Becoming The Best, Or The Best Me?

2017 Yonex National Championships. 

This year was probably one of the weakest years in terms of draw depth in Mens Singles since I first went to Sr Nationals. It was kind of depressing then for me to lose in quarter finals to an athlete younger than myself. It is humbling too. There was a day when i was that young gun winning things (never a national title) and getting attention. Those days are over. I am now an old guy who works too much, tries to go to school, and as much as he can, trains. The kids say I am old, and the veterans still view me as kid, not yet ready to win. Which is fair, I haven’t won yet. Sometimes it feels like I don’t win anything. Sometimes I wonder why I put every spare minute and every last penny into training and competing. This past year has not been the ideal training time. I worked a lot, and hardly got on court. I did my footwork in the grass, and my intervals on hills in the back country. It’s not exactly professional training. 

I don’t know what is coming next. I don’t know if I will be able to make it to the top. I am getting older by the day, and these kids are better than I am. 

But somehow, I don’t want to quit. In fact I think I am addicted to trying to improve. I think if I had all the opportunities of some of my competition I wouldn’t enjoy it so much. I enjoy fighting for ways to train, and doing things a way no one else has. As far as I know there aren’t any coaches who plan on footwork in the snow in boots and a parka. But if it hasn’t been proven to fail, perhaps it still has a chance to succeed. 

So in the end the question is, do I train to become the best? Or train harder yet because I am training against myself, to become the best me? 

And maybe that is how I will become the best. Or maybe that is how I find out I cannot become the best. But if I end up with the best me, the best badminton player, the best athlete I can become, has my training failed? Have I failed? 

As much as I can, I will walk in the footsteps of those who have gone before me. But as much as they had to carve their own way due to circumstances, so I have to forge my own path ahead using what wisdom is passed down to me. 

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The Unimportant Important -Eastman Open

Sometimes what we mean to do for other people, ends up helping us most. Maybe it does not help us in the ways we want, or even in the ways we think we need most. That doesn’t mean it is not an opportunity to do what are called to do.  

I have played some tournaments in the past that didn’t seem to fit into my training regimen or to be as valuable in my atheletic pursuits as simply training. But often times these small tournaments are connecting points with the people who put time, effort, and money into me, as well as an opportunity for me to do what I believe is important such as helping amd encouraging the next generation of athletes. 

I recently played the Eastman Open, a very small tournament, and had a blast. I got to meet and talk to a lot of fantastic people, as well as play doubles with a good friend, and talk to a bunch of kids I had coached at various camps. I can’t say there was much competition , or that it was amazing preparation for National Championships, but it was a great opportunity. 

Champions of Eastman Open

I am now at the 2017 National Championships. I just finished my practice for today and I am trying to prepare for my game tomorrow. Another step in the journey, and I guess we will find out just how far I have come. Or what needs to come next. 

The Value of Process 

Process is long way to reaching a goal you can’t reach the short way. Or at least that’s how I view. It’s doing all the things you can, and should to make sure you make it to the end of the race. 

I have had a few sports psychologists work with me in the past and all of them say the same thing – visualize. This always cracked me up, because what else would I be doing in my spare time besides replaying past rallies, visualizing perfect strokes, working through tactical errors I made? How else would I fall asleep besides walking moment by moment, stroke by stroke, through every rally, every situation, every tournament I had played, and wanted to play in the future? 

The fact is that I don’t have amazing coaching every day, I don’t have that constant reminder of what is perfect. I have to do that myself. After someone tells me what is perfect, shows me what is perfect I have to remind myself day and night. And that is a process. It’s not as fast as having someone yell at you every day at practice. I don’t always see everything right. For a long time I had a very defensive view of the game, so I watched as my defence improved, but a great coach reminded me that it’s hard to win games purely on defence. So I began to focus more on offence, but it was still wrong. I am still not all the way right, but every piece of right I get from someone I review over and over till it’s perfect in my mind. Till my arms start moving in my sleep and I lose focus at school because I can’t get the stroke out of my mind. 

But process is more than just visualization. In fact visualizing might just be a small part in the every day process of improving. 

Often the biggest hinderence to me training as much as I should is injury. I remember the first day I realized I could help myself prevent injuries and increase performance by working on mobility. I was 14 at the time, and the realization made me ecstatic. I could now visualize and work on something when I was resting. 

As I got older and busier I spent less time working on injury prevention and more time training. Got to get those gains! That backfired when I had to spend six weeks not playing because of a knee injury. Maybe the slow every day process of stretching and rolling and doing mobility exercises was worth while after all. It’s a slow process, but the process taught me to stop what I was doing to look into the future and work on making sure I could keep training. That is a lot harder than just pushing through some pain for a day, but the reward is avoiding those injuries that could keep me out of training. 

Process. It’s doing the little things every day that add up. Whether that is visualizing or stretching and warming up properly. The value is in the process, so when you get back to training, don’t forget to do the little things that will ensure you improve in the long run. 

Lilac Tournament

This past weekend was the Spokane Lilac Badminton Tournament. It was a great tournament with a real highlight being the participation of Olympian Toby Ng. The Spoksman review wrote up a great article on the tournament as well which can be found here.

In the end I lost to Toby in both singles and mixed doubles finals, but won the men’s doubles with him.

I love the atmosphere of small tournaments. Everyone was friendly and relaxed. The competition was great, but at the end of the day we are all friends.

Eric Lee and all the volunteers did an amazing job of organizing the event and keeping it running smoothly.

Since the US Open I could see an improvement in strength, which was an encouragement. It’s always encouraging to see some things moving forward. I thank Workoutanywhere, Rundlefit- Justin and Jessica Rundle for those improvements. They have been great working with me daily to improve my physical game. There is still a lot to be done, but forward motion is the first step! My shot quality was quite low this tournament due to not having much on court training recently, but hopefully I can move forward with that as well. One step at a time.

Toby is always a great athlete to learn from and after our matches he gave me a lot of great advice to help me move forward. Key number one: don’t show emotion to your opponent. When you do, you feed their mental game, giving them an edge. I have a lot to work on before my next event. I am excited to be back at training.

My next event planned is the K&D Graphic USA international tournament on December 14-18, if possible. If you want to help me get there check out my gofund me page here

Thanks to all my sponsors and the individuals who are making this possible.

When Things Aren’t Perfect

If there is one excuse I have heard way too often, and (shamefully) even used myself on too many occasions it is “Things aren’t perfect. I don’t have the resources, the training, I don’t have the right opportunities.” It’s a valid excuse, if you want to justify not making it.

There are a few people in my life who have looked me straight in the eye and told me I had no excuses. The first were my parents. But more recently it was David Snider, Andrew Dabeka, and Toby Ng. All three are athletes who made it themselves. When I was 18, it was David Snider who first told me that whatever I did have was my strength. So, I didn’t live in the city getting on court all the time: shape my game, learn to run, learn to love pain, become something that no one else could – have a heart and soul grown on the prairies working hard. I took that to heart, and though many days I didn’t live up to my own expectations, the other days I spent barefoot in the grass doing footwork, and when winter hit I learned to run through the snow, dragging tires, running in snow drifts, anything that created that pain that I had learned to love.

Of course, I failed again later on, coming into nationals as the number one seed, I lost focus and beat myself soundly in the quarter finals. A loss that still haunts me.

Then came Toby Ng. His words were not so prairie-like, or harsh. He simply asked what I could have that no one else had. How much of my heart did I leave on court? How much effort did I put into doing things correctly, into learning from those who came before me? How badly did I want it? I was inspired, but lost out first round at the Canada and US Open. Frustrated because I felt I couldn’t keep birds in the court and I couldn’t leave it all on the court if I couldn’t even get into the rallies.

Toby didn’t give up on me, though. I had a chance to hang out and talk to him the rest of the tournament and instead of telling me that because I couldn’t get on court I just couldn’t be at that level, he asked what I could do to fix the problems I had. He asked me a question. “Would I give what it took to get what I needed? Could I take a leap of faith and see where it ended me?” (this should really be in italics, maybe?)

Into this convoluted mix of failure and effort and a desperate need to improve but feeling like I was spinning my wheels, came Andrew Dabeka. He didn’t question my ability, didn’t ask if I had enough heart in me, didn’t help me solve the riddle of the worthwhilness of pouring my soul into a sport when I was barely over average. He was pretty straight forward: if I wanted it bad enough I would put the work in, and the work would pay off, and if I loved it that much, then it pretty much had to be worthwhile. He told me to spend my time wisely, to train smart, and imparted so much wisdom, all of it crucial in my growth as an athlete. But one thing that stuck out to me was his statement about the worth of what I was doing. In a world full of critics it’s easy to doubt what you are doing. Everyone else my age has a degree, they are working jobs, have money, the full kit. Here I am, doing what I love, working my butt off for it, and people ask what I am doing that is worthwhile. Dabeka said it well. “Do you love it? Do you love it enough to get there? Then it’s worth all the effort you put in.”

That’s the inspiration, the people who kept me motivated when sometimes I felt like giving up. But what about the practical level? What do I do every day to make sure I am moving forward?

It’s not easy to come up with a plan to guarantee success. And when you don’t have the resources, it’s even harder to know what will make or break your career. There are a few things I always try to keep in mind. Smart training, greatest opportunity, and what is that one thing that is hindering all other growth?

Smart training- this is a rather broad idea, maybe too broad for a paragraph in a blog post. But the idea is, don’t get injured, and use the resources around you to make sure you use your time efficiently. In the words of Toby Ng “if you only have half hour on court, what would you do?” It’s a pretty simple question with huge ramifications. If you only have half an hour on court would you use it hitting net spins? Most likely not. What is the one thing you need to change right now for the biggest growth in your game? Do that.

Greatest opportunity. This is something that David Snider was really big on. What do you have? You live in the country surrounded by fields and hay bales? Well, then the biggest opportunity is fitness. Find that one thing that is the biggest opportunity where you live, grow and build off of that.

One thing hindering growth – For me at the US and Canadian Open this year there was a glaring flaw in my game – being passive. Why? Where did it come from? Well, the root cause was my moving slowly to the net. I ended up playing a scramble game because I wasn’t coming fast into the net. No matter how much I worked on jumping back to my around-the-head corner for smashing, I wasn’t playing any more aggressively because without taking the net I had no opportunity to attack. This one piece of my game was hindering all the rest of my play. I couldn’t use my height from the back, couldn’t counter attack against weak attack, couldn’t push my opponent out of position. All because of one weakness. Identifying and fixing this allows for other things to grow as well.

Team Effort

People ask me all the time why I am where I am. 

I think the answer is somewhat complicated, and I am sure it a huge mixture of all kinds of factors when you boil it down. But at the very heart it is because I think that this place has potential. I think that students, that people, that I, all have a potential. I think that I can get somewhere, not because I practice enough, but because I have people behind me while I practice enough. I listened to an interview with Malcolm Gladwell last night and he made the point that his “ten thousand hour rule” was not intended to communicate that if you simply practice enough you will become an expert, but rather that to get enough practice to be an expert  you must have a lot of people sacrificing to get you there. When you see an Olympic athlete competing for a medal at the Olympics you shouldn’t just see one person who worked their way to being the best, but rather one person who worked hard because everyone around him sacrificed in order for them to be able to practice enough. The athlete’s parents sacrificed huge amounts of time and money driving their kid to practice and helping them get opportunities, and then somewhere along the way other people pitched in with money and time, and coaches offered expertise, and most likely some local business man decided this young athlete had a dream worth putting money on. There were probably tutors in highschool to help the kid keep up with school during their busy competeing season, and freinds who helped push the athlete, and some teammates who demanded full effort every day. 

I get a lot of people who tell me I am crazy for giving everything I know up to train and coach and live around badminton. But there are also those people who have helped me get as far as I am, and those who will help me get farther. From coaches who demand excellence, to my parents giving up sleep to take me to late night practices when I was a junior, and my teammates who wouldn’t let me quit, and the people who decided that they could put money into sharing a dream with me. 

Now there are those who will keep helping me forward. From the people giving me meals, and the coaches who waive a few fees so I can keep coming to practice, and the sponsors who are helping me, and those who will decide to jump on board for the next step. There are the teammates who aren’t okay with anything but my best, and the coaches who demand I do better, the physical therapists who help my body not break, and the friends who keep me from going crazy. Everyone is playing a part in my success. I am here, and I am working my best because I owe it to everyone to do so. Because I love it, and I wouldn’t do it any differently. I coach, I teach, I hope to inspire the next generation because there were so many who did that for me and I can do nothing less in return. 

For every step forward I take there is a whole team of people helping me.  I hope I am also part of that team that helps the next generation do the same thing. 

Cheers to everyone who is chasing dreams, everyone who made it to the top of their profession, and most importantly, cheers to all the people who make it possible for each of us. Cheers to the parents living off coffee and ramen so their kids can go to practice, the coaches staying up too late so their students can make it, the business men who dare to take a chance on someone who hasn’t made it yet, the teammates who push each other, the part time athletes making competition worthwhile, the friends who send corny encouraging texts at midnight, the grandparents who are proud of their grandchildren, the aunts and uncles who come to cheer, and everyone else who plays a part in this crazy life. 

Training Camp

The opportunity to learn from experts and those who have gone before you is a huge privilege. I think one of the things that separates the best from those are simply good is the willingness to learn, and the passion to make the most out of every opportunity. I may not be the best, or even close to it. But I hope that I pursue learning with that kind of passion. I hope I take as much advantage of every opportunity as possible. I am currently at Clearone training camp with the opportunity to learn from some of the greats of the sport, I don’t plan on making leaps. Improvement takes time and effort. But I hope to learn as much as I can fit into my head during this time, so during my daily training I have vision and knowledge to look back on. I can’t change everything that needs fixed in one week. But I hope I learn a lot and that the advice I get affects my training till I see improvement and can test and reevaluate. 

“You aren’t here to do play the easiest game, you are here to win. You are here to beat your opponent and that will usually mean doing the harder thing, and doing it better and harder than everyone else. But that’s the challenge isn’t it? To know where to try harder, and what to do better to win.” 

The Olympics is ongoing as well right now. After training hours are spent watching videos, looking at stats, and staring at draws. Toby Ng put it well when he told me “In the end, badminton is King.” What that means to me is that in the end no matter how fit you are, how fast you are, how determined you are, if you don’t play good /badminton/ you still can’t win. If you can’t play tactically, can’t keep the birds in, can’t find the rythm you still aren’t good enough. Because in the end, Badminton is king, and if you can’t play badminton the rest of the tools won’t help you. Sometimes you see fitter faster players lose to someone who plays smart and is tactically minded. Other times you will see someone with grit who keeps birds in beat someone who is a better player but simply lacks the drive to keep things in the court and possibly takes risks too soon. This kind of perfect balance, the determination, heart, skill, tactics, technique – that’s badminton. 

Training for me has become more than just putting in the time and effort, it’s the constant struggle to find the balance and the weak link in a game. The balance between speed and deception, strength and endurance, efficiency and effort, technique and simple determination, tactics and heart. There is always a weak link in any athlete, some part of their game that hinders everything else. Training for me is finding that weak link in myself and strengthening it to the point that some other weakness becomes apparent. It is getting on court and knowing how much to anticipate and read, and how much to grind through rallies. I am learning many technical and tactical skills from this camp, but I am also soaking in the experience of the coaches and their own knowledge of this balance that is badminton. 

I wanna send out my thanks to the people that make this journey possible. Every day, every training session is an opportunity, I pray I make the best of each.