Apologies in advance to the moderators--the other thread seems to have deteriorated and since a few people have suggested interest in seeing Scene 2, it's easiest for it not to be lost in a new thread. Merge as you see fit or at a later date. (Note: I do not personally respond to unintelligent comments—I know for some of you it’s historically been quite difficult to come up with anything resembling sapience; it’s okay, there are always any of 95% of the threads on this forum that many of you would feel more comfortable posting in and have demonstrated this remarkable comfort through unparalleled breadth) Scene 2: Footwork Tempo What is it about badminton that requires the top players to have trained for 10+ years starting at a young age? If a player commences play at age 8 and trains for 12 years to become a dominant force at age 20, could the same player enjoy the same success starting the game at age 12 and training for 12 years to age 24? Most elements of physical peak likely occur in the early to mid 20s, which makes 24 by no means an old age. Considering that many European players play at a similarly high level in their late 20s as in their early 20s, and that most great singles players do not win the top tournaments until their mid 20s, there ought not be any disadvantage to starting the game at age 12 as opposed to age 8. Yet rare would it be to observe a top player who commenced training at such a late age. When we think of the multitude of strokes that need to be learned, could this be an explanation for why early training is required? It's unlikely, since given proper coaching, all of the strokes can be learned and played at a decent level within a year or two. Could it be the fitness requirement that takes many years? This is also unlikely given that at such young ages, it should take no more than one year for a child to get fit. Perhaps it is the learning of proper footwork patterns? Stories abound of children in China who practice footwork exclusively for a year before ever holding a racket. But one year is hardly 10+ years, and really it should not take more than a year to learn a proper set of footwork patterns-- the speed at which they can be executed may take time as one grows into an adult and becomes stronger-- but the patterns themselves can easily be mastered for any child of a reasonably young age. The oft overlooked sport-specific key element of badminton is footwork tempo. All of the top players have it. When we watch different players, we are sometimes amazed at Player X's excellent deceptive strokes or Player Y's excellent power strokes; if all of the top players possessed / were able to effectively employ similar abilities, we would not be amazed by Player X or Player Y-- we would merely consider it the norm. Top players come in all sizes and varieties with different strengths and weaknesses. But you also come in some type of size (round is considered a size) with various strengths and weaknesses, so why aren't you a top player? The reason is footwork tempo. This is what all top players have in common. Envision a scenario where a flattish clear is made to the baseline, and you with your excellent footwork patterns and speed are able to reach the baseline well in advance. So you get to the baseline and are standing there waiting for the bird to arrive. You’ve decided to play a smash since the bird is coming at a bit of an angle and it is a prime opportunity to do so. You end up losing the point—why? The reason being you lacked footwork tempo. You arrived at a position on the court well before the bird did. Throughout the striking motion the body needs to be balanced in order to ensure an effective shot. If you are at the baseline well before the bird is, you must stop your momentum and strike from a standstill position. Since you are striking from a standstill, your recovery time is greater and your opponent simply played a nice block to the net which you were unable to reach. Having learned the errors of your ways, the next time the clear is played to your baseline, rather than running full out back to your baseline, you take your time getting there only to discover the bird was travelling a bit faster than you thought—the result is having to strike the bird under more pressure than there needed to be and having to hit the bird at a spatial latitude and longitude you may not be comfortable with. Footwork tempo then can be described as the timing and tempo of footwork patterns that allows a player to reach his/her desired hitting position on the court at the same time that the bird reaches that position. It is this concept of timing that is often mentioned during the striking phase of the shuttle but is neglected in the footwork phase. When observing players, we can tell instantly the level of a player by how “smooth” they look on the court. This is footwork tempo. Rather than running raggedly around the court, a high level player always has smooth motion on the court. If the bird is travelling quickly and they must travel a long distance to reach the shuttle, they do so with quick consistent strides whereas if the bird is travelling slowly and they must travel the same long distance, they do so with slow consistent strides. They are constantly in motion but the motion looks effortless. Striking the bird is just a continuation of the same smooth tempo established by the footwork tempo. Energy expended is minimized as footwork movement is translated into striking movement. Recovery time is minimized as there is a continuation of footwork tempo after the shuttle has been struck; Footwork tempo to reach the bird, a continuation of footwork tempo when striking the bird, and a continuation of footwork tempo during recovery and returning to base. The difficulty in choosing the correct footwork tempo (given your footwork pattern) is that you must be able to quickly and clearly see where the bird is coming from and where it’s headed. Then you must choose the position on the court where you wish to strike the bird. This requires a great degree of spatial-visual perception and intelligence. The initial position (this is why you are told to always keep your eye on the bird), trajectory, speed and other characteristics of flight pattern must all be taken into account and an instantaneous decision must be made as to where you can optimally strike the bird, before you can select the best footwork tempo. So in order to have excellent footwork tempo, a prerequisite is excellent spatial-visual intelligence to recognize where the bird is coming from, where it’s going, and where you want to intercept it. The footwork tempo then allows you to choose the best timing to get to the interception point. Footwork tempos are more easily learned at younger ages but it is spatial-visual IQ which almost certainly needs to be developed at a very young age during the formative years of a child’s brain. If a player adds an element of slice to his/her clears, the bird may have a slightly different flight time and pattern. If a player keeps his/her opponent off-balance by employing strong tactics and/or deception, the opponent is left with an inaccurate read on the flight time and pattern of the bird, which makes it difficult to establish proper footwork tempo. Instead the opponent is observed to be scrambling around the court. There will be times when scrambling is acceptable (poor recovery to base forcing one to go all out / max speed in returning the next shot) but sometimes a player will needlessly be scrambling around the court due to poor footwork tempo—this seems often to be the case among less professional players. In observing Taufik and Lin’s footwork tempo from previous matches, we can conclude that both have tremendous footwork tempo when it comes to retrieving shuttles hit to their backcourt. They reach the zone when the bird reaches the zone and strike the bird in a comfortable zone for them in one fluid motion. They do not reach the zone well in advance of the bird nor do they reach the zone late, unless under tremendous pressure. In the Asian Games match, there were several times the bird was sent to their backcourts where the crowd was expecting a jump smash and instead some other type of shot was played. Part of it was tactics but many of those shots were prime opportunities where the best tactical shot was indeed a jump smash. So then why did we not witness more smashes from Taufik and Lin? For Lin, given a prime opportunity to jump smash, he almost always would—this is his main weapon—so his decision not to was not because he lacked the desire to but rather because he did not feel comfortable doing so. He mis-timed his footwork and reached the hitting zone either before or after the bird and/or he misread the bird’s flight and timed his footwork to a desired hitting zone that was not where the bird actually passed. Lin Dan’s footwork tempo to the backcourt is excellent, second to none. On slower clears, he takes his time getting to the backcourt, and on faster clears, he possesses tremendous speed to reach the bird at the correct time. The reason then for Lin Dan’s lack of smashing was that his footwork tempo was out of sync. When we talk about disturbing an opponent’s rhythm, we usually place a great emphasis on the mental aspect of the game. Footwork tempo is the primary physical attribute that is affected when one’s rhythm is disturbed. So what caused Lin’s footwork tempo to be out of sync? Two things. (1) Taufik’s strong tactical play, deceptive strokes and Lin’s inability to correctly read many of Taufik’s shots resulted in awkward footwork tempo, especially on some of the lost smash opportunities (2) Lin’s fear of his backhand side was always playing in the side of his mind—putting extra attention to his backhand side, having to protect it, and thus needing to anticipate a return to his backhand side, Lin was distracted from focusing on the flight pattern of Taufik’s shot to such a degree that even simple clears to his forehand corner that Lin would normally destroy did not elicit even at attempt. Lin did not even bother trying to smash many opportunities he normally would as his footwork tempo had been obliterated by Taufik. (As an aside, I’ve read some truly ridiculous things—none moreso than “Player X can backhand clear therefore he can effectively backhand flick.” Shall I then say “Player Y can baseline to baseline forehand clear, therefore he must have an effective drop shot (since the distance is less) and therefore he must also have an effective forehand flick from the net. Or something like “I’m sure Player X didn’t really care where he served it to Player Y since service is not really a big deal”—then why in the world did Player X make a conscious effort to serve in the patterns I described if he didn’t care and didn’t think it made a difference? By random draw, we would expect some of Taufik’s serves to go to Lin’s forehand, some to his backhand, some closer to his body, some further from his body, some closer to the T, some further from the T. But this is not what we observed. It is not easier to serve away from the T then toward the T but we saw Taufik consistently attack Lin’s backhand even when he needed to serve away from the T. It is also interesting to note that while my focus on the weakness of Lin’s backhand was from the frontcourt and mid-court situation (net play, smash return), some chose to give examples of backhand smashes and clears from the baseline. Sadly, comments like these are not even the most negative sapient ones posted but I shall address these no further with a couple of remaining observations. If we assume all top pros must have all shots available to them then there is no difference in skill and the winner of any given tournament will be a random draw. If we assume a pro may have had a weakness in the past, so since time has passed they have likely worked on that weakness, then we need not employ any type of strategic thinking to a match—we should just assume that any weaknesses they had must have been corrected by now and we should just patty-whack the shuttle back and forth. This may actually deserve an award for most ridiculous statement of the decade. Consider this: If the pro had been training for 10+ years but had a weakness (backhand) then what does this tell you? It tells you that for some reason that pro is having difficulty acquiring the talent to eliminate the weakness. It is more difficult for that pro to make a particular shot so rather than assuming the weakness would be gone after a few years, one should attack that weakness and continue to attack it until it breaks down under pressure. If a particular skill is not natural (i.e. takes a long time for a player to acquire), there is a greater chance of it breaking down under pressure. Further, why would you even assume the weakness had been corrected without thoroughly testing and exploiting it? A final thought for those Lin Dan fans (and those people trying to save face by how ridiculous they sounded in attempting to disrespect Taufik prior to his victory)—Lin does not have a good backhand! It is the weakest part of his game, which is likely why to cover it up he developed the strongest part of his game—his around-the-head smash from the backhand corner. No one with even a semblance of intellect would claim Lin’s backhand from the baseline is even average as compared to the other pros. It is better than before—it’s semi-passable now but by no means is it a thing of beauty. He does not have a good backhand from the baseline (which was not anything I ever mentioned in Scene 1) and is even worse on his backhand side from the mid-court and front-court (Scene 1).) The reasons why Taufik did not smash are twofold: (1) tactical, conserving energy especially since the placement of his smashes was not that great / inability to hit lines; Lin was returning most of them (2) footwork tempo. However Taufik’s loss of footwork tempo was not due to being under inordinate pressure from Lin but rather is one of the most obvious signs that Taufik was still at least a few weeks away from attaining a more palatable level of fitness (an unfit Taufik defeating a fit Lin? Say it can’t be true.) A couple of times Taufik wanted to smash but the timing of his footwork had been slightly off so he settled for a different shot. Both players have excellent backcourt footwork tempo but on this day both players lost their tempo. Lin’s was due to fear and pressure from Taufik, while Taufik’s was primarily due to lack of fitness and practice. Backcourt footwork tempo was basically a draw. (A recent Lee Chong Wei match showed that Lee Chong Wei is actually too fast at times—if the bird is cleared short of the baseline, LCW has been observed to arrive at the hitting zone well before the bird forcing him into a half-smash as he does not have the momentum and flow to generate his usual cross-court smash.) What of footwork tempo to the frontcourt? Being able to have excellent tempo to the back does not mean one has good tempo at the front. To some degree this is restricted by one’s footwork pattern. If using large, quick, explosive footwork that has been optimized to travel the length of the court (the standard for Chinese players—which is why the coaches during timeouts can only ever offer their athletes the strategic advice of telling them to move their opponents back and forth) like Lin Dan, it is difficult for one to employ a small, slight, shuffle step. I don’t recall ever seeing Lin take a small shuffle. It would likely feel quite bizarre to him if he attempted to do so. So now we gain greater insight into why Lin is so weak on his backhand service returns. It is common to play net shots at an angle from the body in order to more effectively gain leverage for power and/or slicing. If the bird is served into one’s body, one can make a slight shuffle step to generate this angle or one can just stand there and stick the racket out. Lin’s footwork is long and powerful; he does not know the meaning of a slight shuffle. Because of this, he was forced to reply to the service from his body and in addition was forced to reply on his backhand side where he is weak and his options were limited. In contrast, Taufik, when he wished to play a net shot and the bird was too close to his body, was able to employ a slight shuffle to get an angle. Different types of footwork patterns affect the range of footwork tempos you are able to employ. If you are used to taking giant-sized steps, half a giant-sized step may be the same size as most people’s full steps. The ability to reach a desired hitting zone is affected by the fineness of your steps. If a giant-sized man is incapable of taking a quarter-sized step, he may at times be unable to reach his desired hitting zone. It is no surprise then that we usually observe taller players to be less smooth on the court. Their footwork tempo is not very good. (This could be one of the reasons why Bao Chun Lai does not smash as often as many of you would like. The main reason he doesn’t smash that often is because his smash technique is actually correct; maximum power is obtained with close-to-maximum angle. Most of his baseline smashes would go into the net, which is why he tends to smash more from three-quarters court and when he has time to jump a little bit (he doesn’t get that high off the ground).) Does this suggest that those with smaller steps are at an advantage due to the range of footwork tempos they can employ? Not necessarily. The shorter the steps, the more energy is expended travelling from baseline to the net and back. A player like Taufik should have more stamina issues then Lin, even though they are of similar heights, since one uses many steps to travel the length of the court while the other uses fewer steps. As an extreme, a player like Simon Santoso is unlikely to ever become a top player since it takes him a hundred steps to travel the length of the court—he would need to increase his maximum footwork tempo by 50% (and also his stamina) in order to be competitive. Given similar lengths of steps, we can directly compare two players’ footwork tempo. The player who has a wider range of footwork tempos available is better. The player who always selects the best footwork tempo for any given shot is better. When the footwork patterns are quite different, it is more difficult to compare footwork tempos. But we can still make general observations. The delicacy and precision required in net shots and deceptions gives a player with excellent footwork tempo an advantage. This type of player can shift his feet/body in smaller increments and is able to identify the exact timing of movement required to keep one’s body in balance while reaching the targeted hitting zone. A player like Lin is lost at the front due to poor footwork tempo; a player like Taufik excels at the front due to his excellent footwork tempo. So what is Lin to do given this glaring weakness? It is 15+ years too late to pre-train/cross-train badminton with ballet lessons (not to mention Lin would look silly in tights—for those of you who think Lin’s abs are something to marvel at and would like to see Lin in tights—perhaps you can keep your fantasies to yourselves). The only real reasonable alternative is that Lin should take a page out of Taufik’s book and hit the clubs. At the clubs, if Lin and Bao attempt to dance with their large clunky steps, the people whose feets they’re stepping on will surely let them know by giving them a real clubbing experience. The variety and pace of different types of music should also assist in practicing different footwork tempos. And all this time people thought Taufik was undisciplined in training when really he was merely cross-training. It was clear after the first few minutes of the match that based on the front footwork tempo of Taufik and Lin, the crown would go to Taufik.