For our summer camp, we gave out reflection questions for the athletes to answer. Some wrote generic answers, but some wrote thoughtful and surprising responses too. I like writing exercises because it gives better insight into a person's thinking. As Stephen King wrote in his memoir on writing, it's like transmitting a message from one person's mind to another's. For example, you are reading this and my thoughts while writing this are instantly transported into your head. Pretty neat, eh?
Instead of sharing answers from the kids, which would be inappropriate, I figured I would do my own. Lead by example, I suppose *shrug*
What does playing badminton mean to you?
- Badminton is an opportunity for me to challenge myself: testing my abilities (physiologically, psychologically, technically, and tactically), learning to work with others, and exercising in a novel and cognitively challenging way.
What does it mean to you to be part of a team?
- It's an opportunity to work with others, which often requires additional responsibility. However, there are also opportunities to practice leadership, group management, and helping others by adding value to them. With a good team, we can accomplish a lot more than if we worked by ourselves, so there is a synergistic opportunity as well.
How would you describe sportsmanship?
- It is to do the honorable thing, whereas something like gamesmanship is to do what it takes to create an advantage within the boundaries of the rules. However, I believe each athlete needs to make their own decision in how they wish to be. Forcing people to do the honorable thing is simply a farce in the long run.
What do you think contributes to you playing well?
- Playing well is subjective, because it depends on the opponent. Given that it will always be conditional to the level of opponent, it is hard to have an objective sense of doing well because sometimes winning may be the result of the opponent making mistakes. However, playing well typically is where outcomes match intentions at a greater rate. For example, if I want to smash it down the line and it goes where I want it to go, then that would be considered a good thing.
When you don't play as well as you wanted, what are some things you tell yourself? How do you usually react? What activities do you do to cope? Who do you turn to for support?
- When things aren't going well, I tell myself first that the outcome is out of my control. Then I decide whether I need to change tactics or to try again.
- I may act with frustration at the first moment, which is a natural response, but I need to decide whether it is something I wish to continue to feel. Understanding that anger, fear, or anxiety are not useful emotions, I try to discard those feelings by focusing on my current objective. That usually distracts me from negative emotions by being task oriented.
- To cope, I will discuss whether to change or keep the same tactic with my partner. If I'm playing by myself, I'll make a quick decision whether to proceed as usual (i.e. try again) or if a change is needed.
- For support, I try to rely first on myself and keep composed. I may also ask my partner or the coach in what other options may be available, but I do believe it is best for me to rely on myself, because in some situations, you're on your own. And that's totally fine, because you need to be there for yourself. However, I must acknowledge that asking for help is one of my greatest weaknesses.
What do you think you're currently good at when it comes to playing versus areas you'd like to improve?
- From a structured "Gold Medal Profile" standpoint, aerobic fitness is likely the greatest weakness because I'm no longer training regularly. Therefore, I am more limited in the style of play that I may have been historically used to. My strengths are my tactics and general technical ability, but I still have weaknesses in my front court game and defense, as those often require consistent practice to improve timing. Psychologically, I feel I am sufficient, but I don't want to be overconfident in my abilities because that would be an easy way to fall prey to the ego and have things spiral out of control. An area I'd like to improve is my consistency, playing a bit safer and making less mistakes as I often get a bit too fancy and overthink things.
What are some barriers or what gets in the way of improving these?
- A lack of time to practice is the biggest hurdle, but to find a high caliber of training or sparring is also difficult. It's easy to get into "play" mode, vs. training deliberately, trying to work and drill certain patterns more efficiently. Regular practice is also something that is lacking, as spurts of practice in different pockets of time may not give the same consistency overall.
The badminton player you admire most is:
- Kim Dong Moon (KOR) and Tony Gunawan (USA/INA)
What are the qualities you admire in them?
- They share very similar traits, and that is why they are both legendary players to me. They both have that technical expertise, but they also are extremely sharp tactically. They can win with different partners, and they are incredibly humble and down to earth. They are positive role models and I do wish them all the best because they've done so much for badminton.
How do you think they developed these qualities?
- They likely developed these qualities with discipline and grit. Their pursuit of excellence is unmatched and they likely had to find and innovate new ways to improve and see the game. Willing to work hard and adapt where necessary is likely how many high level experts get to where they are. Though some may believe that good players may not make good coaches, I believe that legendary players have something special which is why they're not good coaches... they are great ones.
To be fair, there are many people and players I admire. I always hate having to answer a favorite player question because there are too many! I've had many great coaches at different points in my career, as well as many different partners along the way. There are also players I've beaten at the beginning of my career that I lost to as they became the top Canadian players, and I admire many of their accomplishments.
I don't like to compare but sometimes I get asked how I would stand up against the current generation when I was at my prime. My usual response is that I think the current generation is better, because I hope we are all trending towards higher levels of badminton over time. Therefore, as a coach, my goal isn't to get players to be as good as I was, but rather to help them be BETTER than me.
That's how we grow the sport. That's how we grow as humans. Leave the world a better place for others.
I had an assignment once where I asked a coach if they learned something from me, and their response was "no". Perhaps our relationship may not have been close enough, but I don't think I could ever say that to any of my students. One of my pet peeves is actually when people think I'm always right. I'm not even close, and I have a decade of college grades to prove it (I mean, I have evidence that supports my hypothesis)! I'm wrong a LOT. I'm not even trying to be humble; it's just the truth.
Over the years, I've learned a better way to deal with failure: I don't care if I'm wrong, because it is simply a learning experience. Yes, it's okay to be wrong. Yes, it's okay to feel dumb. Yes, it's okay to laugh at yourself. Yes, it's okay to check your ego. Yes, it's okay to feel embarrassed, but only for a moment. Only until you realize you can choose not to be embarrassed. Life goes on! There will be more embarrassing moments in the future!
Regardless of the platitude of "you either win or you learn", there's still truth in it. I learn from everyone, sometimes through their mistakes. Sometimes I learn from my own mistakes. Sometimes I see people make the same mistake I've made, and it's a reminder of that lesson again. I ego check students that are overconfident, because I've been there before and I've regretted it. I encourage other students who lack confidence, because I've been there before and I've regretted it too.
And sometimes I still lack confidence, and that's okay because I can keep trying to encourage those who need it. I don't have all the answers and I never will, but one thing I learned recently is that leadership involves becoming a fan of others. Being a true fan is to be happy for others and encouraging them to be their best. And if everyone becomes a leader, then we can encourage each other to become our best selves. Maybe we may still lack self confidence, but being on a team where everyone believes in you and wants the best for you is a great place to be. And as always, I believe the first step is to lead by example.
So I am thankful for all my students for teaching me a valuable lesson: there is happiness in coaching and in helping others, especially when you do it because you want to, not because you want something back. I only hope to lead by example so that you will all have the chance to experience this feeling in wherever life takes you. Yes, I'm your fan too.