Behind the scenes with Robert Blair: Training and preparation

By RJ Mitchell

With the next HSBC WBF World Tour event just under a month away, the countdown to the Perodua Malaysia Masters in Kuala Lumpur is one which is filled with intense preparation, activity, and planning.

Everything is being done to get our elite players in the best shape, while also spending time to rehab those who have endured frustration through injury, in a bid to recover peak condition ahead of a vital period of competitive action in the Far East.

The start of the ‘Race to Paris’ and Olympic selection means that each event which falls after May 01 will count towards claiming one of the 172 playing places for the next Olympics. This means that that the impending far eastern swing enjoys even more significance as Olympic hopefuls look to make the strongest possible start to what could be a career defining opportunity.

All of which means that the hard yards being put in by Scotland’s finest have perhaps never been so important and in this respect Badminton Scotland is pleased to share a flavour of what is going on behind the scenes ahead of the next competitive cycle.

Reflecting on all of this, Badminton Scotland coach Robert Blair, himself a mixed doubles Olympian at the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, explained: “We are about a month from the next set of tournaments and it’s nice that the players have had a week off and now can build up strength and endurance before the events.”

“As well as training for high performance they need to have the strength and endurance to make it through four weeks of tough competition at their absolute limits, which is very hard on their bodies!”

“So getting through a period like this without picking up injuries is tough. How you manage your body, your nutrition and rest is vital to your performance the next day.

“Stretching and rehab exercises are key in taking care of weaknesses and making sure they are ready for the next week, which is crucial for giving our players a chance of being on court and performing to their best.”

Turning to what is known as ‘Periodisation of Training’, Robert shared: “In terms of doubles there are distinct strength and fitness endurance blocks which move on to power and quality on court blocks and then lead in tournament prep which is low on the physical side but very high quality.

“That is the normal routine we go through on the build up to tournaments and of course that depends on how long you have between events. Optimally you are dealing with around  eight weeks where you can fit in strength and conditioning and then work on the quality of the badminton and power, so players are getting faster and playing at a higher level.

“Then they focus more on the fine detail of the tactics and the service and return and starting off rallies that will influence more points.

“Normally you are also focused on the individual and partly the skills they need for their specific event whether doubles or singles, so you have to make sure they are competent on all the movements that they will need during the games.

“For example ladies doubles have far longer rallies than the men’s so their endurance is higher while with the boys we focus more on power, basically the demands of the event guide these things. So, really that is a general breakdown of tournament preparation.”

Badminton Scotland’s collaboration with the Scottish Institute of Sport is invaluable in terms of training methodology and sports science which will ensure our internationalists are honed to a perfect peak.

Skill sessions are intrinsic to our players training blocks as the Scotland coach revealed: “During all periods of training you can’t keep working you’re body to its limits, which leaves natural recover times to incorporate skill training. As with all racket sports your movement to the shuttle is hugely important, basically if you are in a good position your quality of shot will be higher but if you do

n’t have the skill when you get there that is equally useless.

“So we practise breaking things down so there is a good balance between the physical work and the skill side of the game. Normally during a strength block, which we are in now, we have a high focus  on our fitness and then can do light skills practice while the body recovers!”

Sports Nutrition is another key area of preparation as players need to fuel their body to allow optimal performance: “The players have access to a nutritionist who works at the Scottish Institute of Sport.  They provide support over a number of areas, including psychology, lifestyle management, medical and ‘strength and conditioning’ of which we are very grateful.”

“When training intensely, your rest, recovery and hydration plays a huge part in how hard and how much concentration you can apply in your training. These outside services provide help and knowledge so the players can maximise their training potential.”

“With the younger athletes we are trying to promote a mindset where they are looking after their body, preparing better and have the attitude of a world class athlete which is when a player can really start excelling.

“If the athletes are not eating correctly, resting, and hydrating well, then their quality and concentration will drop and their body will struggle. So rest and recovery between sessions is as important as the training in a hard physical period. Because of this, we really promote the benefits that these services can provide for the athlete’s performance.”

Robert, who retired in 2016, was a World Championship runner-up with England’s Anthony Clark in the 2006 men’s doubles and reckons that while there have been some changes in terms of preparation since his days the core remains the same.

He said: “It is not vastly different and the principles are all the same, although perhaps thanks to sports science advances we can optimise training to hit certain areas of development.”

“In terms of how the body recovers and monitoring performance and effort, sports science has given us more information we can use to influence our training plans.  However, you still have to put in the hard work to get the results – there are no shortcuts.”