By RJ Mitchell
BADMINTON SCOTLAND are delighted to share that two of our most promising juniors have just enjoyed the chance to compete in Japan’s prestigious Shonai Invitational tournament in Tsuruoka City.
Our two outstanding under-16 players Deepti Vijayakumar and Lingyun Xiao rubbed shoulders with the top-eight Japanese junior players as well as competitors from England, France, Spain, Denmark, Thailand, Malaysia, and the USA in response to the first ever invitation for Scottish players to compete in this exclusive event.
Regional Performance Coach (Edinburgh Base) Julie Hogg accompanied Deepti and Lingyun for an experience which Julie has no doubt will shape these two outstanding talents badminton futures.
The 24-hour journey from Edinburgh Airport stopped off in Finland en route to Tokyo and then onto Tsuruoka City and the Komagihara Gymnasium, where Deepti and Lingyun had not only to recover from jet lag caused by an eight hour time difference but also a significant air current drift in the venue – the Shonai Invitational posed challenges that neither had ever encountered in their junior careers.
Yet Julie has no doubt the experience will undoubtedly stand the youngsters in good stead and she explained: “The Shonai Invitational is an annual event and they rotate the eight European invitations every year with this being the first time Scottish players have been asked.
“So, after the 24-hour journey we were drained to say the least but we then had allocation times supplied for our practice on the Thursday between 9am and 11am, on what was the next morning.
“We then trained with the English, Malaysian and Thai players and as you can expect we were exhausted and on top of that the humidity in the hall was high. It was a massive building with quite a drift from one end when you hit while the humidity outside was around 30 degrees.
“This was all new to the players but the two hours training was invaluable in terms of adapting to the conditions and later in the day we had a light training session with stretching, as although it would have been easy to flake out and go to bed, we had to really try and keep to the time zones.”
The tournament got underway on Friday and spanned two days with the players grouped into four pools of four, with players from the same continents in different pools where possible.
However there were tough draws in store for the young Scots as Julie revealed: “In the girls singles Deepti drew the top Japanese player who went on to win the tournament, the top Thai player, and the Malaysian No.1.
“Although Deepti didn’t win a set she did manage to hit 15-points in one of the sets but really the gulf to the Asian players from the Europeans was big and not one European player made the main draws. In the consolation event Deepti then drew the European silver medallist in the first round and although she competed well she lost in two sets.
“In the boys Lingyun had the third seeded Japanese player, an English player, a Thai, and a Malaysian. So Ling ended up also in the consolation event where he drew the Spanish player and lost in two sets.
“The European players were all (European) junior medallists but Japan and the Asian players dominated and in the consolation event the Europeans came to the fore.”
Yet despite the exceptional level of quality faced by Deepti and Lingyun, Julie has no doubt about the benefits of their battles with the best in the Far East: “Like us England were in a similar position and we knew going into the competition that the standard would be extremely high, so it was about exposing the players to really world class Asian badminton and to see how they handled the experience maturity wise.
“But Deepti and Lingyun, even down to how they controlled their emotions, retained their composure to rally and try and get points against these very top players, were exceptional.”
Yet for Julie there were also challenges from a coaching perspective as she explained: “For me as a coach it was about getting the mindset of the player correct to build the confidence that they could compete with these elite players.
“We never discussed outcomes we just spoke about competing, challenging, and performing to the best level the players could in an arena and environment which was alien to them and Deepti and Lingyun both did exceptionally well.
“I have no doubt they have learned so much from it and that is a huge positive.”
The difference in badminton cultures also proved interesting as Julie explained: “Out of competition it was a case of watching and learning. Japanese juniors are six hours a day and six days a week with huge focus on badminton whereas back in Britain we have an educational focus as well as managing our sporting ambitions – so a more balanced approach.
“But I asked the players if the trip had inspired them to play at this level and they were emphatic that it had and that was the answer I was really looking for.
“What we didn’t want was for the experience to crush them but rather to inspire them and fire them up to say: ‘I want more of this!’
“That was really all we could ask in this type of competition, at which the Japanese, I have to say, put on at the most fantastic level with even the smallest detail taken care of.”
Yet away from the court the trip to the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ also provided a huge cultural learning experience for the junior duo as Julie shared: “Deepti’s father was a professor in Robotics and had worked in Japan and he was able to give us a tour and let us experience the cuisine of Japan.
“All of our food on the trip was Japanese, so there was no European food at all, just rice, fish and sushi and the players had to adapt to that type of food and the culture which comes with it.
“The Japanese are very respectful, so you had to be gracious in how you spoke and conducted yourself and the Japanese people extended that back to us culturally.
“It was also very important to be punctual and produce good manners and this was all very educational for the players.
“So both culturally and in badminton terms they have seen a completely different side to elite junior badminton and this has been a massive learning experience for them and for me.
“But Deepti and Ling loved the opportunity and I was so proud of how dealt with it all and how they conducted themselves and this experience will also have shaped their badminton going forward there is no doubt about that.
“For us all I would like to thank the Nippon (Japanese) Badminton Association and Badminton Scotland for the memories of a lifetime. Really this trip was everything I thought and hoped it would be.”