Monday, 5 September 2011

What ails our shuttlers? - New Straits Times

Gone are the days when

the fresh-faced and

eager duo of Koo Kien

Keat (left) and Tan Boon

Heong steam-rolled all

who stood before them.
Gone are the days when the fresh-faced and eager duo of Koo Kien Keat (left) and Tan Boon Heong steam-rolled all who stood before them.
IN the wake of the results of the recent World Badminton Championships in London, several issues were raised by certain quarters with regard to the underlying reasons for Lee Chong Wei's heartbreakingly narrow loss, and to a larger extent, the ongoing frustration with yet another meek capitulation from our top men's doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong.

Chong Wei's titanic battle with Lin Dan at the Wembley Arena for the world crown seemed to suggest that the gap between the two foes has narrowed greatly to the extent that many no longer see the pre-dominance that Lin Dan seemed to hold over Chong Wei previously.

Some dyed-in-the-wool realists would say though, that no matter what we say to console ourselves over that defeat, our guy still lost.

The track record doesn't lie they'd opine, but any record is bound to be broken or can be improved upon.
Furthermore, it may actually not have a firm correlation with current or emerging form at all.

Such a record may well see a turning of the tide in due course, especially with such keenly hot competition between the two foes.

Lin Dan himself was even moved to declare, in a Chinese daily, that there's no point for the rest of the field to study videos of Chong Wei as they will still lose to him, such is his current form and capability.

As for him, it will be tough from now on and all he wants is to try to stay on top as best as he can.

Turning our gaze to Kien Keat-Boon Heong, what seems to be ailing them? Gone are the days when the fresh-faced and eager duo steam-rolled all who stood before them.

Then, as quickly as it came the other pairs seemed to have psyched them out.

Their ascendency stuttered badly and the air of invincibility had dissipated.

Some have mentioned lack of mental strength and a lack of speed and power as probable reasons.

At any rate I do not believe that the situation is irretrievable. When they were successful, what contributed to it? Surely our collective memory is not that short.

Lack of mental strength is often a diagnosis that seems to be all too easy to be dispensed by many observers.

If you might recall, I had mentioned how vital it is for an athlete to remain in top shape -- injury-free, stable of mind, body and spirit.

We have to also remember that athletes have a life outside sport. That factor has a major influence on their life within sport.

One might be surprised how easily this is forgotten -- not least by the athlete himself.

An athlete who is in firm control of his life and practises a lifestyle suitable to his sporting pursuits is an athlete who will have the best chance of being successful.

Then there is the external environment and the burden of high expectations.

Pressure should be a positive thing for athletes. They should embrace it joyfully as it will spur them to continuously improve themselves. But there are also pressures that distract -- the type that would ultimately be destructive.

At a conference two years ago I had listened to a lecture by an eminent sports psychologist, Professor Glyn Roberts, that confirmed a long-held belief of mine with regard to this matter.

He had spoken about the conflict between two opposite environments affecting an athlete's performance -- "performance outcome environment" and the other, "performance mastery environment".

In performance outcome, the emphasis is on achieving a publicly-declared target that is then relayed to the athlete.

In practice, coaches would do their best to work this up with their charges but it weighs heavily on their minds, often to the point of distraction.

It is a principle in mental training that distractions are negative and should be eradicated or avoided as much as possible.

Performance mastery, on the other hand, is the concentration on improving all the elements that go into an athlete's performance.

Shielding an athlete from the boardroom decision of outcomes such as medal targets should be an important role of the coach.

Being fully aware of the targets, he then focuses his athlete's complete attention to mastering the physical, mental, technical and tactical aspects to obtain the optimum level of performance.

Make no mistake, all athletes want to win. But they will be better served by mastering their performance, leaving the result to be a natural consequence of their confident and adept performance and smoothly-implemented plans.

As for Kien Keat and Boon Heong lacking speed and power, the coach himself hit the nail on the head when he was quoted that the pair's game has to have more speed and power.

Let's use an analogy to elucidate the seemingly subtle difference.

A sports car may be able to have a top speed of 280 km/h but if the driver doesn't exploit its fullest potential, then that reserve of speed and torque would be wasted.

Similarly, one can say that they lack speed or agility etc. but all these attributes, once achieved (and documented) would come to nothing if the technical and tactical aspects are not implemented to a commensurate intensity or matching level.

There is so much more to be said on the matter but at this juncture, let's allow the relevant authorities to have a good hard look at the evidence at hand and do the necessary ....all for the good of the nation.

Let's all celebrate the 54th anniversary of our nation's independence with renewed faith and hope for a better future in sport.

by Datuk Dr Ramlan Aziz

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