New Zealand coach Peter Jensen ran his expert eye over Badminton Oceania’s Pacific Player Development Camp as it entered its second day on Sunday.
Jensen, who holds the highest level coaching qualification from Badminton Denmark, has had many top international players under his wings and was also the Danish under-15 national coach.
Now as coach of New Zealand and lead coach for this weekend’s Pacific Player Development Camp, Jensen has put players and coaches from Guam, New Caledonia, Tahiti and New Caledonia through their paces in an action-packed programme.
The mission is to raise standards, technique, fitness and inspire aspirational thinking among the participants and a careful approach has to be taken explains Jensen.
“The most important thing is as a coach is you have to try to understand where the players come from and what they have to go back to. So its a totally different kind of mindset from how you normally coach.
“The New Zealand players are in an environment and you know that environment. But for some of the Pacific Island players you realise they practice with plastic shuttles which is a big difference in how they approach and hit the shuttle. This is what they have to go back to.
“In that way, it is a big big difference in what I as a coach have to prepare in terms of how I coach the Pacific players at the same time it also put up exercises and knowledge around and give them information they can take back,” he said.
And in his view have the players got to grips with the programme given its intense schedule? Jensen says there is no room for taking a laidback approach.
“It would be easy to just organise just a few games for them but its important to teach the players new habits and try to get them into a new way of looking at the game. We can’t change the world in 48 hours.
“We look for an improvement in what we saw from them last time then send them home with something new to implement back home and see the progress next time.
“Its quite different to what I’m used to as a coach because you want to give them something they can understand but keeps it simple so they can adapt it for the conditions in their country,” he says.
One attribute the players have no shortage of is enthusiasm and a rapidly improving physicality with fitness tests schedule on day one showing a massive improvement on that front. Jensen says the attitude of the players has been encouraging.
“One of the key strengths is they all have a determination to succeed in the game. They also have a sense of fun and enjoyment of the game. At the elite level sometimes a bit of that disappears for players but these players enjoy what they’re doing.
“They want to be on court all the time and we almost have to drag them off the court. Even that is a part of growth as an athlete about understanding how to take care of yourself and prepare to put in the right effort when you have your sessions.
“Some of the players show they have skills and strengths they have acquired from other sports which is something that I’m not used too. There are definitely some attributes there that show these guys have strengths learned in other sports which can be a positive but in some cases also a challenge,” he said.
Its easy to assume that among the challenges for players in the Pacific is the adoption of the correct technique given their rare opportunities to work with the absolute best coaches from around the world.
Jensen says getting players to learn the correct technique isn’t only a Pacific issue, its an issue for players in Australia and New Zealand, too.
“Its one of the biggest problems in Oceania generally, not just for the Pacific players. It is about coach education and how to teach players to have the right skills technically, with footwork and racquet skills.
“We need to make better coaches, which makes better players. If you try to make some kind of comparison with other sports such as rugby its easier and thats because at grassroots in that sport everyone has some sort of knowledge around those concepts but thats not the case in Badminton.
“There are kids who play who have never been taught to how to grip a racquet and they see the sport as perhaps more recreational than an elite game. If we want more players that can compete from this part of the world we need better coaches,” he said.
Jensen is delighted fitness levels are on the rise – it enables more work to be done with the players and face time with athletes is a precious commodity.
“Yes, you have to have the technical skills because a match can easily go one hour, one hour and a half, so near the end of that match you need to be fast, mentally prepared, so the improvement of their fitness is a great step in the right direction. It gives us an opportunity to spend better quality time with the players,” he said.
With the competition phase kicking into gear next week, Jensen admits it will be a tough challenge for Guam, New Caledonia, Tahiti and Tonga to compete, but he says its a completely necessary part of a broader vision to develop the sport.
“Its going to be difficult, for sure, but at the same time its also a great experience. For some it will be a totally new world that is opened up to see how players can be at a high level. But that can be true even for Australia and New Zealand, its a big step to the rest of the world.
“Hopefully, everyone can take something on board and after the competition say, “We can achieve this if we work hard”. You also hope they are opened minded and determined to return home and work hard having seen some new shots and new things that give them the motivation to become better players,” he said.
The Oceania Mixed Team Championships takes place between 16-18 February and the Oceania Men’s and Women’s Team Championships is locked in for 19-21 February in Auckland, New Zealand.