Hello there, I am back for another ramble… Sorry I meant “collected expression of thoughts” (that was a close call..wipes sweat from brow). As I was saying, I am back to talk about something that I have observed last month.  As a player I have also experienced this before and so I felt it would be good to share so that others could learn from this.

I was at a highly competitive badminton tournament as a technical official (TO). Now one of the things that I quite enjoy as a TO is that you normally get a front row view of all that is happening on the court. As a sport scientist, I often find this to be a space where I can learn so much about athletes and coaches, especially as it refers to their behavioural patterns in the ever-changing competitive environment.

There were two particular men and women’s singles matches, that really caught my attention. In this case, I would like to highlight the performances of the two lower ranked individuals and how they were negatively affected by their circumstances to an extent that hindered their level of performance. Now I think that it is important that I highlight that not because someone is the lower ranked player, that this becomes an automatic indicator or predictor that they will have lesser skills and abilities in all domains compared to their stronger opponents.

It could be that someone is lower ranked and possesses the same level of physical fitness as someone higher ranked or perhaps even higher. There might even be a possibility that someone lower ranked may have better tactical skills than his/her higher ranked opponent. Whatever the case, there are several internal and external factors that ought to be taken into consideration that could influence one’s capability to overcome an opponent.

Now to move on to the matches, in both cases the lower ranked opponents had what you would call ‘bad’ starts to their first games. They seemed to be playing quite nervously and dubious about their shot selection. The most noticeable of all, however, was the fact that their body language was able to tell a great deal of how they were handling the situation. Before the first half of the first game was over, it was apparent that the stronger opponents were already taking the lead in a very dominant manner and looked to be in magnificent form. Let’s just say all cylinders were being fired, as was to be expected from players at that level.

What struck me the most, however, was the fact that the lower ranked players really seemed to be losing not just because they were outclassed from a skill perspective, but rather a huge part of it was psychological. As I mentioned earlier, they were showing much doubt about what they were doing on court, this led to them showing lots of frustration. For instance, after each rally where they would lose the point, they would bow their heads and shake it in a negative way. They would show a lack of enthusiasm in their movements around the court. In the match of the female player, she would constantly look at her coach in dismay after each rally, almost to the point of tears.

In both cases they kept looking at the scoreboard, which reflected the bleak reality of their fate were they to continue playing the way they were playing. This in turn only added to their annoyance and further pushed them to a point I would like to refer to as them “being beaten by themselves” or “self-defeat”. I say this because, it was clear that their approach to dealing with the situation was not the most ideal. Due to the very low scores and lack lustre rallies, they were at a point that nothing the coach would say to them would work. This seemed to be mostly because they were not mentally available, which then led to them also not being emotionally available. They were too distracted by their short-term “failure” that they were basically allowing themselves to be beaten from an internal perspective.

So, what are the take home points in all of this. It is obvious that someone has to be the winner and someone the loser (because that is just the way it is in sports). The bigger issue here lies in one’s approach to dealing with a difficult situation. It is important that athletes learn how to adapt to the ever-changing competitive environment that they are immersed in. They should ideally understand that whilst victory may, in most cases be the desired outcome, it is not always expected and at times it is even ok to not have victory of a match as a realistic outcome.

Now bear with me, I know it may sound a bit crazy to think that one should not aim to win. However, at times, the coach and the player know that based on their capabilities when stacked up to their opponent, that may not always be possible. What is possible, however, is the ability to concentrate on giving one’s best effort which in turn can lead to a robust performance, even if the outcome is not a victorious one.

I cannot tell you how many times I have walked away from a match as a ‘loser’ and yet still walked away as a ‘winner’…Confused yet? Ok let me clear it up, basically what I mean is that some of the best matches I have memories of in my career, were matches where I faced very formidable opponents. In these matches I would have had situations where the difference between winning and losing came down to the wire or in this case..The net. Due to the fact that I was playing against such strong competitors, it really pushed me to perform at my most optimal level. Let’s just say that all of the badminton shuttles were properly aligned for me to give my best. This is why I often try to impart in my athletes the ideology during match play, of putting emphasis and focus on the process goals of what they want to achieve step by step as opposed to being result driven. Oftentimes, one will find that when you concentrate on how poorly you are performing and that your scores are low, unless you are mentally equipped to overcome these obstacles, you will most likely find yourself in an undesirable position. We can delve into this topic a bit further in another blog. For now, I will end here and encourage you to become more Resolute in all that you do and until the next time! If there is something you would like to say or hear…Let’s Blog about it!