Best Practices

Which is the best style to learn for badminton? Asian-style? Which country is the best? China? So if we did what the Chinese players do, would that guarantee us success? What about the other countries? Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, India? What about the Danish? The English also have produced some great players too. Wait, what about Spain? Or do we now have to get into the specifics and consider only women's singles?

What is the best way? I don't know. I've always had people asking me where they should be training, or the best way to do something, and I really don't know. All I know is that I have a certain way of doing things which have found me success. I have never claimed that I could get someone to be the best in the world, but I can make the claim that I can help them get to a similar level that I was competing at, AND my hope is that I can do it in a way that they can get there sooner, so that there is still TIME to improve.

As a coach and former player, the goal is to have your athletes EXCEED your performance. I want my athletes to be BETTER than me, because what's the point if you don't? If we never help future generations of players become better, then every generation will only get worse. That's the opposite of what I want. I want future generations to get better. Typically, the best way of doing that is to have former players working with the next generation of athletes. This rule may not necessarily always apply in team sports, but I think it's much more valuable in individual sports. The reason is that there are many different positions and roles in a team sport and it may be difficult to translate an individual's experience across the entire team. For example, a great hockey goalie may be lacking experience in building a great offense, but I could be wrong here. I just don't know because I don't play team sports.

There are also nuances in individual sports across events. I am not very well versed in men's singles, or even women's doubles. The higher level strategies are difficult to understand without experience. That does not mean it's impossible. I believe there is great value with experience, although I also believe that experience isn't everything. Here's why.

Having personal experience in something is often very useful, but context is important. Let's revisit reflecting on the best style again. If a former player from China comes to North America to coach, they may easily become the best player in the area. But just because they are better, it doesn't mean that they can translate that knowledge to the athletes. They built their expertise, likely in China, but to assume that the same rules will apply in North America would be a great oversight. Even if the athletes trained exactly the same way as the player/coach from China, it's unlikely that they will get to the same level. That is why I believe the best coaches in North America will be the ones that grew up and trained in North America.

However, we must look at the variability in training programs in North America. Not all programs are equal, and there are so many factors to consider that it would likely be impossible to uncover the best way of doing something. I honestly believe luck is an overlooked factor. Sometimes people ask me how I did what I did, and I will be honest with them: I think I got really lucky. There are often extremely limited opportunities that exist for certain people, and based on chance, some people make it because they were in the right place at the right time. This is just random luck, but sometimes the best way to get there is to show up. If you keep playing, then something might eventually come your way. But sometimes it doesn't. That's the risk we all have to take.

"I think there are two keys to success. One is to show up. The other one is to keep going. Most people don’t keep going..." - Dan John

Showing up is half the equation. That's a good start, but what then? What's the purpose of showing up? What is that ultimate goal? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? This is not an easy question to answer, but for those who have one, they are at an advantage, because once you have that purpose, then you can fill in the necessary information. For those who aren't sure, then that's the first thing you need to answer: "why are you even here?" I typically ask that to new students that I coach for private lessons. Sometimes they will say, "I'll work on whatever you think I need to work on," and then I'll respond: "Okay, but I've never seen you play before..."

But there are some students that know exactly what they want to work on, which also makes it much easier for me to help them. However, sometimes it's more about adjusting perspective. For example, any player that tells me that they want to work on their doubles defense, especially if they tell me that they have trouble covering smashes, drops, and the occasional clear, I first ask them about their lift from the front. It is often a poor lift that makes it hard to defend against. In this case, it's not a defense problem (yet), it's a lifting problem. To make this more obvious, we invert the idea and I'll ask why nobody ever works on their net kill defense. The easy solution: don't give them a chance to net kill.

It's best to understand where people really are based on their actions, because it's far too easy for people to say things and lead you on. When people have overzealous goals, sometimes the hardest thing is to bring them back down to reality. This is something I'm not good at, it seems. Maybe in another cultural context, but I prefer using candor. Perhaps that has been my undoing because I refuse to sell someone on a lie. But is it really a lie if we truly believe it? I know we can be wrong about things, and I usually will say: 20% of what I say here I will probably change down the road, but I don't know which 20%! This is because I believe in ongoing learning. I like to challenge my beliefs, because I want to optimize. I want to be better at what I do, and that often involves change.

That leads us to best practices. They only exist in a moment of time because time makes them more fragile. Perhaps they should be renamed "Better practices". So when people tell me what their former coach told them to do, or if they tell me another coach told them something else, I usually ask them, "Is it working for you? And if it is, will it still work if you are trying to take it to another level?" For some people, they are happy where they are and there isn't a need to change. There really is no right or wrong in many cases, it's just different. There are different ways to get to the same end goal. This applies to everything: competing, coaching, parenting, working, etc. And oftentimes, we are simply competing against ourselves. Can we just be a little bit better because we all have different circumstances? Life isn't fair and it never will be.

It's often hard to be fair in a group setting. Everyone comes in with their own circumstances, as do I. Is it fair to the group if one person is misbehaving, and I have to spend additional time to get them to stop? Is it fair if someone never speaks up when I ask if there are any questions? Is it fair if someone shows up late to class and I have to adjust my plan to factor in proper numbers? No, it's not, but we do what we can. Is it fair that some people feel entitled to things that I don't necessarily feel they deserve? Is it fair that people cannot speak what is really on their minds? Is it fair that some people don't know what they want? Is it fair that people change their minds about things and cannot communicate it? No, it's not fair. But if we truly want to get to high performance, I believe that it shouldn't matter. There is a greater goal beyond all of us, and that usually brings us all together... but only IF that is the true goal.

That's where accountability comes in. When you notice that actions don't align with words, then there's a problem. A true high performance culture should allow for competitiveness, but the ability for everyone to push each other further. That's healthy competition. However, when you have a group where nobody is allowed to excel further, and when one does better and it creates a sense of jealousy, then that becomes a toxic environment.

The high performance path is not for everyone. It takes exceptional discipline. It requires saying, "No" to many things, so you can say "Yes" to the things that improve your performance. Often, it means giving up a large part of your social life because time is spent trying to be better at one thing. So if you are trying to do something that means a lot to you, do your friends really support you and encourage you to do what you want to do, or do they resent you for ignoring them? Conversely, if friendship is more valuable, then that's okay too. Just don't lie to yourself that you want to be really good at something else because in the end, we all have to make that choice. I know I made mine a long time ago. I think true friends respect your choice and sometimes, down the road, you will meet again when things are less competitive. Perhaps they ended up chasing their own dreams too.

And some people, you'll never see again. That's life. I may be kind of old compared to athletes, but I'm young compared to other coaches and parents. What gives me the right to say these things if I might not have that much experience? I have to say something, meaning that I have to have some kind of beliefs and values about the world. The difference is that I'm always willing to learn and I'm not afraid of being wrong. Imagine if I was stubborn and demanded that the world has to function in the way I believe it should. That wouldn't go very well for me, wouldn't it? So perhaps that's a question to ask yourself and reflect on. What do you really want? What are the better practices to follow? Do you want to be a high performer, or do you just want to enjoy your time as it is?

The better you can answer that last question, the better you know what your next steps are. If you want to be a high performer, figure out what needs to be done to get you there. Figure out what you need, and more importantly, figure out what you need to eliminate. If you just want to fit in with the crowd, then you don't really need to do anything I suppose. Unfortunately, I know nothing about that so I can't give you advice. I've always wanted to be a high performer in whatever I do, because that lets me help others who have that same vision. I know it can be a lonely road when trying to find a way to build success. Those are the people I want to help.

As far as my better practices go, build a strong mind (wisdom) to keep learning, a strong body (courage) to help others, and a strong will (justice) to do the right thing. Then make sure you are disciplined and humble (temperance) to balance everything together. That is my new interpretation of the four cardinal virtues.

Choose wisely, but understand, it's okay to change. Just don't lie to yourself about what you really want.

Maybe that is the "Best Practice".

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