Tuesday, August 5, 2014

2014 Commonwealth Games Overview

The 2014 Commonwealth Games have been an amazing event, especially for Michelle Li, who was undefeated the entire tournament in Women’s Singles. She is definitely the star of Canadian badminton this tournament, but I would like to also congratulate some stellar performances by some of the other Canadians, with Andrew D’Souza performing well in the Men’s Singles, and the spectacular win by Rachel Honderich and Michelle Li in the Women’s Doubles against Australia, which won us the tie, and gave us a chance against India. Derrick and Adrian also put up a valiant effort in their matches, and I can see them growing as a team. 

Michelle Li (Source: BadmintonPhoto)

In terms of staffing, we had both Jeff and Ram, who always do a great job to make sure everything works out for us during these big events, and finds answers to any problems we encounter. This allows us to focus on our badminton, which is nice when you don’t have to worry about the little nuances that we have to deal with ourselves in other events (i.e. transportation, etc.). We also had Marc Rizzardo as our physiotherapist, who helped us with warm ups, cool downs, recovery, and injury management. I personally had my ankle put back in place twice, my hip capsule loosened up a bit, in addition to other back manipulations which kept me in pretty good shape for the duration of the event. A big thank you to the badminton staff, and a special thank you to the Canadian medical staff as well, especially Erin Reid, RMT, for working on some of us during these games! Last but not least, I'd like to thank Yan Huckendubler for taking some awesome photos of us during the Games!

Emirates Arena (Source: Me)

I went through a long training process to prepare for the tournaments this summer, spending a good more than $1000 on physical preparation since after Nationals. I still look back and reflect on that match, and I really took it hard on myself because I lost funding for the year. I have decided to upload the match, because I think people who follow my progress deserve to see how things went. I know the camera angle isn’t the best, but it is what it is. You can find the links here:

Looking back on my progress from Nationals, I’m actually content. I’m fairly hard on myself because I always want to do better, but if I can’t get results, then how accurate of a reflection is it? If I cannot win, are my performance perceptions accurate? I am still far from playing a perfect game, but I feel that my efforts are not matching the benefit in performance. For example, if I trained very hard for 4 months, I would hope to have some kind change, and change is best measured by results at tournaments. But, after all the training, the results are still the same. I lost to Australia in the pool play, lost to India in the pool play, lost to England in the individual event. The only matches I won were against Wales, Barbados, and Northern Ireland. Could I have won those matches without training hard? I would think so, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

So the biggest question I have right now is: “What MORE can I do?”

And we need to be honest, because I have to ask: “Is it worth it then?” How much more do I have to toil and how much more money do I have to spend? I believe in doing things well, because I get involved. I learn as much as I can and I try to evolve. I think I’ve changed tremendously over the years, and it’s because I have learned to adapt and accept that I may not always be right. That way, I am open to feedback; hence, open to change. Perhaps the common misconception is that people think I know everything. That is completely false. I would say a good quarter to one third of the things I say may not be true, or I will change my belief about it in the future, even in this post. I definitely don’t know anything, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to learn as much as I can. I have unique interests as well, especially anything related to badminton. I’m just looking to find more efficient ways to do things, because we don’t have the resources. I’m not in it just for “the experience”; I’m “in it to win it”.

With all that said, I don’t want to critique other people, because I cannot be 100% certain that they are wrong. For example, Michelle won the tournament, but there are things that she does that I wouldn’t do, and vice versa. We all train differently, and there are different ways to do it to get that win. BUT, it doesn’t mean that every way is right. So, let’s talk about concepts and ideas, because I don’t want to talk about events, and I certainly don’t need to talk about people. That way nobody needs to take things personally, and we may all benefit from the idea. Take it, expand it, make it better… and if you do, please let me know. I want to learn as well.

(Source: Yan Huckendubler)

1.) Practice:

We need to train, but what if we are tired? What if we are sore? What if we are injured? So, perhaps the best question is to ask, “What do you mean by ‘training’ or ‘practice’?” I think it’s a very broad concept and I think people make too many assumptions, especially if they are tired, sore, or injured. Injury is probably the most difficult, because pain is different for everyone. I’m not one to push to train under an injury, but if you’re in a tournament and you’re going to play anyway, then that kind of changes everything. I would not train the affected part, but there may be ways to train the rest of the body that isn’t injured. For competition, I would highly recommend training around the injured area, because you will go compete anyway; but I am not sure where I would stand if it was post-competition.

For example, a shoulder injury would be best not to do anything overhead depending on the type of injury, if it aggravates the shoulder, but your legs are fine, so do footwork, move around the court, or do light underhand strokes if it doesn’t cause any pain. If an ankle is injured, then move less, but  do movements that don’t involve the ankle. Going to the gym to do kettlebell swings or the rowing machine are possible things to stay in shape without killing the ankle. Any type of kneeling or quadruped exercises could work as well. So there are a lot of possibilities, even like… working on a serve for doubles/mixed.

(Source: Me)

2.) Recovery:

Warm up and cool downs are important, and Marc pointed it out right away on our first practice as most of us just went on court and started to hit. I can’t do that anymore because I physically can’t, but I’m guilty of doing that when I was younger for sure. Cool downs are also interesting, because stretching is so casual, and people always stretch the things they are better at. Or, people do ‘extra exercise’ because it’s really going to make a difference if you do some crunches? Just because it ‘burns’ you’re getting better at it? Well, it burns when I do rotator cuff external rotations with a band, but I don’t think I’m making it stronger. I would use it as a warm up, but doing ab exercises which involve spinal flexion ‘as fast as you can’ (or, I guess AMRAP) after training doesn’t seem particularly effective to me. Why not try the RKC plank instead? Again, this simply comes from asking 2 questions: 1) What is the purpose of doing this? 2) Is there a better or more effective way to accomplish that task?

We had to try the ice baths on one of the first days, but I didn’t like it. It was so cold that I actually cramped up in my bicep later on. I have no idea why, but if I had to guess, I was very tense during the duration of the ice bath, and tension usually involves flexion, so hence, huge tension in my biceps which probably is excessive for 6 minutes. The next day, I didn’t feel particularly better, so I decided that the ice bath didn’t really help (and for a nerd bonus, I looked up a Cochrane Collaboration meta-analysis on ice baths in 2012 and read through the study, not just the abstract). Some people “drank the kool-aid” and continued doing the ice bath, which is totally fine with me. I felt protein supplementation after a hard practice, foam rolling, and the odd massage worked better for me. And it may work for you as well, or it might not. Maybe you could ice bath and massage and feel great the next day. I would totally continue if I were you. However, the question I propose is: is it really working for you? I’m not against people who find things that work for them, but I’m against the people that just go through the motions. (‘It’s not really doing anything, but I’ll just do it anyway because I always do it’). That’s a great way to get stale. How will you improve then?

(Source: Me)

3.) Performance

Here’s an interesting thought: would you play better if you didn’t worry about a thing, or if you were worried about the outcome of the match? Or worse, how do you think you play if you are worried what other people think of you? Let’s start with myself: when I compete, I don’t care if people are cheering for me, or against me. I’m the one on court, so I’m in charge. It doesn’t matter what other people who aren’t competing think during the competition. Afterwards, it’s a bit different, because I’d like feedback from those who understand the game. Casual observations are considered, but I’m not going to watch a hockey game and go tell a hockey player what they need to do.
I stopped worrying about the outcome. I try not to worry about the score. I’m just here to play a single rally, and I hope to reset my feelings each time. Win the moment, then the rally, then the match. Thinking too little isn’t too productive for me, but thinking too much is also a hazard. Instead of telling myself, “I can win the rally”, I try to tell myself “I can get it back”. This prevents me from trying to hit winners, which may work at a certain level, but at the level I want to compete at, it’s not enough. So, that’s why I changed it.

However, my greatest weakness is the partnership. I find it hard to interact excessively with my partners. I know we have to work together, but I don’t like having to feel like I’m doing everything. If I’m not playing well, I do NOT expect my partner to make it better; I don’t expect anything from them. If I don’t play well, it has nothing to do with my partner, it is MY problem. They can try to help out, but at the same time, I’m sure you’ve all experienced too much compensation, and your partner tries to do too much, and then you are totally sunk. If I don’t play well, I try to minimize what I’m not doing well, and maximize what I’m doing right. So my partner can step in to help, but it’s important that I work very hard to get myself back into the game.

Encouragement is also difficult to me, because my mixed partners (past and present) have said this to me at some point in the match: “You need to encourage me more”. It bothers me, because I believe that you need internal motivation, not external motivation. Asking for help would be a much better way of communication: e.g. “My defense isn’t so great right now. Can you lift higher or lift a little less?” or “I’m going to give you the middle as well, so I can focus on just one side on defense”. That is true communication. Think of it this way, if you did a group project and the person who didn’t finish their portion in time asks for “more encouragement”, how would you feel? Granted, maybe it’s a different perspective if you don’t care what mark you get, but if you wanted to get the highest grade possible because your medical school application depends on it, I think it’ll be a different feeling.

However, I understand that ‘encouragement’ is very individual, and this is only my opinion. I have no problems encouraging people when they make an honest attempt at something and fall short, as I like to encourage effort over flattery or ‘sugar-coating’ things. In the context of high performance sport, I don’t think it is necessary for the external motivation because I believe the best athletes have that internal driving force. Athletes that need reassurance have a long way to go, or shouldn’t be competing in high performance sport.

(Source: Me - Actual Footage)

Different perspective (via Yan Huckendubler)

Final Thoughts:

Michelle made history, and I think it’s great that someone is finally getting some results for Canada. I wanted to be someone to do that, and maybe I still have a chance, but I’m happy that at least Michelle is paving the way. I hope that inspires people to do well in the future, which is also what I hope to achieve. I would like to get as far as I can, and I’d like to leave a path for someone in the next generation to follow. Maybe that’s why I’m trying to write and record what I do. We all know we have to train hard and train as much as you can, but I’d like to give you a better picture of things, so that the future generation can learn through my mistakes, instead of having to make them all over again. That’s how we get better as a country, because if we all simply leave, then the new generation has to figure it out all over again. Canada has a unique system, and understanding the system gives someone an edge against someone who doesn’t, or has to figure it out on their own. I only hope to share what I have learned so far, because there have been others before my generation that have helped me along. Not everyone gives back, but I would like to be someone who does… because I’m also someone who can.

And all I hope is that one day, my results can match my performance potential, but until then, I gotta keep working hard, one rally at a time.

(Source: Yan Huckendubler)


  1. Thank you Toby for sharing your journey as an elite athlete, I hope all the young people who aspire to succeed in badminton would spend time in digesting these words of your experience. I wish you well at the World Championship and your future tournaments!