Each tournament experience is greatly influenced by the reality of being in a specific country. Performance, however much it shouldn’t be, is often affected by the circumstances surrounding competition. Such was the case when I played the BWF Future Series in the beautiful city of Habana Cuba back in 2018.
I flew in from Brazil after playing the BWF Brazil International Challenge. It was an exhausting 23-hour trip that took me from Campinas, Brazil to Sao Paulo, Miami, Panama City, and finally to Habana. I landed in Havana almost seven hours late. The airport had low ceilings, not quite enough lights, and the once-white floors looked dull brown. I stood in the Delta Service line waiting for my delayed bags until a little lady with no English grabbed my arm and brought me behind the counter, yelled at a few employees, and grabbed my bag from under a counter. She half dragged me through Customs and Immigration, waving her badge as we avoided the lines completely. She told me in Spanish that a truck would come get me.
By now it was almost two in the morning. I sat on the curbside until the airport emptied and all the little shops and money changers closed and waved their goodbyes. Finally, with the moon hiding behind the clouds and me sitting under the lone street light that lit the entrance of the airport, I saw headlights from a rattling truck. They picked me up, took me downtown, and dropped me off in front of a bullethole-ridden white concrete hotel with chipped pillars and left-over orange paint sticking in odd patches to the walls. It might be important to note that I did not stay in one of the tournament hotels in the tourist district. I instead opted for the cheaper option downtown, which was also recommended by the tournament organizers.
My reservation, which had been done by phone due to the lack of internet in Havana, had somehow been lost but they found me a room. I had not drank water in many hours, and asked for a bottle. After multiple “no’s” the hostess found a 500ml bottle of water and gave it to me.
I carried my bag up a long flight of chipped stairs. Every floor boasted groups of young teens drinking, smoking, and often dancing to the claps of their peers. Several young men asked me for my bottle of water. I joked that I would trade it for their whiskey, but kept the water to myself.
After finding my room, I settled onto a moth-eaten bed and shut off the single light in my room. Moments later there came pounding on my door.
“American, American!” The slurred words came from outside.
I hesitantly opened the door. “Si?” I answered to a young, shirtless boy and a girl who hung off shoulder, both obviously drunk.
“Can we have some of your bottled water?” they asked.
“I am sorry, I drank it already,” I replied, and gently shut the door with a small wave.
The next day, after using the hotel phone many times to call the tournament organizers, no shuttle came to take me to the venue. I waited many hours at the front of the hotel. Finally I took a taxi to the venue because I had practice courts reserved, only to find the venue was not set up but completely locked up.
I returned to the hotel and ate the included dinner, which, though cold, was a tasty variety of meat and beans and rice.
The next day, in an attempt to get to the venue, I called the tournament organizers multiple times from the hotel payphone to no avail. The guard, seeing my frustration, managed to get a hold of someone on the office phone and tell them I was trying to reach the venue. 1:00 pm they said. At 4:00 pm no one had come for me and I asked the guard to call again. You get the idea, it took awhile.
The day of the first round came. I got picked up in a rattling white van with no air-conditioning. We wove our way through picturesque cobblestone roads, old concrete houses with chipped paint and blue tarp covered windows. Then we sped down a long hill surrounded by giant trees, by a zoo, and finally to the venue.
We arrived an hour and a half before my first match. The venue was an old dome building with a large scattering of skylights. I asked to pay my registration fee, which I was told I could not do yet.
After a long warm-up, I was ready to play.
They called my match at 10:30 am, right on schedule. I went to the staging area. I waited almost twenty minutes, still warming up. The referee wandered up casually. “You know,” he said looking away, “we cannot call your match until you pay your registration.”
I explained my attempts to pay and that the organizers were waiting for someone who could take my money.
He nodded. “Ok, no problem. You will play next match.”
The next match came and went, and my warm-up became a workout as I attempted to keep my body prepared to play. By now, the temperature had risen to the high thirties — Celsius of course. My water was becoming depleted, and there were no nearby shops to buy more.
At noon a man walked up to me and said I could pay him for both the hotel and the registration fee. I had USD for the registration fee, but had been told I could pay for the hotel with a credit card. To this he explained I would need to pay both with Cuban currency.
The price he gave me was nearly seven times the price quoted in the prospectus and it was needed in currency I did not have access to.
By the time we sorted it out and re-translated the prospectus, it was 1:30 in the afternoon. I had finished my water and eaten a Cliff bar because I was starving. We took off to the bank to exchange my American currency for Cuban dollars.
The bank was a hole-in-the-wall concrete building surrounded by armed guards. We waited over an hour in awkward silence outside before being ushered in by guards. Multiple different guards counted my money, and then several attendants recounted it behind the bullet proof glass.
I got back to the gymnasium at 3:00pm, hungry and dehydrated to the point of a headache.
“Half hour!” said the referee. “We want you on the tv court!”
Dizzy from dehydration, hungry, and thoroughly frustrated, I lost my match.
I rebooked my ticket home for the next day with a new appreciation of focus under pressure and in difficult circumstances.
Showing up ready to train is a big deal when it comes to having meaningful practices. Being ready involves a few different aspects. The physical aspect, are you there with all the equipment you need, on time, with your body ready to put the work in? And the mental side, are you there focused and mentally prepared for the adversity that is training?
Here are some tips I have found helpful for getting ready to train.
Don’t eat a heavy meal before training. This may seem like old hat, but showing up to training feeling the weariness of post meal nap syndrome is not ideal for training.
Show up five to ten minutes early. You need to be on court the time that training starts, not show up at the time. The minute training starts you want to be making progress. Be ready and warmed up!
Make sure you bring a water bottle. Walking to the water fountain may not seem like it takes that long, but the truth is that time adds up, and every step away from the court is an opportunity to lose focus and for your mind to wander. Stay close, be efficient, and stay focused!
Keep the goals close. If your goal is to medal at provincial championships, keep that in mind throughout practice, remind yourself why you are practicing, and why you need to be doing everything perfectly.
Focus on what you can change. All sports are a battle with adversity. It is important to focus on the aspects of that adversity that you can affect. Your attitude, your effort, your play, control, focus ect. And not to get bogged down by the external things like poor shuttlecock quality, lighting, drafts, sick stomachs, or even training partners who aren’t as good or as focused as you are. Make sure you hold yourself to the standard you want to create, and let the rest go.
Stress creates growth – embrace obstacles. Bright lights in the background? Just another opportunity to practice for the unknown obstacles at a tournament. Didn’t get the meal you wanted before practice? Training for those delayed games where you are standing in for hours waiting for your match to be called while they fix a broken court, or wait for the roof to quit leaking. (both have happened to me at international events).
At the end of the day how we show up to practice/tournaments/off court trainings will dictate how the practice goes, and how we progress and improve.
I hope my tips were helpful. Comment and let me know of other things you do to make the most of practices!
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There are lots of ways to work on singles defense. Made a short video of a couple drills I did to work on my defense.
If you want help working on your game leave me a message. I do in person and virtual coaching. I can help with technical, tactical, and physical aspects of the game as well as make personalized training plans based on your needs and schedule!
Building on the last few blog posts about training. I would like to move forward to the next topic – keeping training simple. This goes hand in hand with my past posts about focus and intentionality. It is another piece of the puzzle that I have been working on recently.
Keeping training simple has a few different aspects, and a lot of benefits. It is easy to waste a lot of time on the non essentials. I have found that in trying to fix everything at once I inevitably fix nothing. This means that the first step towards simplifying training is creating tangible and focused improvement goals. Let me give you an example.
Let’s say I need to fix my backhand side defense. Working with my coach I realize I have two major issues that are hindering all the rest. The first is a lack of strength in my left leg when I get low. The second is a technical issue of my contact with the shuttlecock. There could be lots of other things in my game that need fixed. Maybe I need a harder a smash, and need to come to the net faster. Those are things that will be addressed in “general training” all that time you spend on court doing various drills. But looking at my matches, perhaps I am rarely able to get into a position to smash and follow to the net quickly because I end up making errors on my backhand defense. To balance my game out I will spend a significant amount of time on my backhand defense.
Following the example above I would need to keep practices focused on one of two things, my leg strength, or my technical issues with my BH defense. I could separate these into two separate training sessions. Perhaps at home I could do pause lateral lunges and RLE split squats to build some leg strength. On the court I would break my practice into a very few drills to work on my BH defense.
I kept one goal at a time – BH defense. Then I broke that goal into two main parts, and separated them into different practices. I would follow that up and keep the number of exercises to a minimum as well. Pick the most efficient ways to improve and stick to those. Make sure the quality is really high and you are staying mentally focused. Time and energy are both limited. Make the best use of both and stay focused on the goal you set for yourself.
How do you keep your practices focused on specific goals? Let me know in the comments!
I wrote out this short simple footwork session for a few of my students, but realized it may be helpful to others as well. I encourage you to try it and let me know how it goes!
First off, why footwork?
Footwork is a few different things, but in large part it is a skill. Something that needs practiced and perfected. There is a physical and fitness element to it, as in all sports, but it is foremost a skill. The timing, rhythm, foot position, hip position etc are all critically important.
Whenever you do footwork you should give yourself specific skills to work on. For me during my footwork today I was working on the timing and push off my left foot. Watching my hip position and the timing of bringing my racket foot in towards the split step.
Warm Up – 2 rounds
10/side low lunge with reach
25 low squats
50 jumping jacks
Footwork 30 seconds rest between each set 20 sets of 20 corners
5 sets of 20 front 4 defense corners
5 sets of 20 late back court to late front court
5 sets 20 2 corner defense
5 sets of 20 defense and back court
3 rounds fitness
10/side bird dogs
10/side banded fire hydrant
50 skipping rope or pogo hops
10/side lateral lunges
Core 3 rounds
15 hollow rocks
25 Russian twists
20 plank shoulder touches
20 superman planks
You may notice that all the footwork for this session is defense position footwork. That was done on purpose as the goal was timing the push and finding that hip position in defense. I did my session in the grass. But you can do it in your garage, basement, living room, driveway, anywhere you can find space!
Don’t forget to stay low and push with the non racket foot, don’t pull with the racket foot!
If you have questions please comment below. Or tell me how your training is going during this period of physical isolation!
You won’t improve alone. You need people to help you, and you need them to improve too.
The last few posts I have talked a lot about personal development. I want to take that a step farther and talk about team development, and why I think we all need a team with us, and behind us.
You can do a lot of work on your own. If you are really smart, you can do quite a large portion of work by yourself. In the gym, outside, even footwork. It is hard to go beyond just putting in work if you don’t have people behind you.
Having people behind you can look vastly different depending on your level, and your access to professional advice. As a junior athlete, and my first few years out of juniors I did not have a consistent coach that I worked with. From a very young age I made it a habit of connecting with coaches and athletes wherever I went. The majority of my years as a junior athlete I created all my own training plans and led my own practices. This meant that I relied heavily on the advice of other coaches and athletes. I would ask a load of questions every tournament. Talk to athletes, ask how they trained, and what they thought my biggest weaknesses were. I asked coaches how to improve and what I should fix before the next tournament. I created a network of people who helped me.
As I have improved and moved into international competition I found that I need a lot more input and the improvements were much smaller and more precise. Both on and off court. I am very thankful I found professionals to help guide my improvement. That is a story for another blog post. I began working with Gao badminton for my on court and Jeff at Sweaty Training for my off court training. Now I have people behind me, supporting me. But that is only half the story. The title includes the word “Team” and that is the critical next step.
You need good teammates to help you train – and you need them to be improving with you.
On court especially you need to have good people to train with, and compete with. You need people who will push you, feed you quality drills, and keep you accountable for always doing your best.
Having good teammates means being a good teammate, and fostering the kind of culture you want to train in. You want someone to feed you good drills, stay focused, and keep the quality high? Then make sure you aren’t slacking when it is your turn to feed. Do you want constructive criticism, and positive engagement? Make sure you are being constructive and positive.
Being the teammate you want to have around has other positive side effects. If you are focused during your time feeding drills you will find yourself improving more. You will also have teammates who are improving and helping push you more and more.
Improvement is multifaceted. There are a lot of things you do on your own, but there are also things you need other people for. It is important for me to be the kind of teammate I want around. It helps everyone, which in turn helps me.
Onward and upward folks!
Let me know what you think, and your own ideas for train in the comments.
It is time to put your ex’s texts and your poor grades on the back burner and put some work in.
Life is a confusing mess, full of things that require our attention and our loyalty. Take that from the kid who has played tournaments during moves, breakups, friend’s illnesses, family sickness, loss of friends, and pretty much anything else that could confuse or distract from performance.
All of those things in life are important, and worthy of your time, consideration, and energy. Sport is different though, it can’t be split up or divided. It cannot share headspace, and it requires attention to detail. This means several things to me. I can use sport to give myself a break from the confusion of whatever is happening outside. But I also can use it to train myself to focus on one thing at a time. The truth is that most things in life shouldn’t share headspace. Learning to focus on one thing at a time is an invaluable skill. Performance always requires undivided attention, sports included. The problem is, performance isn’t always our number one concern – it becomes such when we partake in things like sports, test taking, or flying helicopters.
Focusing at tournaments starts with focus at training. You need practice focusing intently. You also gain a lot more from training when you are focused well. We need to learn how to focus well!
I have been competing for a lot of years, been reading books on sports psychology for almost as many years, and I have a few tricks that work for me. However, like all things you will need to find what works for you. I am no sports psychologist, and while I have worked with a few, the following is simply an explanation of what works for me – don’t just mimic me, find your own set of tools!
Put the phone away! The first, and simplest thing I do before practice and before competition is put my phone away at least half an hour before I get on court. If it is a tournament often putting the phone away first thing in the morning helps me stay focused on competing.
Visualize. It is often the unknown that scares us. Visualizing helps run through every scenario. Have you ever been in a situation on court where you just lost three straight points and your tactics aren’t working? I have. The easiest solution is to run through the different possibilities before the match and contemplate how you will respond. That way whatever happens you have already been there. You aren’t unprepared and taken by surprise. You are mentally prepared and focused. You have been there before, and played it through,
Find something concrete to focus on. Don’t let the what-if’s get you off your game. Find something concrete to focus on. This plays out in several different ways for me. I often use my racket grip as my focal point. I feel it, and concentrate on its texture and position in my hand, as well as the tension in my hand. This helps me remain calm and in the moment. I also give myself specifics to focus on in the rally. Have I been giving away the net? Hanging back too far? Then I give myself the goal of taking control of the net and getting there early. Your mind can’t wander if it is working hard on something!
Breathing. There are lots of different breath protocols for efficient energy use, focus, remaining calm, getting pumped up, ect. But there are a few very simple things I try to focus on. Nasal breathing – between rallies using nasal breathing helps keep me calm while helping drop my heart rate. Hard exhales– get rid of that carbon dioxide! There are lots of other breathing techniques, but those two things help me the most.
Stay focused, stay in the moment!
Hopefully this was insightful and interesting. Have your own techniques for staying focused? Share them in the comments!
Training With Purpose: get the most out of your training.
I recently read a tweet thread about the difference between training and what they called fitnessing. The idea was that training has distinct goals and progressions, while simply fitnessing is just putting effort out without a goal. While this is very true with fitness training, the idea follows through all of training.
Do you know what your goals are? Do you know the purpose behind each drill? Is everything you are doing progressing and pushing you towards your end goals? Showing up and putting work into training mindlessly will soon leave you stagnant and without improvement. That is not what any athlete wants. However it is easy to get into a routine of just showing up and putting the work in and not being mindful of progressions and purpose in each drill.
These can be tough questions to answer. I have a few things I have learned over the years that help me stay focused on the right things and progressing in the ways I need to be.
First, listen to your coach. As simple as that sounds it is actually really important. A good coach will have purpose and progressions built into every workout and every practice, but often the athlete doesn’t pay enough attention to the coach and just does the drills put before them without paying attention to the specific purpose of the drill. Listen to your coach and if you don’t understand the exact purpose of a drill then ask!
Once you talked to your coach, listened to the purpose, it is your turn to make sure the planned purpose plays out. Make sure your focus and effort follows the specific purpose. If you are doing max effort sprints with a full rest, make sure you are both putting max effort in and taking your full rest. If you are doing an on court front court endurance isolation make sure you are focused on consistency and endurance and not hitting tight or fancy shots. Keep your focus on the purpose!
Know your end goals. It is hard to train without knowing the end goal is. End goal is a broad term. It can mean both the end goal of a specific drill or exercise, or it could be your long term improvement goals. We talked last post about processing and thinking over those goals. Now it is time to keep them in mind while you work. This means taking responsibility for your own training. If you are working with a coach make sure you are talking to them. Don’t blindly show up at training – know your weaknesses and strengths, and work together with your coach to know what those are and what you will do to train them. Knowing these things does several things. It helps you understand each practice better and focus your efforts and understand the plan your coach has. It also allows you to visualize and spend your own time working ahead. In times such as the current self isolation it allows you to keep training and making improvements even when you can’t see your coach daily.
Make sure you are working towards your goal every day! You have talked with your coach, outlined your goals, and processed your trainings through training journals ect. Now it is time to make sure every day you do one thing to push ahead. I have found it much easier to follow my plan and work forward when I have the goal of doing one thing every day. Not everything every day, just one thing. I know that personally I need to get stronger, and increase my endurance, but I also need better defense. I don’t try to do both things, I focus on one. This session is strength and power. Next session is defense. Keep it precise and focused. Keep it consistent. Do something everyday!
I hope you found this helpful. Lets keep at it folks! Onward and upward!
If you have any ideas or questions for future posts or youtube videos comment and let me know!