The Story of Coaching04 May, 2016
You only have to look at images of cumbersome clothes and wooden rackets of players fifty, sixty and seventy years ago to see how startling are the changes in badminton.
It is far faster and more dynamic and more thought is put into it too. Lighter, airier dress, carefully researched and manufactured equipment, and greater access to tournaments has transformed how badminton is played. Coaching has changed with it.
As coaching became more professional, and more debated, it also became a cause of change, not just a consequence of it. It influenced how badminton is played - not just the other way round.
Analysis and argument about coaching methods now happens all over the world. New philosophies emerge. Change gathers pace. Standards rise sharply.
But before coaching manuals became widespread, common sense coaching developed. In the first three decades of organised badminton, players put more swing into their shots and often used more touch. The racket was heavier, so turning the body was important for generating power.
Rackets changed, first from wood to metal, and then into compound synthetics, becoming lighter and more flexible, and enabling players to strike the shuttle differently. Technical changes followed, with shorter shots - flicking, whipping, jabbing.
But when coaching ideas were first written down, people were less aware of what badminton was, and what it might be. This caused manuals to be followed inflexibly. Nowadays they should just be a starting point.
A coach should merely identify the standard method. Whether this works for all ages and nationalities is another matter.That too should be written into the manuals. They should also be written collectively after much debate. I am not sure this always happens.
Badminton was introduced to Korea by a university professor in the generation before mine. It was new to him and he didn't know how to do it, but because he was an academic he could obtain a coaching manual from England.
When badminton was new in Korea, much information was taken like this from England. But coaching methods from other sports in Korea were also introduced into badminton.
All sports are played really competitively in Korea, and this automatically became part of badminton training. That's why it advanced so quickly.
Suddenly, apparently from nowhere, Hwang Sunai burst onto the international scene in 1981 to win the All-England women's singles title. Many people were amazed.
Her training had been helped by the seriously competitive multi-sport culture in Korea. Football, Taekwondo, Boxing, Judo - all had a similar culture in training, and it passed to badminton. It was not so surprising to me that Sunai won like that.
The old culture in Korea says that if you are my teacher, it is good manners not even to stand on your shadow. I even respect your shadow. This kind of respect still happens between a player and coach in Korea, in all sports.
The upside of this is commitment and discipline. The downside is that players may have difficulty thinking for themselves. Europeans sometimes prefer to express themselves, to question, and if necessary to argue.
Best is to combine European initiative with Asian discipline. It can be done.Some Asian players have a European attitude and some European players possess Asian-type discipline - and become very successful. Look at Rudy Hartono of Indonesia, Yang Yang of China, Morten Frost of Denmark, Park Joo-Bong of Korea, and Gill Clark and Stephen Baddeley of England.
As coaches we should not just make the players copy us. Nor should we make players dependent on us. They have to be their own person on court and make their own decisions. A player who depends on the coach will never be a champion.
Badminton still produces characteristic styles in different countries and regions. Culture, geography and temperature all play a part. Asians have tended to be more intense and serious than Europeans, but there are considerable variations.
Hot climates as in Indonesia and Malaysia tend to make players more relaxed, but mentally hard. This can lead to fast attacking, but also to patient rally making. China is a huge country, with very different climates, and produces players with many different styles.
Korea has considerable mountain ranges and four distinctive seasons, with a very cold winter and very hot summer. The food is both spicy and mild, and very mixed. And Korean badminton is like that - a mixture.
Much of Europe has a mild, or cool climate, and its players have often tried to win with more tactical, less energetic badminton. I don't believe that tactics will beat fitness, or fitness beat tactics. A champion must have both, as well as the will to win.
The traditional European style was influenced by the game's origins. It began in Britain, with cumbersome clothing, with doubles and even triples and quadruples being played rather than singles, and where sport was regarded as leisure, fun and relaxation.
A more democratic approach to coaching exists in England. Though a respectable attitude, it can make coaches too respectful of players' wishes. They can become too comfortable to become the best.
If players are allowed to choose how much training is done, they are less likely to push to the limit. Coaches should make players feel they can do more than they think, so that the 'impossible' training becomes possible.
Elite level training spread in different parts of the world in different ways. We now know the Chinese government identified badminton as something it wanted to take seriously way back in the fifties.
From then on it gradually concentrated its great organisational powers upon the sport, developing its own coaches, some of whom influenced thinking in Indonesia and Malaysia. Eventually many travelled to countries all around the world.
In Europe it was slightly different. Once the post war recovery created more economic and social confidence, governments and sports organisations began to realise the human value of getting people into sport, including badminton, to give them some kind of education.
There was a great spread of coaches in the 1980's and 1990's,both at grassroots and elite levels, as it became better understood that to win, knowledge and organised education were needed. National governing bodies began to be able to afford this,and in some countries, clubs could too.
Then the IBF took a hand. With financial support from the Olympic Solidarity movement, a newly established Development Committee helped coaching knowledge to spread. About 20 or 30 highly qualified coaches travelled around the world, including to Africa and island associations in Oceania.
After Andrew Ryan joined the Federation in the 1990's, becoming responsible for development, this process accelerated. By now badminton was an Olympic sport, with national Olympic committees becoming much wealthier, and many more coaches crossing national boundaries, driven by international demand.
From this elite development, it was natural that coaches should become better understood and more fashionable at other levels. More and more clubs and individuals acquired their own coaches.
In the last 20 years sports science has developed enormously. It teaches how to become fitter, what to eat, and the short and long-term needs of the body. Statistical analyses show which aspects of a player's game have been working best; diagrams can be constructed of shuttle patterns.
But there is something more important - the power of mind and the influence of attitude. To become an Olympic gold medalist, a trusting and respectful relationship with the coach is vital.
Before tackling technical faults, a coach needs to see if a player believes in him. This can be lacking in the situation where a player pays for an hour's coaching, and then walks away.
I have also found big cultural differences between Europe and Asia about how much pressure children should face.
Life is about respect, and about challenging and competing, so children must be able to face the pressure of a challenge from a young age. They must also learn to accept the result and take responsibility for it, rather than blame other things for the outcome.
Take the Chinese. To reach a national standard they must survive amidst so many good players, and train in this environment from early on. If they are not strong enough - so be it. Being more democratic in training can reduce the strong to a mediocre level.
So although sports science has helped really, I believe this is in secondary factors. Players from a very competitive environment, even without much sports science, often beat players with scientific support but without the right environment or the will to succeed.
More money in sport has meant increased funding for sports science and sports ideas. Politics drives it, fuelled by national desire. There are more seminars about coaching. helping it evolve. So what will the future bring?
Will it continue with the recent changes of coaches being allowed to talk to elite players during matches? Or will modifications emerge?
It is true that the BWF has merely allowed something which had been happening anyway, illegally, for many years. But there are different opinions as to how positive a change this is,if at all.
There is now less emphasis on players sorting out their own tactical problems during a match, though there may be an entertainment ingredient, with coaches becoming recognised by the public. And it may be better than having referees running around, trying to hear what coaches were saying in all sorts of different languages!
Scientific development will continue, which is good, but we also need more of that which science cannot help. We need relationships of trust and respect between coaches and players rather than brief commercial arrangements of buying time and ideas.
To win Olympic gold medals, such relationships are important. Real sporting behaviour involves putting everything into a match, then accepting the result. Hurl in a racket, throw in a water bottle, or using bad language can create an alibi which avoids the truth.
Pride is essential. Players with pride accept blame without the head dropping. If they lose like this, they are not really losers because they learn.
Better to fight the tiger and be eaten by it, than run away and be eaten anyway!
Great players don't play for money - they play for pride.
-- By Lee Jae-Bok - International Badminton - The First 75 Years