best in trying to cater to each of our individual needs and I think he did a really great job overall, so much thanks to Jeff for managing AND coaching us!

From my room... jet-lagged
A ‘problem’ (without a negative connotation) I felt with the ‘team’ this year was exactly that: teamwork. I know we are playing an individual sport; I know if we each did our job we would be fine; I know we don’t train together, or even speak to each other much. The team dynamics seemed a bit off and for once, it did matter to me, because I finally have a better idea of the meaning of teamwork, or at least I think I do. Jeff really respected us as individuals because we were funding ourselves, and he even communicated with us more independently than as a group. Normally, that’s what we do and normally it works, but I wish he pulled us together a bit more. That’s how I personally felt, and if I were to blame anyone, I would only blame myself for not trying to make a better group dynamic. I actually tried to request a team meeting after we lost to France, so I did actually make a move, but I suppose I could not get everyone on the same page. All I did was to ask a question about how each person dealt with the ‘drift/draft’ in a windy stadium, and getting everyone to voice their input.

View of Berjaya Times Square from the 10th floor (bottom of pic is 3rd floor)
Perhaps I have failed a bit on leadership, or at least to the extent that I see it. I really wanted everyone to voice their fears, or write them on a piece of paper, then I would collect them all and throw it away, or take each fear and give it to somebody else who didn’t have that fear. That way, we could all “throw away our fears”, or at least know that there is someone on the team who wasn’t afraid of what we were afraid of and could help us overcome our own fear, while we can help someone else overcome theirs. THAT, I think is teamwork, and that is also the leadership I failed to model. For me to know things and not act on them, in my perspective, is that I am withholding information, or withholding myself from doing my best. It becomes difficult though, as I do make attempts to voice what I know, but as you can see, sometimes I write a bit too much and some people don’t have the time or attention span to digest about 2000 words of information (length of this blog so far) at a whim.

To prevent this from going another 1000 words, I will use a picture. Okay, never mind. However, I would like to address the partnership conundrum with my mixed doubles for those who are curious. I would much rather give you the inside scoop than have people speculate. Still, it is from my perspective, but since I am actually involved in the matter, I’m sure it’s worth something at least. For those who didn’t know, I came into the tournament playing with Grace Gao, ended the tournament playing with Joycelyn Ko, and left the tournament with Alex Bruce as my current partner now. My partnership with Grace had its ups and downs, but especially after the Olympics, things started going downhill pretty fast. Grace was off on injury leave and needed medical clearance, but didn’t get it until December 2012. I cannot blame someone for their injuries, but being a course away from being a Kinesiologist, I can raise questions on how an injury which needed 5-6 months of recovery occurred and what should be done to prevent a recurring injury or other injuries. Of course, there are those individual factors that some people get hurt before others do, but perhaps we all need to look at our current training practices or those we give our athletes and see if they are on their way toward further injury. I’m not out blaming or condemning anyone, I’m just trying to raise awareness. Prevention, or ‘pre-hab’, is always less costly but always ignored, or deferred until a later time where it may be too late. I will come back to this concept, as it also relates to the sequence of events.

Anyway, Grace has been training in Toronto, probably as early as February 2012, as I had moved back to Vancouver because our coach, Kim Dong Moon, moved back to Korea. In September 2012, after the Olympics, she moved to Toronto and partnered up with Michelle Li, under the same coach, Jennifer Lee of Lee’s Badminton. It became quite evident that her new training priority was doubles, because she was doing a lot of stroke and backcourt work. This also affected our mixed, as she was backing off the net, which started causing more problems. But still, we could win Nationals; still, we could win the Peru International. It was frustrating because I was still winning, but only at the level where nobody was really stepping up. To me, it felt like winning in a void. Empty.

I wanted to switch partners, so the best option would be to work with someone who is local, so I decided I might try to convince Joyce to start playing mixed along with her doubles. I don’t know how long I will play for, but I offered to commit for a year. She was quite hesitant at first, because she didn’t feel comfortable playing mixed, but I suppose I somehow convinced her. We were going to play Ottawa International, coming up later this month, as our first tournament of the season together, but we had a chance to try it out in Malaysia. I had made a request, after playing 2 matches with Grace where we didn’t perform so well. The first match against France, I felt I should have done more in directing how we should have approached the game, but a bit of my ego came into play, and I wanted her to figure things out herself; I wanted her to be accountable. Perhaps, in the end, I was accountable for not doing anything. Neglect and avoidance is a choice, and in some cases, it’s a crime as well.

Sukiyaki set only $6 CAN!
I realized the mistake, and I resolved to make up for it, but I suppose I went to the next extreme against the Netherlands, and I got too involved with her part of the game that I lost focus with my own game at times. But it felt better that I tried more, because I knew that I had overstepped my limits. I now have a better idea where that limit is, and I can work with that. Just as I try to have at least an estimated rep max when I lift weights, it gives me a better idea what my capabilities are so I can push within those boundaries. Regardless, I wanted to move on, and after a team meeting after our match against Austria, I was able to play mixed with Joyce. Unfortunately, things took another turn…

The match went rather poorly, as we did not perform well together. I tried to tackle the problem after, but she was unwilling to work with me. I was working toward prevention, as I wanted to move forward and work toward a better performance, but she was unwilling to cooperate. I wanted to keep communication lines open, as this has been a problem with my partnership with Grace, but it wasn’t going to happen. And so, it turns out that we decided not to play Ottawa anymore. Fortunately, Alex didn’t have a partner yet and we decided to play immediately after Joyce denounced our partnership. I guess this is a good example of “when one door shuts, another one opens”. Regardless, I wish Grace and Joyce the best in their future badminton careers, as I’m not one to hold a grudge, at least not anymore ;)

I guess I disagree with EVERYBODY :P
So if I were to sum up the key things in this monstrous essay, is that I write too much and I really appreciate it if you read all the way up to here! But to be serious, I think there’s more to teamwork than meets the eye, even if your task is primarily individual-oriented. Preparation and preventative action should be considered especially when you want to ‘do your best’, and leadership abilities really can take off when you keep your ego out of the way. Also, I must be bad with women… cuz I went through three in one tournament… oops… :P

Until next time! Thanks for reading 3000 words!

(For 2013 Sudirman Cup matches of Canada vs. France and Austria, please visit my YouTube Channel!)