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

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