Do you think you can spot a potential badminton champion at an early age?

The chances are you will get it wrong most of the time. That being said however this memo documents my thoughts on the subject written after a discussion concerning the preferential treatment of young children considered to be those possessing the greater chance of becoming champions rather than relying on result alone.

Firstly we have to define what we mean as “a champion”. In my view a reasonable concept of this is the definition of having won a high grade grand prix event such as Indian NATONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS All England, World Championships, Japan Open, Danish Open, and Olympics. Some of you may say this is too high a target.

Can you spot a future champion at a young age? I doubt it. The problem is that so many things can go wrong on the way. Potential champions can get serious playing injuries through overplay and accidents. The player’s body shape may not be best suited to game of badminton and produce back, knee or hip problems. Other distractions may occur such as lack of access to facilities, education, exams, family problems, lack of funding, girlfriends, boyfriends, parties, drugs …. The list is long and distinguished! In many ways it is much easier to say who will not be a champion!


When coaches stand and watch a young player and say “he is going to be a champion” they usually mean he has a good technique, makes few errors and is fast with foot and racket. Of course these qualities must be present in all champions but these are technical abilities which can be taught into most people given a reasonable amount of hand-eye coordination. Some of you will have heard the theory that given enough time a monkey could eventually write the bible simply through a random construction of alphanumeric characters put in the correct order! The same principle, with a little lateral thinking, can be applied to badminton. Most players can be trained to do most things given a sufficient amount of time on training with a good coach and available facilities. Then you have to ask what is it that separates the monkeys from the champions? In my view this is a simple word we generally refer to as “character”. This is an easy term to use but very difficult to explain exactly. It is referred to by many television commentators in many different ways:-

  • He has true grit
  • He met the wall but climbed it
  • He’s got what it takes
  • He’s very calculating
  • He’s a tough customer
  • A very cool customer
  • He’s lacking all human emotion
  • Stone faced

That little something…

In fact these words are used again and again when champions are described. They are said to have an inner calmness and desire to win which enables them to concentrate one hundred percent on the job in hand and overcome all difficulties.

During the last Tour De France, an ex tour winner was asked “What is required to be a champion?” His answer was “To be a champion you must have character”. This response says it all.

Consider from cricket: Geoffrey Boycott, Ian Botham and Gary Sobers, from Golf: Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, from Tennis: Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi and Martina Navratilova, from badminton: Rudi Hartono, Judy Hashman and Gillian Gilks, from football: Pele and Gordon Banks, from rowing: Steve Redgrave and from cycling: Lance Armstrong. All these people display Calmness, concentration and extreme level of will power which pushed them to excel at their sport time and time again. It is very rare to find a champion who does not have complete control over their emotions.

There is another factor which is sometimes cited as a reason for reaching the dizzy heights. Lance Armstrong, for example, it said to have used cycling as a means of proving he could conquer cancer.

A few champions have a real reason for playing their sport and use it to prove that they are better than the expectation of them. Maybe this is why the Asian badminton player puts so much effort into training and playing! They are fighting to earn themselves some of the luxuries.

With this knowledge how can we spot a future champion? I will try and put some bullet points down:-

  •  Firstly look for a young player with at least a reasonable amount of talent and who has the potential and ability to learn. i.e. not to be totally without hand-eye coordination
  •  Find those players with a suitable body shape for badminton
  •  Find those who love to attend training, enjoy the training and to be around the sport
  •  Spot those who turn up early to training, hoping to get an extra ten minutes on court before the others turn up.
  •  Find those who exude calmness and concentration
  •  Spot those who have an inner confidence and are maybe aloof, stubborn or arrogant. As a coach you will have to earn their respect.
  • Find those whose parents are not overly obsessed with the child’s education and career since to get to the top of badminton, academics must take second place.
  •  Find those who are not afraid to say they want to be a champion
  •  Find those who will not be restricted by financial constraints.
  •  Find those who demand to compete and not just train.
  •  Find those who live close to the badminton hall and who have easy access to facilities and can train more frequently without having to be chauffeured by parent’s day in day out.
  •  Look at the social background and personal problems of the player. Does the player have something to prove by becoming a champion?

This last point implies you have to get to know your potential champion, the family and their problems. Only by doing this can you begin to understand the player, find those with character, a reason for winning, and the raw will to win. Many coaches now work in large groups and make a point of not getting too close to their players. In my view you have to know and understand the player to help them properly. Hence working in small groups, or one to one, is the best option.

Pure talent is not the most important factor in becoming a champion – it’s the will to win!

This will to win is the hardest to judge and in my experience its essence is best understood by those who have experienced competition at the top themselves and know what it takes to be the best and reach the top. Asian nations strongly utilize their ex-internationals in child and adult training and this helps to ensure the selection of young players with the right qualities and the best chances of succeeding. In India many ex-internationals drift away from the game into some other walk of life and their experience is lost.

There are many coaching courses designed to lift the level of coaching skill. Many national coaches have been through weekend after weekend of coaching courses and then endured year long player studies in their aim to become national coaches. This is all well and good but it still does not give the experience of having been there, done it, and understanding that basic killer instinct and knowledge of the all elusive “will to win” which I define as being so important.

Don’t get me wrong here – there are lots of hard working coaches who are great people and who were also “nice” club players in the past. The coaching world could not do without them, which is however simply not enough.

If as a parent you want your child to be the best then that child has got to have the best role model and fountain of knowledge that you can find. My advice will always be “don’t ask a school teacher or electrical engineer to teach your child to be an international badminton player –


Unfortunately many ex-internationals are simply not good at dealing with people and communicating their ideas and experiences to young players. Their lifestyle and ambition has made some of them self centered and lacking in tolerance. From one ex-intentional potential coach I heard the words “If God didn’t mean for me to become arrogant, then why did he surround me with imbeciles?” I think he is correct PLAYERS CANT BE COACHES AND VICEVERSA CAN ALSO BE TRUE but this conveys the idea that not everybody is suited for the life of coaching.

The parent of a budding champion has the job of finding a good QUALIFIED NIS COACH who also has some human emotion and communication skills in their soul.

A famous sculptor was once asked how he conceived his fantastic stone creations. His reply was that the creation was always there and he did little more than chip away at the edges in the right order until the sculpture was revealed. After this he simply shone it up a little and displayed it in a good location.

The moral of this story is that champions are not really created, they already exist but they have to be given the chance to be unveiled. As a coach you have to chip away at the raw edges and ensure a suitable place for viewing. Translating this in badminton terms “find the player with the right raw material, remove the raw edges of the player, and fine tune some technical elements and place into lots of events for display”.

Herein lays the biggest problem of them all since the player with the best chance of becoming the champion may not necessarily be the best player of the day age 6, 10 or even 15.This can, and will lead to political problems with parents looking for the best for their “little star” when in fact as a coach you know their “little star” has no long term future in competitive badminton. Alas this is a fact of life with team selection.

A coach really needs to develop something like X-ray vision into a young child to reveal what’s inside his body and mind. This is partly the recognition of the players will to win. This is in fact what early screening processes are trying to achieve. If we could tell what’s going on inside them then a lot of time, effort and money could be saved on players who are never going to make the grade.

Once the right players are pre-selected then the coach can simply chip away at the edges. Be careful though – you must chip of the right edges. It is a mistake, for example, to try and knock the spirit out of a player by being over strict with training diaries and schedules.

As a coach the best way of going about all this is to gather a large number of players together with the probability and expectation of a high player drop out rate. Train your players hard and expect a lot of them whilst ensuring that training is fun. Spend time with your players off court and find out what makes them tick. Encourage them to play in as many events as possible (within reason) and let them be as self sufficient as possible in these events so that they mature as quickly as possible before their body runs out of steam and gets injured.

Even though the rules allow you to go rushing on court during events to give advise at various times then consider letting them getting on with the job themselves and learning to play through their own mistakes. In the natural course of things the players with the will to compete and win will endure the course and come through the other end of the tunnel as champions. If you are lucky enough to locate and coach one hundred young players who demonstrate sufficient technical talent to become champions then you may find just one with the sufficient moral fiber to reach the title “champion”.

It depends what you call a reward. As long as you are not looking for financial reward then standing on the podium at the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS will be highly rewarding and will be something you will remember for the rest of your life. Many a player has stood on that rostrum with goose bumps on their arms and tears rolling down their cheeks and simply enjoyed every moment of it!


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