Saturday, February 8, 2014

Reflections on the 2014 Nationals

It’s been about 2 days since I lost in the Mixed Doubles quarterfinal at the 2014 Nationals. This is just a brief recap of events that led up to it, and the ripple effect that will happen because of it. Upon reflection, you have no idea how much this hurts me. I’ll tell you why.

Photo by Joseph Yeung

Ontario Elite Series
I went to play in Toronto as a means to get some extra practice with Alex Bruce (my mixed partner, for those unaware). I did not have to go, but I thought it would be in our best interest to have a practice tournament together before Nationals. I even tried to go a few days earlier, but unfortunately, we did not have too much time to practice. Over the course of an unorganized tournament, we ended up losing in our semi-final match to Michelle Li, playing with an Indonesian coach. Our performance wasn't the greatest, but it didn’t help that I was stuck at the tournament venue and our match was about 5 hours delayed. If not for Alex’s coach getting me some dinner, it would have probably been worse. Additionally, the umpire must have been tired too, because I felt there was an illegal serve performed and she would not even speak to me about it afterwards, even though it ended the match. Regardless, I took home some things to work on.

Training at Fortius
I began training at Fortius in November with Molly O'Brien, one of Fortius' top Olympic Lifting coaches as I wanted to learn Olympic Lifting. However, due to her recommendations, I ended up doing a lot of other work instead and after 10 sessions with her, I still haven’t done a single Olympic Lift with her. However, after the introductory sessions, I realized that Olympic Lifting would not necessarily give me as much of an advantage as I anticipated, and the other work I have been doing was much more important. Acquiring proper diaphragmatic breathing, scapular stabilization, and good deadlift technique were key things. Trying to use my hip/glutes more than my quads was also an overall highlight through most of the sessions, in addition to lacrosse ball rolling and working on getting kinks out of my t-spine and hips. My work with Molly has been pretty much a complete asset, and I still have a lot of room for improvement. I definitely made the right choice to train at Fortius, as I was well conditioned to last through Nationals, if warranted.

Photo by Joseph Yeung

Training and Coaching Other Players
Christin Tsai moved in for about a month where I’m living at in January, so I’ve had the opportunity to work extensively with her. I’m not sure what amount of confidentiality I would have to keep for a more or less casual favour, with no monetary compensation, but just in case, I will keep things broad. Basically, I gave her a 3-4 week S&C program, catered more towards proper warm up and injury prevention, as to keep her from getting injured. I did extensive sparring with her for the past 2 weeks, trying to apply various training principles so that she would have a peak performance this week, in WS. For the WD and XD, I cannot really say, but all I can say is that Derrick and Christin had more practice together than Alex and I did, given that Alex is across the country. I had spent time sparring with other players in a hope to get them on the right training mindset. I feel that my training approaches have differed, and although I will not offer too much technical badminton advice, I try to advise on training properly for a peak performance, the same way I hope to prepare for a big tournament.

Volunteering for the BCAN Competitions Committee
Being the player representative on this committee is tough. Players are complaining, and the committee members don’t seem to grasp the problems that will occur, but that is because they do not have as much invested. From my perspective, it only seems as if everyone is preaching in their own best interest and it’s easy to see because I don’t think everyone is aligned with the same goal. For those who may be reading, I will be constructive and suggest that it’s good that they wanted to align competitions with the LTAD, but it still requires an approach, typical top-down (high performance down), and bottom-up (grass roots up). It seems that everyone is fighting in the middle stages and neither high performance not grass roots will benefit when that is the case. Although it’s usually seen as a pyramid, with grassroots at the bottom, filtering up to a small fraction of high performance, I prefer to look at it cyclically, so that it should keep feeding back into the system. For example, fund and develop high performance, but get them to come back and work with grassroots. I’m trying to do a bit of work now with players I interact with, as it’s really hard to change a high performance player. They are so dead set in their own ways or their coaches’ ways. They obviously think they have their answer, but I think that’s a good thing because you wouldn’t really be a high performance player if you didn’t know what you were doing. Not to stray too far from my original point, if we have high performance players working with grassroots, that will let the grassroots learn from better players and experience can be passed on to young ones, inspiration can develop much easier. Now the grassroots players can see that there is a future, not a hypothetical one that a coach can give, or if they even see a future at all. Again, I feel a lot of our experts are good in the middle ground, but they do not know what it takes to develop a high performance player, and few coaches know how to develop grassroots through physical literacy. But hey, that’s just my perspective.

Learning How To Coach and How To Train
With my new found interest in strength and conditioning, I have attended more lectures and read more information about the field than I ever have before in my life. The gains are significant and I think I’m on to something… something that most other sports with money have. Strength and conditioning coaches aren’t cheap, but good ones are definitely worth it, as I can attest to Molly’s ability and programming at Fortius. Still, I wanted to absorb more information and I had the chance to attend lectures organized by the UBC Thunderbirds S&C Club. The founder of the club, Dan Adams, was probably the one who introduced me to the whole concept of a strength coach, and this was post London Olympics. There I was, thinking that I knew what I was doing, but I realized I knew extremely little about training, peaking, periodization, and developing strength. Over time, I started changing my views on the every growing evidence that S&C will have an extreme benefit, especially in my sport. There are many things I used to believe that I don’t believe anymore, and there will be things that I believe now that will need to be updated. I didn’t want to just pick and choose, so I decided to jump in and learn bits and pieces of everything I could learn about. I try to pass the information to others that are willing to listen, because it helps me learn better when I can teach and apply principles, and also so that the next generation of players might get a better chance. If the next generation of players don’t get better than your generation, how can you expect the sport to grow? I have long learned that people make the mistake of assuming their own experience is enough to work for everyone, so that is one of the approaches I hope to be able to overcome. Sure, I can give anecdotal experiences that I have come across, but I’m much more willing to teach things that work with athletes in different sports, in different parts of the world, otherwise I’d be really limited to the players that can only relate to my experiences. That is how I hope to coach in the future, should I still continue. It’s a bit traumatizing after what happened this week, but all will be explained later.

Photo by Joseph Yeung

And if all falls down…
The second I heard that Derrick and Christin were playing the tournament, I cringed a bit inside. Then I heard that Ronne and Jo were playing as well, and it kind of hurt. They have every right to play the tournament, and I did not dispute it. But it really hurt a bit inside, knowing that they will be competing against me in my event. It bothered me because this tournament was really important, and I suppose the draw came out the way it did. I just needed to make 3rd place, so after seeing the draw, I only worried about that one QF match. It wasn’t really the feeling of nervousness, just kind of a caution that you have to consider, much like the difference between a stop sign and a yield sign when driving.

I took to action by contacting Alex and trying to give her some things to work on while she was still in Ontario. It was nothing extremely specific, but some technical things to work on in the front court. It wouldn’t hurt to try, but I was delayed in getting things done, because I was training and working with other players, ironically, one of them being Christin. I did some extra practice with Alex after our match on Wednesday, and generally, I was quite happy at how quickly Alex picked up a lot of the things I was discussing with her. Though there’s still definitely room to improve, there wasn’t enough time. I think Alex performed many of the things really well despite the loss and I hope it will continue to carry over to Austria International in 2 weeks. Things will always improve well at the beginning, especially if it’s a newer task, but that extra refinement will take some dedicated practice and hence, a lot more training time, but given the short amount of time Alex had to practice, I was very happy with her progression.

So… what about my own performance; how do I feel about my own performance? I think I played fairly well, although the shot selection was not the best at times. Defense could still need work, but overall, I was very happy with my physical ability. I could have easily played another match, or if rallies went longer, I could have happily continued to move around the court if necessary. But the nets are bad; the floor is slippery. These are things I have stated in a Facebook post on behalf of the Badminton Canada Players Association previously. Also, it becomes difficult to play against a team you have to play against in practice. Who has to practice with them? Who else is there to practice against them? Do I really have an advantage playing against them with a different training partner who has a different playing style? I’m not saying it has to, but does it? It hurts, because it felt like I was training them to compete against me in my own event. Now after I have lost, what happens? Do I get any coaching advice on how I should have played? No. I get the “nice try”, the “better luck next time”, “tough loss”… while deep in my mind, I knew that match cost me $18 000 of funding. Maybe it cost me my spot on the 2014 Commonwealth Games team. So yeah, that sounds like I was set up big time to take a fall. Am I the only one who sees it this way? Competition is competition, but is it really that, knowing that I had played a role in the development of the team? What do I get for compensation? Dinner? A “thank you” on Facebook? It breaks my heart a little bit inside when people cheer for the underdog team, knowing that in the end, we’re probably the underdogs. Alex is in full time University, and I have courses still. You can say it’s a choice that we chose to go to school, and I can say it’s a choice to help others in need. Well, now I’m in need.

Photo by Joseph Yeung

If not for the whole mess I don’t want to talk about anymore, maybe things would have been better. Playing a second event is much more beneficial, especially at this level of tournament. It helps gets the nerves out a bit, and getting a better feel for the environment that is very different that where I train. If I had known of the eligibility of my partner, I would have found a different partner, or even enter singles, just to get a bit more time on court. Having a single match and then going into a heavy quarterfinal match is not fun, but I did all I could, including going above and beyond in trying to dispute the matter, and to represent the players on their behalf. Nobody asked me to, but it was the right thing to do. I spent a lot of time stressing over it, as it did affect my doubles, but in the very end, I was the one to withdraw my partner from the tournament, even though they would not officially do it before the start of the tournament. I missed out on playing 2 matches, which may have prepared me a bit better for my match, but since I couldn’t play, I had to go for my own workout.

Despite all the things I tried to do, I’m really disappointed in the turnout of the Players Association meeting. Not too many players showed up, and I lost my spot for Vice President to Philippe Charron. That REALLY hurt. All the things I tried to do were apparently in vain, and this kind of stuff does happen when you don’t vote. I lost 9 to 5, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out who voted against me. But that's fine, I'll use my time more wisely. 

What’s next…
Reciprocal altruism… if we ALL lived in this concept, we’d be in paradise. However, everyone wants something for nothing, and that doesn’t work out very well because we all want many things, and often times different people want the same thing. I’ve committed to the Toronto Pan Am Games with Alex and I’m going to keep that promise, through thick or thin. I will need to come up with fundraising ideas, or perhaps start working part or full-time to fund my way to the Pan Am Games. I don’t even want to think about Rio 2016, as it wouldn’t be worth it, going into debt and trying to enter a graduate program, if I can find one to take me. I will do what I can to salvage the rest of the year, but I will be stepping down from many positions, because people don’t want me there anyway. Badminton BC’s High Performance Committee didn’t want me, and now the BCAN Players Association doesn’t want me, so yeah, it’s hard not to take it personally, but that’s fine.

Photo by Joseph Yeung

All I know is that I have a VERY good skill set, with 4 years of working with a World Class badminton coach, a background in sport science, a passion for rehabilitation and strength & conditioning, extensive knowledge about the international circuit, and the best thing I can do…

… is to integrate and create something that few other people can, given that I don’t think there is anybody with similar credentials in THIS sport. I’m just counting the days down when Alex is done school and we can do some real training, which will give me time to develop a program which combines the best of badminton and the sport sciences.

I know I’ve lost a battle, but I haven’t lost the war.

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