After reading the previous Shuttle Zone article on women’s singles, Mr. Saha – parent to one of the kids I coach – had a question. When he brought his nine-year-old son Rohan for training the other day, he asked ‘Now that you’ve written about the skills that needs to be developed, could you also write about how to develop it from a younger age.’
He also asked who do I think has the potential to be the next Viktor Axelsen from our club?
So here it goes
Disclaimer first: what I write here is from my personal experience as a badminton athlete-turned-coach. It is just my approach towards the game and may not be right approach for someone reading it.
In my opinion, the two most important set of people in the life of a developing athlete are parents and coaches. So first let me talk about how parents can help their child at a development stage of their badminton career.
At a development stage I think parents play a bigger role than the coach, from making the child’s schedule to dropping/picking them up, to managing school work, it’s a big sacrifice from parents.
But it is very important to understand this first : Is it your dream that your child is following or is it your child’s dream that you are supporting? The initial push towards sport is from the parents, no doubt. But after a year or so of regular training, you will get an idea if your child is passionate about the sport and does he/she really enjoy it. It is important that you don’t push your children towards something which is your dream and isn’t theirs.
Once you know that your child is really passionate about the sport, it comes down to the time they are spending on court when they are not in training. Ask the coaches about drills which you can do with them such as throwing shuttles from one corner. If you haven’t played the sport at any capacity before, please ask the coaches for a schedule and I am sure they will provide you with one.
Once your child is playing tournaments at a higher level, after crossing Under-13 maybe, it comes down to how you support the child after a tough loss. Because if your child is playing badminton at a high performance level, he/she is going to have heartbreaking losses, and losses where they have been absolutely outclassed.
It is important to not compare your kid to others. Every child peaks at their own time, some start their journey early and some start it later... it does not mean that they won’t make it for sure. Nobody in the world has the right to tell you that your child can’t make it.
The three values I go by in my coaching philosophy is: Honesty, Humility and Hard Work. If your child has justified all of these values 100% and has still lost, you should be very proud. If he/she comes up short in these values then you have every right to be upset with them. It’s extremely important to show faith in your child’s ability after a tough loss because if you lose faith, your child will too; but if you show support then the child will comeback stronger.
There is this very common notion that hard work equates to success. Unfortunately the world of sport does not work that way, there will be times where your child has prepared to their best of his/her ability but could end up on the losing side due to multiple reasons like court conditions, schedule, mindset. Or sometimes, the opponent is just simply better than your child. It is understandable that with care comes high expectations but your child should not bear the added pressure on court because of that.
Badminton is a beautiful sport and a child should enjoy it. If your child ends up playing sport as long as I did, they might end up not enjoying the sport because of the pressure, I know because that happened to me.
That does not mean you do not challenge your kids to greater heights and tell them to reach for the stars. The badminton court in a tournament scenario is a pressure cooker in itself. If you haven’t been there yourself, chances are that you wouldn’t understand the pressure a kid is under. So, instead of adding more pressure, add more support. A child invariably always looks to you on court when they make a mistake... I know because I did too. So, next time don’t get frustrated and tell them with a gesture that it is fine and fight for the next point. A journey in badminton is a marathon, not a sprint so enjoy the journey with your children because you will remember this for the rest of your lives. I sure do.
‘Play simple, Play safe!’ These are the words my coaches told me repeatedly in my developing years. It is not bad advice to be fair, but it just killed all the little creativity and flair I had as a kid.
The coaching philosophy I prefer is: ‘Safe players win rounds, Players who take risks and play with flair win tournaments.’ Encourage your students to take risks at the right time instead of playing safe. Give them the freedom of trying out deceptive shots instead of punishing them or shouting at them for trying one and making a mistake. Give them some free time once a week to be creative especially with younger kids, teach them when to play rather than tell them to stop playing it all together.
Focusing on footwork is the key in between ages 6-10 with high priority on moving to the centre of the court after every shot. Teaching them the importance of the split-step is also key and should also be high priority.
Workload management is important, not pushing your student seven days a week. We as coaches need to find a way to make sure our students do not burn out too early, and focus on gradual progression especially in physical training schedule.
But my top pick for coaches would be athlete-management skills. Every player is different and unique and reacts differently to situations. For example, if one of your students is not having the greatest days and seems like they are not trying, instead of having a go at them, try to hear them out... ask him/her if anything is bothering them mentally or physically.
Backing your players, in my opinion, is the most important job of a coach. No matter what your credentials are as coach or a former player it does not give you the right to tell a player that he/she is not good enough, because that just shatters the confidence of the athlete and no player deserves that.
Throwback to 2011 after I played my first junior ranking tournament final, losing to my academy compatriot in the final I came back to training full of confidence. Only for the head physiotherapist, who never played the sport, to tell me that he was surprised to see me on the podium. He also asked me in a mocking tone, ‘Didn’t any of the prominent players play the tournament, how did you reach the finals?’. That took me from being extremely confident to doubting my own ability in a matter of seconds. When your student looks at you on the coach’s chair, they should feel like you have their back, no matter what.
First piece of advice: move on from being a result-oriented athlete to become a process-oriented athlete. As easy as that sounds, it’s not easy to follow. I could not, most of my career. As I said earlier, though hard work does not equal success, it does give you the best chance at success.
The second advice is something that HS Prannoy told me a long time back: ‘the outcome of one tournament should not define your eagerness to train for the next, staying neutral after big wins and tough losses is the key’.
Quick anecdote, on that note... back at the 2018 World Championships, all the boys would often go to get food together and then would end up in one room playing some multiplayer game. Srikanth Kidambi had the chance for his first Worlds medal after Son Wan Ho pulled out of the tournament with an injury. All of social media had already made him a medallist because of the draw, but he ended up losing against Daren Liew in the Round of 16 and the Malaysian eventually got the bronze medal. The night after his loss, he didn’t join us for food and we didn’t text him what room we were in since we thought he would be hurting after his loss.
To my surprise, he did come to the room we were playing in. I asked him if he wasn’t hurting and he said something which I will never forget. ‘Today wasn’t my day, I shall go back work harder and trust the process and hopefully my time will come’.
Well, as of 2022, he has a World Championships silver medal as well as a Thomas Cup gold medal in his illustrious trophy cabinet.
Third piece of advice is to be a student of the game. Watch multiple matches, learn from your compatriots and be brave enough to learn new skills on court.
And finally, take risks in practice because if you don’t do that in practice games, then you won’t at a high pressure tournament situation. Be creative, make time to practice your deceptive/trick shots because flair will make you stand out. Becoming a multidimensional player with a strong core game is key. For example Chirag Shetty/Sawtiksairaj’s core game is Chirag at the front and Satwik at the back with them being on attack. But that does not mean they cannot adapt to a defensive style if needed on that particular day against a certain opponent. Just as they did at the India Open earlier this year, to defeat their idols Ahsan/Setiawan.
Learn from the top players, but also do not copy them... make your own style of play.
Finally, coming back to Mr. Saha’s question at the top: my answer is don’t try to be the next Viktor Axelsen, be the first Rohan Saha.
Shlok Ramchandran is a former Indian doubles player, who reached a career-high world ranking of No 32 in men’s doubles. Having recently retired from the highest level of the sport, Shlok is currently head coach at Triangle Badminton & Table Tennis in North Carolina, USA. You can read the other pieces in his column, Shuttle Zone here.