Toby Ng

It’s not what I have done, but what I will do next…

It's Lonely At The Top

"They say it's lonely at the top in whatever you do
You always gotta watch motherf--kers around you
Nobody's invincible, no plan is foolproof
We all must meet our moment of truth"
- Gang Starr - 'Moment Of Truth'

Self-doubt, or self-confidence? The world has changed in that everything requires urgency. We want things faster, sooner, quicker. We want our experiences greater, better, more. More... volume, consumption, but perhaps overconsumption? Are we more likely to act, fail more, get feedback, and continue moving forwards? Or do we stop, pause, take a moment to reflect and wonder if we are going the right way?

I think I see something in the middle. Act based on a certain belief, do not get feedback, do not reflect, and continue on and hope everything will work out for the best. I am much better suited to stopping, or at least slowing down to reflect. I like to attack things from different directions, laterally sometimes, and see how things go from there. I do like feedback, but I don't think I get it as much as I want to, but perhaps that's my fault for not being the one to act first. Hence, the other option of steamrolling through action and making adjustments in my trajectory based on feedback is not my forte.

I think the latter approach (more action + more feedback) has a weakness in possibly having an incorrect initial assumption, and extreme changes in directions are very difficult (i.e. doing a 180 degree reversal). However, the weakness of reflection is also inaction. Reflecting can lead to too many options without knowing which way to go. We all know those situations where we want to find somewhere to eat, with many good choices, but no actual choice. This can lead to some missed opportunities from loss aversion. 

And that's where I feel like with my badminton. With limited time left, how do I get better? You see if I take the approach of taking action, and making adjustments based on feedback, it may not be difficult to get feedback, but it becomes difficult to decide what feedback is relevent. Additionally, there is the problem of the Type I & II errors of choosing to do the wrong thing, and not choosing to do the right thing. For example, I see people wanting to practice before a tournament. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? The answer is definitely not one or the other, but I think it's going to be on a continuum. In terms of how my mind works, I ask myself first, "What is the purpose?" I think for too many of us, we are making assumptions. I think the worst answer to that question (and to almost any question) is: "Because everyone else is doing it." 

The problem with "because everyone else is doing it" is that people have egos, and that prevents them from wanting to be considered 'average'. Most people want to be better than their peers, and there has been a case where Harvard graduates were given a choice of 2 options: 1) Making $50K when others make $25K, or 2) Making $100K when others make $200K. So this example of "I must be better than you" needs a bit more consideration. In terms of badminton, the only thing we compete in that counts is who comes out on top at the end of the tournament, and everything else is just our interpretation of how to best prepare for success. 

Looking at my career, I've seen that I've made that mistake of practicing TOO much before a tournament. There's another expression which polarizes players in terms of their tournament prep: "It's better to under prepare, than over prepare" (and vice versa). Looking at my training program in the past, I did train twice/day for a while, so doing the same at tournaments wasn't a problem. But when I stopped 2x/day training, and then tried to have 2 sessions per day before tournaments, what was I doing? This is a very difficult question because very few people have considered it. Why are you training more at a tournament than you would normally in practice? For the ones who would rather over prepare, it would make some sense. However, for myself and the others who would prefer to underprepare (if it was a black and white decision), then it becomes a problem. Sometimes it seems as if we train more just for the sake of feeling better about ourselves. But if we take another choice, would we rather LOOK LIKE good athletes because we put in the same hours, or would we rather actually BE good athletes and do well in our events because we aren't handicapping ourselves, overtraining before a tournament? That is just my observation.

Of course, you can give me examples of some people who you've seen practicing hard before a tournament and finding success, but I can also give you examples of when it has been a downfall. The same goes for pulling all-nighters for exams. Would you rather get a good night sleep and remember what you know, even though it may not be everything, or pull the all-nighter trying to learn everything, but risk only recalling a portion for your exam because your brain cannot consolidate all the information because you didn't sleep? I always prefer to sleep and I have personally never pulled an all-nighter, but many people have done it and still do. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I'm saying it's improbably that you get the highest mark in the class. And that's how I view pre-tournament preparations. It's like I see some people doing "all-nighters" trying to desperately train before their match. You may feel good at the end, but there's a big chance things don't go the same way during the tournament, much like it may not go the same way during an exam. The best students probably space out their studying and use effective methods to maximize their mastery over the material. Should we not think the same way for badminton?

Do the best students just study the same way? I don't think so. So should we just train the same way as others? I also don't think so. Maybe it's time to reflect on if your approaches are the most appropriate. Looking at historical training systems, at least for strength training, I think the Russian way was to train their athletes into the ground and hope for a supercompensation effect. With high numbers of athletes, those who succeeded would make it out. However, as this is an old system, drugs were a large part of recovery from training. That's not possible (legally) today, so recovery methods take more time using appropriate measures. So the "kill yourself" or "make sure you're sore" from training, in hopes to recovery and become stronger are less appropriate now. Besides, would you just want to be a 'number' that could be someone just not cut out for that hard training? FYI, guess which system the Chinese stole? Regardless, we need to individualize and look at the best practices and take time to reflect on how things are going. If you just keep pushing and pushing and hoping for the best, injury is very likely to happen. And the greatest predictor of injury, is a previous injury. It's your choice.

On the very flip side of things and you may not have enough practice, it's important to ask the same question: what is the BEST use of my time to give me the GREATEST returns? Sometimes we just need to stop and reflect, because we are constantly distracted. Training doesn't feel good because we kill ourselves, going through the motions, and then when you finish practice, you're only concerned about doing something that makes you feel better. Same goes with school. Why do you think procrastination is so common? Because studying feels bad and we do anything else to take that feeling away. Why not try to be engaged in the training/studying, which motivates you to find new answers. 

So here we are... I have not given any suggestions or recommendations for the most part except to take a moment to reflect. What you see on court is always superficial. You don't know what is happening on other fronts. For example, when someone anticipates a shot in the rally, how do you know if it was a good guess, or if it was based on reaction? Was it just a gamble, based on the odds, or did they see something that made them act on that? The best know things that can get your a lot farther than the average. They are there for a reason. The average is comfortable, but they will forever drag you back to them.

Think about it. Do you want to be average, or do you want to be better? It's lonely at the top. That's the place I want to go, and that's my choice. Where do you see yourself? Where do you want to go? Based on what you want, who or what might be worth giving up so that you can get there. I think we all know that we can't have it all. It's not possible. Jack of all trades but master of none. 

It's your choice. Stop doing what other people are doing. Do it because you want to, and because you know why you want to do it. Good luck.
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