Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 Junior Nationals Speech

I was asked to do a little speech last minute at the 2014 Junior Nationals to add a bit more depth to the opening ceremonies, so I wrote up a 5 minute presentation and based it on my own junior career. I've included the contents of the speech as I drafted it earlier, and I was more-or-less able to include all the material into the speech (minus the cool pictures). For those who missed it or those who were not able to attend (e.g. the entire province of Quebec), here it is:

Thank you all for taking the time to come here and support another Junior Nationals. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Toby, current National Team member and I’m partnered with Alex Bruce, and also with Philippe Charron. I train out of this wonderful facility, and I had the great fortune of competing at the 2012 London Olympics. I’d like to wish all of you the best of luck in competing to become this year’s national champion, much like the other players as listed on the website (www.badmintonnationals.com), including current National team members, like... Alex Bruce, Michelle Li, Joycelyn Ko from Ontario (*cheer after each Province*), Philippe Charron from Quebec, Grace Gao from Alberta, and Phyllis Chan, Christin Tsai, and Derrick Ng, who they've left out, from BC. Honorable mention: Dave Snider of Manitoba, but we’ll say Prairies, so that includes Saskatchewan! Many of our top players have performed well as juniors, and it is helping them extend their badminton careers. 

But, every year, there are only 4-8 winners per age group. Sometimes we come up a bit short, despite all of our training goals and all the sacrifices we put into the year for this one tournament. I knew that feeling well. I didn't make that list for a reason, because I never won a junior national title. I think I was seeded first in doubles for my last year of U19, and 2 years of U23, when they started U23s in 2006, and 2007. I had a freak loss in U19 in the semifinal and I vowed to quit badminton and become a bboy instead (well, look how that turned out), and in the 2 years of U23, I played 4 events and won 4 silver medals.

#throwback U19 Nationals in Saskatoon 2004
(L to R:) Kyle Holoboff, Richard Liang, Alvin Lau, & myself

#throwback U23 Nationals in Montreal #bboystance
(L to R:) Ronnie Runtulalao (coach), myself, & Adrian Liu

#throwback U23 Nationals in Montreal #bboystance
(L to R:) Ronnie Runtulalao (coach), Adrian Liu,
myself, Luke Kuroko, & Kevin So

It was tough, but I was given that opportunity to look a little bit further. Instead of continuing to chase that National title, I took the opportunity to compete internationally (for the record, I never played World Juniors either, but I volunteered for one, which totally doesn’t count). I ended up skipping my last year of U23 Nationals, my final chance to win a title, but for Thomas Cup team finals. I suppose if your focus is so narrow, you’ll miss the big picture. As Bruce Lee quotes, “It’s like a finger pointing a way to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.

So I finally won my National title in 2009. It was a Senior National title, and the feeling was bittersweet. I mean, sure I finally met my goal, but I had actually won the 2008 Pan Am Championships a few months before, so I was technically continental champion before I was National champion… all that 20 months since my last U23 Nationals. Sweeeeet…

For those who have won before, it’s also a lesson in consistency. When you are the front runner, everyone is chasing you. So you have 2 options, fend off your spot from challengers, or find someone else to chase. Aiming higher may make things easier, but sometimes aiming too high may be harmful as well if it becomes too unrealistic. I would say that I've lost at the 2010 Nationals because I was aiming too high, and I lost this year because I wasn't aiming high enough. Tragic, but it’s a wake-up call. I hope you can learn from my mistake instead of making your own. Regardless, I’ve picked myself up and I’m training hard for my next series of tournaments in the summer, including the World Championships. I’d be foolish to train really hard just to win Nationals again because I have confident in my abilities. Often times, I find if you play a player/team 10 times, you can win 80% of the time. That means you’ll lose to them 1 in 5 times, for whatever the reason. Sometimes, it will be at that most important tournament of the year, but don’t take it personally. Over time, your average will work itself out. 

Don’t give up, no matter what happens this week… and keep playing. It’s often not realistic to be the best all the time, but if you work hard, you can be best most of the time. Take that as a trade secret.
For some, this may be your first badminton Nationals; but for all of you, I hope this won’t be your last one.

Thank you, and have a great week!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Top 5 Things I Learned This Semester

5) Exercise is medicine.

Nothing like taking a functional anatomy course to get me back up to speed on my anatomy, which will definitely help all the exercise related things I do. I also took a clinical exercise rehabilitation course, and we covered many types of health conditions, including aging, heart failure, heart transplant, spinal cord injury, stroke, cancer, and obesity. We learned how exercise can be beneficial to all these conditions, mainly in preventing cardiovascular disease and keeping people in shape so they don’t fall below the threshold for functional dependence. Personally, I liked it because I had to learn many regressions of exercises I’m more familiar with. I suppose it’s easy to make an exercise harder, but it’s not the same when you go the other way, at least not at first. Now that I'm a kinesiologist, perhaps I can find some additional part time work in this sector. It's extremely rewarding and with an aging population in the years ahead, I think the demand will increase quite a bit.

4) You can learn just as much if not more outside of school.
You CAN… but not always. I've had a great deal of extra education this year, and it was all outside of school. However, the foundation I've developed from school really helps integrate everything together. The way I see it, it doesn't really matter where the learning is coming from, just learn as much as you can and be open to the fact that you could be wrong at any moment. Even something in this blog post will probably be wrong, or I will have different thoughts about. At least I’m willing to admit it, and through mistakes, I can learn again. This semester, I've had the fortune of participating in lectures by Molly O'Brien & Dan Kenzie (Fortius Sport& Health), Carmen Bott (Human Motion), Behnad Honarbakhsh (FMS – Fit ToTrain), Charlie Weingroff (Training = Rehab), all the wonderful speakers at the NSCA BC Provincial Clinic, Patrick Ward (Optimum Sports Performance), Nick Winkelman (EXOS), and Dean Somerset with Rick Kaselj. I still have much information to sift through, and I will leave the finer details to another blog post in the near future!

3) I’m on the “Precision Nutrition” diet...

Actually, I’m on the Precision Nutrition (PN) PROGRAM, meaning that adherence is recommended, but you aren’t forced into making drastic changes for a short period of time, only to go back to your original diet and regain everything back (and then some)! Although this may sound like a plug for the PN system, which it is, I really like their system, so much that I’m taking a certification course from them because I know it can make a difference with those I will be working with in the future. Aside from that, it would be nice to have some general nutrition knowledge, as the whole nutrition industry is rife with so much information, but never the whole story. PN is about making healthier choices, and changing habits little by little so the new ones stick. I wanted to start right after I got back from Ontario Elite series in early January, but things got delayed and I had to wait until mid-January before I did anything. For most people, that kind of delay would have already killed their New Year’s Resolution, but with PN, making a change late is better than not making change at all. I began making their Super Shakes (with protein powder), and started trying a few recipes from their Gourmet Nutrition cookbook (highly recommended!). I’m by no means a cook, but I was able to successfully follow some recipes, and I really improved my vegetable intake by far. Now I’m eating many more vegetables than I ever had before, and I’m making healthier choices, little by little (i.e. tried turkey sausage and I love it!). It’s still an ongoing process, but I enjoy learning and I suppose now is a great time to learn how to cook, as it will be a valuable skill to have in the future!

2) You can’t win it all…

“You win some, you lose some…” harsh words, but often realistic because it becomes difficult to maintain sustained efforts to be successful all the time. Things have been going well the past year, but the beginning of 2014 hit REALLY hard, with an early loss at the 2014 Ontario Elite Series, and the terrible result at 2014 Nationals. I have already addressed things in previous posts (Reflections on the 2014 Nationals; Recovery, The Elephant In The Room), so if you’re not sure what happened, feel free to read my past blogs. Now, 2 months later, things have been better. I suppose there’s nothing like a traumatic event to test your will to achieve. I've been able to repair most of the damage from the event, and I’m rebuilding myself to be even better than before. Now that I’m finally done school, we’ll see if all the potential things I wanted to do come through. We often desire many things and make elaborate plans, but if we don’t execute them, they will be nothing but empty ideas that never materialize… and that's when we lose. That was my mistake… and hopefully, I've learned from it. The stakes are much higher this time as I've lost funding for next year, so we will see how 'loss aversion' can make lasting changes. Perhaps I will elaborate in future blog post.

1) Never forget why you started.

Despite the bad times, I’m fortunate to have tremendous amount of support from a few special people (you know who you are because many of you read my blog!). I’m also fortunate to have support from most people I interact with. I often come back to a harsh lesson that there will be people who still remember you as the person you used to be, and if they never give you the benefit of the doubt that you changed, they are probably not someone you want to be around anyway. According to Martin Rooney (a strength coach), one of the keys to success is to “get your average up”. He makes the reference that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, so if you are trying to lose weight (fat) and your group of 5 is all obese, it would become a difficult task. Compare it to hanging out with 5 health-conscious people who exercise regularly and eat well, you have a much stronger change of success with fat loss. Check out his video on Motivation on YouTube!

So, I should never forget why I started, or to be more specific, I should never forget why I’m continuing to play badminton despite losing funding for next year. I know that it’s not optimal to publish your goals to the public, and I know I am at a risk for exposing too much information to my competition, but it’s okay… because it leaves me accountable. Accountability is huge, and maybe that’s why losing Nationals hurts because I’m taking it personally… I have to be accountable. And only then, will I be able to grow as an athlete, as a person. What’s the difference between competing now and before?

A different partner, a different start, a different fate. It’s different playing with Alex than it is with Grace. Each player has their own unique advantages and disadvantages, but there are possible commonalities between both players as well. The key thing for me is not to make the same mistakes from before, and identifying them is a step in the right direction. Communication, for example, is something I strive to maintain with Alex, because I think that is one of the major problems I had with Grace.

 A different philosophy, a different training style. I've lost the opportunity to train with a world class coach, because I cannot get full time training, and even if I could, I wouldn't be able to afford it. Such is life. I really don't have a solution, but instead, an alternative strategy: make use of previous years of world class concepts, while increasing physical strength, movement qualities, and work capacity. I don't think I had the strength or fitness to play the way Kim Dong Moon wanted me to back then, but now I'm one step closer. I know I don't have him coaching me, but I've also learned to make do with what I have. In the words of Bruce Lee, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.

 A different training environment. It’s difficult to train at times, and I could easily just blame the system and throw in the towel, but I refuse to give up and I hope to inspire the next generation of athletes that there is always a way if you try. I've began sparring with younger athletes, in exchange for them feeding me some drills. I also can teach them a few things, so it’s ultimately a ‘win-win’ situation. It started off a bit rocky, but things are smoothing out and it’s been fairly productive. Hopefully, over time, a system will be in place and people have a template to follow. Sometimes I think that a good reason isn't enough for people to make a change… sometimes, you need to give them an actual template and get them started… then, changes may actual begin to happen.

 A different level of expertise. I’m learning so much more than I have in the past while, and I really owe it to good fortune, as I met Dan Adams by chance in one of my classes. I was in a High Performance Conditioning class, right after the Olympics, and being an Olympian, I thought I knew it all. But thankfully, I was handed a reality check because I didn't know anyone in the lab, and there were 2 other people who didn't have partners for the group, with one of them being Dan. So, the first thing I learned was the existence of the term “Strength Coach”, as I thought everyone in fitness was just a “personal trainer”. Slowly, I began to learn more about strength & conditioning, and Dan actually just started up the UBC Thunderbird Strength & Conditioning Club. And pretty slowly… things took off, little by little, and the learning just keeps going… with pretty much everything coming from outside my school curriculum. After a while, I had some interest in Olympic lifting and Dan referred me to my current strength coach, Molly O'Brien. Despite everything we've done, I still haven't performed a single Olympic lift! Honestly, I’m actually glad I haven’t… because I don’t really need them right now, and I’m not ready for them yet. Sessions have been going really well with Molly, and she’s been quite supportive over the semester, even though I crashed out at Nationals. I’m currently working with her now and I’m on my 2nd month of General Prep training! If anyone in the area is really serious about training, go book a session with Molly! I totally endorse it :) So, going back to badminton, I can see training through a different perspective, and hopefully, I can make efficient changes that will not only help me improve my game, but to stay injury free!

 A different attitude. Well, I hope so. My attitude towards learning is probably much different than it was before, but given the new circumstances, I don’t see me having much of a choice. I must evolve and adapt to survive; otherwise, I can’t expect changes to be made. I know I will be facing new competition, but everyone deserves their chance to compete. That's the spirit of competition. There are many competitors at a tournament, but always only one winner. If we are all competing for that Olympic continental spot (i.e. Mixed Doubles), only one team will make it. So I won’t bother aiming for that... I will go higher. Top 15-20? I’d be pretty happy. If I make it there and not make the Olympics, that’s fine with me, but my chances of making it would be quite high. Why fight to be the top of the continent when you should be fighting to be at the top of the world? I like to aim high, because I will prepare myself that way. If your ultimate goal is to be one of the world's best, then start training and doing what you can to get there. If you just want to have fun and enjoy the process, then do just that. As long as your actions match your goals, you have a much better chance for success, which is never guaranteed, unfortunately. But that's a risk I'm willing to take...

Let the journey begin...