TOBY NG

2019 Canada Winter Games

Well, I need to do a comprehensive report on the professional side of things, but I do think it would be nice to recap some thoughts about the Canada Winter Games. It was a unique experience and at many times, I wasn't sure if I could really follow through and do it. Planning-wise, it was tough to manage as I had to juggle multiple roles, but in the end, it was more like what the Stoic philosopher Seneca said: "We suffer more in imagination than in reality."


I have always been confident in myself as an athlete, to a certain extent, but it has often been challenging at times to be a coach. We always hear that a good player may not necessarily be a good coach, but nobody ever tells you why. Upon my own reflections and trying to learn from others, it appears that expertise is often being able to chunk together multiple units of ability at the same time, and though an expert may see many parts as one, a novice may see many moving parts and is unable to do everything at the same time. What is easy for the expert, is multiple steps in perfect unison that has to be managed by the novice.


Based on that logic, could I then transfer that knowledge into my coaching? It is easy to be overwhelmed as a coach because there is far more outside of the control of the coach. As a player, I am in control of my movements, my techniques, my tactics, and more. As a coach, I can only give recommendations on such things, which is in the control of the athlete to follow or not. Having struggled in my own experience as an athlete when conflicted with advice from my coaches, this was one things where I can put forward and remind the athletes that my advice is only a strong recommendation; they make the final decision on how they want to play. If that is something I wanted as an athlete, then I must do that for my athletes when I coach.


Working with another coach can also prove to be both good and bad. Consider going to see the doctor, but there are two of them and you get two different diagnoses. Two heads are not always better than one, especially when you have extremely limited time between rallies, intervals, and games. The solution was simple, but not always taken. I decided that it was best to have a conversation with the athlete and the coaching staff before the match. The pre-brief did wonders and we would start the game prepared and on the same page. I think the athletes appreciated being heard and understood, and I was glad that we can move forwards with the match, instead of backwards. Most of us know that we cannot read minds, but far too often, we put ourselves to that test. Why is that? Ego? Perhaps that's the most common cause.


My own coaching style is simple: I prefer to coach an entire match at a time and if I was not there for most of the match, there isn't much I can do to impact anything. If I have to say anything in those situations, it would likely be a reminder to an athlete about something we might have worked on previously, but something simple that he/she should be doing that is within their control. For example, adjusting positioning without hitting a shot is controllable. Adjusting positioning and trying to intercept a shot, is much less controllable. Regardless, if I have not previously worked with an athlete, I would much rather not have to coach them in a competition unless I absolutely have to. Although a pre-brief may work, it is much different if you haven't seen someone play before. Another quote from Seneca clarifies this concept:


"Above all, it is necessary for a person to have a true self-estimate, for we commonly think we can do more than we really can."


Despite what someone may believe, context is often important. That is why experience is important in many industries, and trusting a student straight out of school without any experience may not always be the best idea. They may know what to do in theory, but executing a task in reality is often something that needs practice and training. This basically leads to a common error in athletes who coach: it is very easy to tell someone to do what you think you would do in that situation. That is why I am very careful when I coach, especially in Men's Singles. I know my experience in the singles events is much less than my experience in doubles and mixed, and I often have to fight the impulse to tell athletes what I think I might do in that situation, because we all have different skill sets. 


One thing the coach has an advantage over the athlete is that they can see much more of the court and what is happening in the moment. The athlete(s) have to pay attention to the shuttle and actually getting it over the court and within the court boundaries, so that is a heavy cognitive task in itself. The coach can manage the other parts and start watching for positioning and other things that the athlete may not notice. Having a conversation with the athlete in the pre-brief would be beneficial if the athlete has additional information. For example, when I asked if there was anything to look for, I was told to watch if the opponent was moving his/her base forward at certain times. While the athlete may sense that, the coach can definitely see it.


The final piece I will discuss is that having feedback from the athletes is a great way to learn how to be a better coach. The first step is to learn to put your ego aside so that you can get proper feedback. There is no use fighting against it because how can an athlete be honest if they cannot say anything that might seem "bad", if your ego cannot allow it? Letting your ego go is well within your control. The more you let it go, the easier it becomes, and the better off you will be. I find the best strategy is to ensure you can offer something in return, such as general feedback on performance and what the athlete can do to improve, so it's basically a 360 review, where both sides give feedback on the other. Typically, we are far too used to the 180 feedback, but for the athletes, if you can help your coach get better, they will help you get even better and everyone wins.


That pretty much sums up my thoughts from the event from a coaching perspective. I would love for another chance at an event like this again, but there are a few things I wish I could have had the chance to do. I was able to work with a few athletes personally before the event, but I didn't get a chance to work with everyone, based on our combined availabilities. I only wished I had more opportunities to work with some of the other athletes, as I felt a few tweaks could have made a difference. Although I understand that it's generally a best practice to keep things simple for the athlete, one needs to consider that there is considerable complexity, and perhaps it's exactly that on the back end, while making it look simple on the front end. Sometimes I feel more like an analyst than a coach, but regardless of what I feel like, I often have to condense all the information into a simple concept for the athlete to understand, especially within competition.


Well, since I'm starting to ramble, I would like to congratulate the team, especially Wendy, Kylie, and Antonio for their gold medals! The team was very cohesive and it was fun to watch them connect, especially when developing the team cheer. It's always interesting to see the power dynamics when you give the athletes creative control over something. Regardless, I'm incredibly proud of the team and how they were able to work together, despite just falling short of a team medal. We were also super close in the semi-finals against Quebec, and I hope everyone is proud of their team accomplishments. I would also like to thank Phyllis Chan for working with me as another coach, and it was a huge benefit for us because most teams only had one available coach and had to run around to coach matches. I would also like to thank Jenn (mission staff) and Carl (mental performance consultant) for working with us and supporting the team all the way through these last few months! Thank you to the other Team BC staff for helping us stay organized, including Judy and Jarret for helping us through team registration. And of course, thank you to Badminton Alberta, including Jeff and Alex, for the beautiful set up at the facility and running the tournament. 

It was great to see all these amazing young athletes in action and I'm sure there will be some future Olympians that will have come from this event. I mean, that's kind of what happened to me ;)

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