Thursday, March 20, 2014

Top 5 Take-Away Concepts from Nathan Robertson

An opportunity came up for a chance to train with Nathan Robertson at the Badminton & Racquets Club (B&R) in Toronto, courtesy of Stephane Cadieux, Badminton Ontario, and Badminton Canada; so I decided to jump at the opportunity to work with a former World Champion and Olympic Silver medalist for Great Britain! Additionally, my partner Alex Bruce was able to take a few days off for the camp (from her incredibly busy schedule as a soon-to-be engineering graduate), so we had some really solid training together with a world class coach. Anyway, before I bore you with incredibly long run-on sentences, let’s cut to the chase:

5) The women are in charge in Mixed Doubles

Nathan emphasized this concept when we had to take some extra time to discuss tactics and strategy (in which Alex Bruce coined the term “tacticize”), especially in the first 3 shots of a rally. As the women are in the front at the net before a serve, it is better that they pick and choose where they want to go after the serve, as there really is no time to react. Instead of trying to cover everything, it is better to make an educated guess. Since the women are technically at the front lines, it is better for the guy to cover her instead. To simplify, it’s always easier for the front person to finish the rally. Just as much as some teams use hand signals before they serve, it is always the front person who dictates, and the back person covers. Additionally, it’s usually better to have a plan, instead of not having a plan. Perhaps great teams don’t need to communicate much, but until we get there… communication is necessary.

4) Not everything has to be hard and fast

A few times in our drills, Nathan told us that we have to mix up the pace of our shots. For example, even in a simple alternative drive exercise, we had to mix up our shots and hit both hard and soft shots, as we want to get used to hitting different shots because we want to do the same in a real match (further discussed in #2). Especially in multi-shuttle drills, it become easy to hit at the same pace for all shots, and likely, it will be repeated in a match. Shot quality can suffer, as trying to hit shots that fall below the net cord/tape will end up flying up too high, allowing opponents to have a chance to go on the offensive, or even having your shot drift out the back. In my opinion, the key takeaway here is that there are times to go hard and fast, just don’t be reckless about it and it works better when you can mix up between hard and soft. This is definitely one of the “easier said than done” concepts, especially when looking at higher level play.

3) “Racquet Carriage”

This was kind of an inside joke, because Nathan was coaching a provincial camp over the weekend with other Canadian athletes and coaches, and he was quite exhausted saying “racquet carriage” to many of the players. The term is equivalent to “racquet up”, and just maintaining the racquet at the right height to take follow up shots earlier. Many of us (myself included) drop our racquets a lot after we hit, and shots that come back sooner than we expect will cause trouble because we have to bring our racquet back up before we can swing. This leads us to hit bad quality shots, especially if we also violate the “not everything has to be hard and fast” concept. Having the racquet in the right position can mean the difference between keeping the attack, or allowing your opponents for a chance to convert from defense to offense. Ideally, I think the racquet should be pretty much at the height of the net as a minimum after playing an offensive (downwards) shot.

2) Short, but Multiple Sets – FOCUS

The drills we did with Nathan were actually very short. Multishuttle sets were never more than 20 shuttles and averaged around 12. Single shuttle drills were never more than 3 minutes per person. However, we did multiple sets, so instead of doing a drill once each, for 5-10 minutes at a time, we would rather do a drill 3 times each, for 3 minutes per person, which would be pretty much the same amount. However, the breaks in between allow greater focus when we work, as we get to rest a bit when we are feeding. Also, for those who may lapse out when they start fatiguing, the quality tends to go down toward the end of a longer set. The short sets allowed for a greater focus, especially from the beginning because the set is so short. Those who don’t concentrate will find that they get very little work in. There were also times when we had to count our easy unforced errors, meaning that if we made a mistake in an unchallenged position (e.g. overhead stroke). As there were punishments (or “forfeits” as Nathan called them) for errors at times, it gave an extra edge for us to stay focused during the drill.

1) Practice must be the same as match play – Forfeits

Nathan reinforced this concept all the time during the camp, as practice quality should always be at a high level as it will reflect the quality of our match play in a tournament. As discussed in the previous concept, ‘forfeits’ were used to ensure that everyone is playing to win and staying focused in drills, especially in those which replicated consistency. There was a drill we did where we have to play at our minimum tournament speed, but at a pace where we shouldn’t be making unforced errors. Excessive errors were punished, with some type of extra physical work in the legs or the trunk/core after the end of the drill. For fear of misquoting Nathan, he said that there are ‘forfeits’ because when you lose in a tournament, you go home. Additionally, there should be less structure or patterning in drills, as it strays away from tournament/match situations. Although there are times that exist where patterning of drills are necessary (e.g. front court combos), my interpretation was that there shouldn’t be a patterning of more than about 2 shots, because match play is quite chaotic. 

Bonus: Practice deception AKA trick shots

One final piece I would like to add was that we took about 15-20 minutes at the end of every afternoon practice (the final session for the day) to work on deception. Nathan told us that deception is used much more frequently at the highest levels of badminton, much more than it used to be. The idea of doing a bit of practice with these shots will give us more confidence if we want to use it in a real match. Even though we may try a deceptive shot once in every ten shots, a bit of extra practice is much better than not doing any at all, and attempting it in a real match.

This concept was new to me, as I generally frown on low percentage shots. However, I suppose if you regularly practice some of these shots, those percentages should shoot up quite a bit. Interestingly enough, these shots are not intended to win rallies, but an attempt to make the opponent late for a shot. A full step in the wrong direction can give considerable advantage in a rally, sometimes even winning a point out right, but relying too much on these shots is probably not the best idea. Again, there is a purpose in practicing some DECEPTIVE shots, but within reason!

A big thanks to Nathan Robertson for all his insights and I’m sure a lot of us hope to work with him again in the future! I had a great time in Toronto with the camp, the exhibition at the Granite Club, and getting to see familiar faces in addition to meeting new friends! I know I didn’t get to see everyone, but I hope to return in October for the Pan Am Championships! Special thanks to Stephane Cadieux for organizing an awesome camp for many players and even billeting me for the duration of the camp! I hope you enjoyed this blog post and hope you can pick up some new concepts! Work hard, train smart!

#perspire #inspire #aspire

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Elephant In The Room

Have you ever heard of the expression, “the elephant in the room”? It more or less refers to an obvious problem that is ignored or not addressed. I’m going to talk to you about the “elephant in the room” and by no means am I justifying, nor defending it. I simply hope to provide information and wish to remain as neutral as possible, although it’s hard not to be biased…

… because the monster elephant in the room is me.

Whether you agree with that statement or not, tension exists and I want to take steps to remove that tension. Consider it as taking a lacrosse ball to release the fascia of my ego, apparently some people feel that I’m always right, whatever I say is true, or everything has to be done my way. Some feel I’m a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode on the next person that lights my fuse. Some people feel I have a temper and they just don’t want to deal with the stress I can incur to others when things aren’t going my way. Sure, bad things have happened before, but I think it’s unfair. Why is it that people get so caught up on the bad things, so much that it takes away from all the good things I’ve done and what I continue to do? Why are people so intimidated by me where I train? It’s not fair that I take the time to go to school, read books, and do extra learning, while the others enjoy doing their own things, watching their TV episodes, movies, listening to music, or playing their phone games. I gave those up so I can learn and hopefully use that knowledge to further my badminton. I’m happy to teach others, but I feel resentment from others. Maybe they just want to do it their own way, okay… fine. I just wanted to try to help.

So, I must apologize. I apologize to all those people that I made an attempt to help, but may have hurt instead. Or even if they felt uncomfortable or didn’t want or need my help, I’m sorry for invading your personal space. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and in our faith, we don’t simply believe that we go to heaven just because we believe in God:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. - James 2:14-26.

(Original Source: via Google Images)

After 12 years of religion classes in my elementary and high school days, I have come to interpret opportunities to assist others as a potential test of faith AND good works. Should I do the right thing, or should I just leave it be? This would bring me back to the unfortunate events at this year’s Nationals, where I wrongfully stepped in and made my coach look bad. The only question that popped in my mind at that time was, “If I took action, would I be able to make a difference?” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to change anything and it only made matters worse. Now, many people write me off because they feel I don’t respect my coaches. So, if you were in my position, do you think you would want to risk helping someone in the future? I didn’t want to at first, but after reflecting on it, I would like to ask you this: “What would Jesus do?”

I have learned from the lesson, and it cost me dearly, but I have decided that I will not coach anybody on court at a tournament from now on due to risk of making the coach look bad, even though there was never any intention to disrespect the coach. Perhaps you have already heard my side of the story, or perhaps this is the first time you heard of it, but shouldn’t I get a chance to defend myself? I’m not justifying my actions, but I don’t deserve the snap judgement and assumptions that some people make, including many of the coaches I work with. It makes me sad, because many times in my career, I wanted to succeed so badly, not for my own glory, but so that they can be rightfully recognized as great coaches. I wanted to do well so badly when I was with Kim Dong Moon, because the best thing I can do for him is to succeed. Same with my coaches at ClearOne, but sometimes, it’s tough because I’m in a partnered-event. I can only guess you have already assumed that I’m trying to blame my partner. See how easy it is to jump to conclusions? All I’m saying is that if partners have different goals, it’s hard for the team to reach their goals because they could be going in very different directions. Perhaps there are different ways of getting to the same goal, but if both partners are trying to attempt different paths to the same goal, it’s not likely to work. For example, if I want to win by attacking, and my partner wants to win by defending, we are probably less likely to win. Regardless, people automatically assume that it’s always my ego, but I disagree. I don’t have to win all the time, except if it’s something I’m actually competing in (i.e. badminton tournaments). Some people say that I can’t lose an argument, and obviously that’s not true. Sometimes, I think it’s due to a lack of communication that causes the argument to begin with, and while I want to find a mutual solution, others just don’t want to change. Why would we want to change if we are already in a good place? But… what if we can make a change to go to a better place? Am I the only one asking these questions?

(Original Source: Google Image Search)

Another problem I possess is that some people think I hold a double standard, where I can do a trick shot on someone, but I get mad when they do one on me. Yes, I get frustrated because I feel it’s a low percentage shot that would probably not succeed in a real tournament setting. I don’t gloat when my shots work, and there are many times I tell myself the exact same thing. Sometimes I even apologize for hitting wrong shots that work out in my favour because I didn’t intend it that way. When I see other players hit riskier shots in practice, sometimes it bothers me because I feel that things would be different in a real tournament environment. I’m not looking for confirmation bias, but those who simply rely on hindsight bias can believe what they want. Again, I’m not justifying that my actions are right, but merely pointing out that things may not always be what they seem. A good analogy of this is if someone accidently runs a red light. Sure, they may have gotten through the intersection safely, but it was still a mistake that should be identified. However, some may feel that it’s justified, and claim they couldn’t stop in time, and that it was just a late yellow light, not a red. To each their own judgement…

The final problem I will identify is my temper. Many times my temper has flared up and caused unnecessary stress to many people. I won’t defend myself, saying that I can’t help it, maybe it’s genetic, or other empty excuses. I’m sorry if it happened, and I’m sorry if it will happen again. I can’t guarantee it won’t happen again, but I do my best to learn from each time I’ve failed to control myself. For example, I lost it when I was at a practice the week between 2 international tournaments. I wanted to maintain a high quality training session, but it was going nowhere. What set me off was when a player smashed the shuttle into the back of my head. Sure, we’re in the most elite group at the badminton center, but I mis-hit poorly as well. I suppose I could have made a stronger effort to communicate my needs to the coach that day, but I clearly remember telling him what I needed, but due to court scheduling, we were limited. I was the only one in the group who had to play another tournament, and I decided to play that international tournament because I wanted to help represent my badminton club, because the tournament was held at ClearOne Orlando. It was a tournament that wouldn’t have helped my world ranking, and I’m certain I would not have lost my temper if I didn’t have to play that tournament. But I did, so I went to train. And I told my coach what I needed, but we couldn’t do anything. I tried to make the most of a bad situation, but then I get a shuttle to the back of my skull. I lost it, I got mad. I’m sorry.

My temper is the other elephant in the room, the temper that was inspired by some of my coaches, because I wasn’t intense enough when I was a junior. The same temper and anger that my other coach said that made me play faster and move better. I think we may have some mixed signals here, but it’s also the same temper in which I’ve lashed out on many partners. It took a long time to realize it coming up through the junior/U-23 years, but I eventually came and understood that I was wrong, and I apologize. To all the partners that I’ve hurt or even traumatized, it wasn’t your fault; it was mine. Whether it was driven by my desire for success or fear of failure, I’m not justifying my actions. I’m just telling you it was never personal and that you got caught in between. I’m sorry.

The reason I decided to write this post was primarily meant as an apology. My desire for success and achievement has made me difficult for some to work with. I understand that I need to work with other people, and I hope I can reconcile with those that I have wronged in my pursuit of excellence. In the future, I hope that we can maintain a good level of communication to minimize problems so that we can all work together...

… because at the end of the day, elephants are pretty friendly unless threatened.

(Original Source: via Google Image Search)