An Olympic qualifying year in badminton is as tough as it gets. Unlike many other sports where athletes compete in a few tournaments to qualify, badminton is a year-long hard slog where injury, illness or fatigue could mean the end.
It may sound dramatic, but the ups and downs are a spectacle unto itself. With 365 days of qualifying now successfully complete the real work has begun with Olympic preparation.
Chris and Imogen are incredibly driven, skilled and professional athletes. Maintaining and improving on their fitness and skills would be practically impossible if not for such support streams as UK Sport. Their skills and abilities have been allowed to flourish to some exceptional heights throughout the 12 month Olympic qualifying period. From the support by the National Lottery and UK Sport, both players are able to train full time at the National Badminton Centre allowing them to focus 100% on their targets. This, in turn, allows me to do my job to the best of my ability and help them refine their skills to take on the world’s best badminton athletes.
For anyone that’s ever given a best mans speech at a wedding to hundreds of guests, they will understand the feeling I go through, as coach, in every tournament. You’re excited, you’re nervous, you’re stomach is doing summersaults and you really want it to go well. That’s the feeling I have sitting courtside watching the players I’ve spent countless hours coaching and helping to hone their skills. The last half of the last game where I’m sitting at the back and have no more opportunities to give advice is the worst. The game is in their [the players] hands and all I can do is hope that everything they have in their arsenal is enough.
I have long since accepted that nerves are part of my job. But you can’t let the players see that in you. My whole role as GB coach is based on a foundation of confidence. The players must have confidence in my ability to steer them in the right direction when competing. I must also have confidence in myself and I analyse my own performance afterwards on video to see if I agree with my decisions. I am as critical and strict with myself as I am with the players I’m coaching. As coach, I can’t allow anything to pass me by.
During the Olympic qualifying year, there were a number of occasions when Chris and Imogen [whom I coach] played fellow GB players Nathan Robertson [now retired] and Jenny Wallwork [whom Julian Robertson coached]. For us, as GB coaches, we want both pairs to do well, regardless of if a player we coach is competing against a fellow team member. In a situation where GB players compete against each another, the coaches don’t get involved with setting up a match plan or strategy. We let the players do their homework and set their match plan. Nor will there be a coach seated courtside. Instead we watch from the audience along with everybody else, sitting on our hands and hoping for the best. In the European Championships for example we [the coaches] sat at opposite ends of the arena to watch the match. It’s a weird situation and everyone is nervous as both GB pairs are vying for that spot. Of course you want both pairs to do well, but you are rooting for the players you specifically coach at the same time.
Chris and Imogen played 18 tournaments during the Olympic qualifying year, in matches all over the world. That’s many trips to Asia and Europe in order to acquire enough ranking points for a spot at the Olympics. Peaking for all these tournaments over that amount of time is like asking a 100 metre sprinter to set a new world record every month.
The World Championships were extremely significant for Chris and Imogen. They reached the final and walked away with World Silver; a massive achievement for the pair. They always had belief in themselves, but before the Worlds they thought, ‘we can take on the world's best at the Olympics’ and after the Worlds they had the mindset of ‘we can take on the world’s best at the Olympics’, and this showed in their confidence on court with the matches they played afterwards.
The other aspect of performances such as winning a world's silver medal is that coaches take notice and begin analysing them a lot more looking for weaknesses. It’s my job to see them through a match and I will do anything I can to keep their confidence high, their focus acute and their game-plan in check.
During the Olympic qualifying period, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Elite Coaching Apprenticeship Programme (ECAP) that has given me a tremendous amount of support. Run by UK Sport, ECAP is a great programme for me to be on during this 2 year Olympic period. The programme allows me to have a master coach in Steen Pedersen who is a former Denmark Head coach, as well as Kenneth Jonassen, who is my current head coach. Steen is very knowledgeable and successful coach which is great for me to talk to. I also have access to a mentor in Dennis Edwards who works for ‘Performance Impact’. He works across a number of sports and I can talk to him about the processes of coaching and theory. It’s great to have that honest feedback.
There are 7 workshops over the 2 year period that give me the opportunity to have an open forum with 12 other coaches to discuss many different aspects which is really useful. It even spreads to the business world whose experiences I can draw from and implement into what I do as a coach.
For all three of us, London 2012 marks our first Olympics and we are all very excited to be going. It’s a massive opportunity to be at a home games and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Find out more about Pete.