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Teach Kids Lasting Values On The Court

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My greatest joy as a coach has always been the privilege to teach kids who have so much passion for their sport that they are willing to work hard to get better and better each day. Every notable achievement, in sports and in life, can only be made possible by a strong work ethic. Why do I feel so strongly about the value of a strong work ethic? Let me share with you the story of my friend Alex.

Alex and I grew up together in the same neighbourhood and we even went to the same school. By Grade 5/P5, he was already 1.7m tall with long limbs and physically stronger than anyone I knew. I was just under 1.4m, small-framed, and definitely with negligible physical strength.

We both loved badminton and tried out for our school team. I was small and technically unsound. Often, my job was to set up the courts, pick up shuttles and arrange them in rows. Alex was so fast and dominant in his game that he overpowered everyone, and he was the best player of the team.

I went to training every day and worked extra hard, but I was not selected to play in any of the competitive games - not even friendly games as I was told to just sit out and observe how better players perform. But I was fortunate enough to have supportive parents who were both from sporting backgrounds. They continued to encourage me and gave me reassurance that everything could only get better if I continued to put in the effort. So rather than quitting when all odds were against me, I went to practice during the school holidays.

By observing how my coach had been training the star players in my team, I managed to compile a great list of training plans. Then every day, without exception, I ran 5km to the nearest indoor badminton court and worked hard on my game for a couple of hours. Meanwhile, my good friend Alex was out with friends at the cinema and making the most of the holidays at arcades.

We returned from our break and onwards to a brand new school year. Alex was still taller, stronger and faster than everyone else. I went to practice everyday and worked hard, but I still made the regular 'cheerleader' position, despite having made some improvements. Often as I was working hard at improving my craft, I would think of Alex enjoying a great day out at the arcade or cinema with a company of friends, and I was envious. 

I remembered one day my father came down to see how I was doing and offer support. The badminton hall was at its usual 'best', radiating heat from all corners and without much ventilation. At that instance, I just wanted to put away my racket and go back home or even join Alex at the mall. When my father was ready to leave, I said, "Dad, I'll go home with you once I finish five more good serves." But he was clearly not satisfied by my statement and he challenged me by responding, "Why don't you work ten more minutes?" Clearly, it was less a question than an order. 

"Son, when everyone is ready to quit, you continue, even for just ten more minutes because someone has stopped. If you work ten minutes extra every day, you will eventually win." My dad's words made perfect sense, and it became my philosophy, first as a player and then as a coach. Work ten more minutes because someone, somewhere else, is quitting.

I believe those extra minutes were starting to pay off because I could see my skills vastly improving, the result of countless hours spent on the court. Now puberty was helping us and a lot of us were starting to catch up with Alex physically. 

My skills had started to sharpen to the point where I made the starting lineup. Alex, on the other hand, sat the bench. After all those years, all those holidays when I worked and he went to the mall, we started to have a role-reversal. Frustrated that he was no longer the star of the team and that everyone was better than he was, he dropped out of the team.

I have told my players of this story umpteen times, and Alex was clearly good enough, strong enough, and skilled enough at an early age to have gone on to become a standout player throughout the course of his life. But he was already so much better than everyone else that he never thought he had to work on improving his skills. When everyone caught up to him physically, skills became the decisive factor. It was several years too late to start working hard when he finally realised what he was lacking.

Young players who are better than most of their peers early may think, "I'm already the best in the team. Why do I need to be better?" Unless their coaches or parents encourage them, they see no need to work hard. But when you're not working, someone else is. And sooner or later, you become a long forgotten story.

No kid should be complacent about his or her badminton level. Instead, you must work every day to improve rather than have your skills diminish over time. A head start does not mean a great end.

Sometimes we, as working adults, are accustomed to measuring the value of performance and not effort. But you must understand that being a benchwarmer on a school or youth team now doesn't translate into an impossible reality of being a terrific player in that sport in the near future. It also doesn't mean that he won't enjoy and learn from his experience on the team.

Some parents might say, "Well, if my child is not good enough to play on the First Team in badminton, I will take him out of that sport and have him play elsewhere instead." If my parents had thought that way, I never would have played badminton all my life. I would have been pushed into another sport instead of being encouraged to work harder and realise my potential in the sport that I loved. 

Passion and excitement come first. Work ethic will follow.

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What a Tournament!

Alpha Age Group Badminton Championship is on its second year running. We would like to thank all players across 55 participating schools and academies, helpers and above all, the sponsors for playing such a pivotal role in making the week-long event such a memorable and successful one. Further, we would like to congratulate all 17 champions! A job well done and we hope that this experience will stay with you for a long time coming.

On behalf of Alpha Academy, I would sincerely like to thank Ms. Ong Chih Ching from KOP Limited, Dr. Stephen Riady and UWCSEA (Dover Campus) for the sponsorships provided for Alpha Age Group Badminton Championship held from 14 December till 19 December 2015. 

We have learned how badminton played a special part in the formative years of both Ms. Ong and Dr. Riady. Their generosity and strong conviction to give back to the badminton community clearly shows how badminton has left a positive and lasting impact on their lives. Likewise, they have hoped to be able to provide precious learning experiences to the younger generation. Competitive experiences are important contributory factors towards raising one's level of play and confidence on court. 

And we hear you! A new 19&Under category was opened to help cater to a bigger playing community this year. The tournament was also officiated by Mr. Eric See and his team of experienced umpires to ensure a fair playing experience for all players.

Schedules and fixtures were updated on a real time basis to ensure all players had a minimum of two day notice. We would like to thank our wonderful interns and coaches for helping the daily matches run smoothly with minimal delays!

Once again, this event would not have been a success without the generous support from each and everyone of you! Our vision is to continue to create a top notch platform for all competitors. 

Thank you and see you again in June 2016.

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Better Sleep, Better Performance

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Badminton is an easy game to many outsiders; just hitting the shuttlecock over the net and how difficult can this be?

In actual fact, badminton involves a multi-faceted approach within a restricted hitting zone. Your precision will be tested, your endurance will be stretched and your ability to think in the milliseconds will be counted upon.

Training makes perfect and nutrition keeps the body healthy and strong. But many forgot about a third element: adequate and quality sleep the night before a BIG GAME. 

Just take a look at NBA. Keke Lyles joined the Golden State Warriors as the team’s director of athletic performance in the summer of 2012. Lyles had Warriors veteran Andre Iguodala wear a Jawbone wristband to track his sleep, remove his TV from his bedroom, and store his cellphone in his bathroom at night time, all to improve his quality of sleep. The result? Andre Iguodala is the reigning MVP of NBA Finals 2015.

So good sleep plays a critical role for all players, because much of the growth and recovery process only occur during sleep. We may be constantly in and out of sleep, but many of our systems still run at full speed during this time.

How do we tune our bodies' internal sleeping clock then?

Few people can have the discipline to go to bed and rise exactly at the same time, even to the seconds, on a daily basis. But this is not strictly necessary. 

For now, focus on keeping your sleeping hours within a certain time frame for the most part and avoiding distractions (get your iPhone or iPad away now) at least 30 minutes before your scheduled bed time. Persistent swings over a longer period are detrimental to building up a good sleep routine.

A more regular bedtime and rising time promotes harmony in body functions. This in turn leads to the body knowing why systems at what time and in which direction must be activated. And you certainly want it activated during the crucial match-day time!

So what are you doing? GO TO BED :)

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An Open Letter To All Players, Parents and Teachers - Thank You

When one plays for the team, something magical happens.

Many people ask me how it feels to be a full-time coach, and many more question whether this is something that will continually fuel my passion.

It certainly feels different as I transit from a competitive player to a coach. The joy of training and the relief that comes from competing is the same. But as a coach, I do not have the opportunity to replace my players and do the serve, perform a smash or do anything on the badminton court. But the responsibility that I feel on the court is tremendous.

You want your players to do well, and you want them to succeed. And when it happens, you get to see all their joyous faces and you share the same pride as any parent will have. It’s an over-the-top feeling and it brings you incredible satisfaction, knowing that you have at least played a small part of it.

You do not get a chance to compete in your players' place on the court, but you have to do so much work off the court. Your mind is constantly churning and brainstorming about the next effective drill, getting the right practice atmosphere and motivating the players to greater heights. And when everything clicks, I’m just happy for everyone involved.

It's been such a blessing for me to play for some of the greatest coaches (Coach Hamid Khan, Coach Lau Wing Cheok, Coach Dicky, Coach Simon Koh, and Coach Izwan) in Singapore badminton history. I’ve learnt almost everything from them and they all played a part in shaping me into the coach I am today. Even more so, I have been blessed with such great coaching opportunity and support from school, and the unbelievable trust from all teaching staff.   

"...but what makes it so gratifying at the end is all the work that goes into it and the relief that comes with winning when all is set and done."

Because I felt it as a player, I knew about the highs and lows of the competition schedule as well. But what I forgot about is the long process of toughening out during practice and competition phase, anytime from two to twelve months of this constant grind.

You never ever feel liberated and free during this whole period, and when you lose, you feel like you're at the bottom of the pit and you’re up all night just thinking about everything. You think about all the possible adjustments you can make, talking to your fellow coaching staff, and getting your players going again after a tough loss.

After a while it just wears you out completely. My team and I are completely exhausted, but what makes it so gratifying at the end is all the work that goes into it and the relief that comes with winning when all is set and done.

The players may not realise this, but I still get really nervous even just watching them from the stands. And this is a feeling that I've been chasing to experience once again. I want to feel nervous, and I want to feel the fierce competitiveness of the game. Everything that comes with those stakes when you’re in it is the fear of failure and the ultimate fear of losing.

But the flipside is the feeling I have as I recall the past year - U12 Div I Girls Bronze, U14 Div I Boys Gold, U19 Div I Boys Gold, U19 Div II Boys Gold, U19 Div I Girls Bronze, U19 Div II Girls Gold, U19 SEASAC Boys Bronze, and U19 SEASAC Girls Silver. Every title and achievement still brings incredible satisfaction to my whole team.

"Because every coach just wants you guys to succeed."

As Father's Day approaches, let's not forget the incredible sacrifice that they have made to mould you into the person you are today. While my father is no expert in badminton, he is the one who taught me basic hand-eye coordination skills. He is the one who fetched me from places to places so that I could have training from the best coaches out there. He is the one who watched my performance in every match from a distance and gave his best support in any way possible. He remains strong when I am weak, and he is proud in both my wins and losses.

And there're my other "Fathers", also known as my coaches, who taught me the true skills in badminton. They taught me beyond the technicalities of the sport, and passed me true wisdom about life. More often than not, I have spent much more time with them than my biological father. And this is what I want to do for my players as well; to be there for them on court and also in life.

The reason is simple. Because every coach just wants you guys to succeed.

We've got your back.

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How To Become A Better Badminton Player In Just One Training Session

In the popular Movie/Book series titled "The Hunger Games", we observed something special about Katniss Everdeen that took place at the Training Center before the "games" begin. Her goal during those training sessions is to work on her weaknesses, and not to boast how strong a competitor she really is.

She specifically picks on stations where she can acquire new survival skills, rather than jumping on opportunities where she can show off her superior archery skills. As a result, other competitors (a.k.a tributes) do not find Katniss as much of a threat. But she doesn't pay much attention to other people's opinions. She knows that she can improve her survival skills and that doing so will help her.

But when the time comes for her private audition at the gym, Katniss' goals are different. They are not to learn, but to perform. She wants to show what she can do, so that the judges give her a high rating and gain her sponsors. She initially misses the target, but she quickly adjusts her technique, calms herself down and delivers to her usual standard.

So why do we have to work so hard in training? In those situations where the stakes are high, our main focus is switch from learning to performing as well as we can. Our long journey to improve ourselves over time is not only fulfilling, but also enables us to deliver during these performance situations when it truly matters.

In The Context Of Badminton
ACSIS results, individual ranking and seeding don't measure a player's potential, but what they have learned so far in training. Further focus sessions with the coaches and effective practice will only lead to further improvement.

Understand what is missing during those matches, and players must be reminded that they must not be afraid to take on such opportunities to practice their skills and to identify areas of improvement. We will continue to develop those skills even after the match is over.

Players must learn to look for opportunities to learn from the match. If something was troubling you during the match, you can capture your overall gameplay after the match so that you can later request for an evaluation session with the coach. An open discussion of how other teammates mange to solve that particular problem can help remind everyone that they weren't born with that skill, but acquired through consistent learning.

Reflect on how to better approach performance situations. Performance situations are going to play a big part in your competitive sports journey, and sometimes they can be critical events like a Finals Playoff or even Sudden Death situation. Are we effectively reflecting, identifying, and pursuing what we can learn from the match at all times?

We want to spend most of our time learning and improving, not showing off how good we are. That means that we want to be challenging ourselves to learn things we don't already know, which will involve struggle, mistakes and learning from those mistakes. That growth is fulfilling in and of itself, but it also better equips us to perform better in future matches and performances.

Ask Yourself
Many of our players only want to do drills that exemplify how great they are in certain strokes like smashing and netting. Do you always get a chance in executing only those specific strokes in a real-match environment? Badminton is a unique sport that demands players to make lightning quick decision and combine all kinds of techniques in a single rally to outwit and outplay your opponent.

Spend more time developing other components of your game. Keep trying to perfect your game until you are able to maintain an all-round performance on a consistent basis. And this will require you to have mastery of all strokes that exist in badminton. 

When All Else Fails, Always Fall Back to Learning

Katniss Everdeen is a great archer because she has spent years learning how to use the bow and arrow. Her need to hunt squirrels and birds to feed her family has led her to challenging situations, trying different techniques, and practicing them thoroughly in complex circumstances. When she encountered a new bow at the Training Center, she had to learn how to use it, just as she does when she encounters new situations at home. And when it came time to perform and use her skills at a high level, she was able to do so, to then continue her learning journey.

P.S. This post is inspired by an article written by Eduardo Briceno on "Growth Mindset and Testing: What We Can Learn From The Hunger Games"

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16 Reasons That Made UWCD's SEASAC 2015 A Successful One

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16 Reasons That Made UWCD's SEASAC 2015 A Successful One

Greetings,

It's been an intense, fruitful and magical SEASAC weekend. Against all odds, we've emerged 3rd for Boys and 2nd for Girls.

When we started the selection process in mid November 2014, my coaching team and I were amazed at the great enthusiasm from every participant. 

Amidst the strong competition, we had to make the tough call to cut the team down to a final 12 for both Boys and Girls during Pre-Season, and a final 8 for SEASAC.

As the Head Coach, I plan every training to be as challenging and at a high intensity, to bring out the very best in every individual. High Altitude Mask Training, One-Corner-To-Five-Corners-And-Repeat, and H.I.I.T are just some of the many names that will send the players into frantic mode. 

But I realised at the end of the day, these kids have been the ones training my whole coaching team to step up to be a better coach, mentor and role model. And here are 16 reasons why you should have every right to be the proudest parent and Phoenix supporter/alumni/affiliate.

  • Reason #1: Teng Li-Hern for bringing determination
    Being my Boys' captain, he told me this before he stepped up onto the courts, "Michael, I'm going to win this match, or I'm going to die trying in the court." He had previously met his opponent in the round robins and lost in straight sets. But undeterred, he went on to play one of his best games in the tournament against a tough opponent.
     
  • Reason #2: Tina Wang for being the team's rock and pillar
    This girl just refuses to crack no matter what kind of obstacles and adversities is laid before her. And for that, she's always there for every person in the team; feeding them with a huge picnic basket prior to every big tournament, lending them a listening ear, a broad shoulder to lean on whenever you are feeling down and many more. Her presence lights up the training hall instantaneously, and I can always count on her to deliver on any task or responsibility.
     
  • Reason #3: Matthew Booker for being the role model
    He brings the team together, he puts his leadership to work in every training, and he places the well-being of the team beyond everything else. He will always strive to be the first person in training, and even be the last person to leave so as to help the coaches out in cleaning and clearing up the entire hall. You will never fail to hear his positivity and encouragement through every tough training, and he always has a way to lift the person beside him to a higher level.
     
  • Reason #4: Julia Paing for her out-of-the-world work ethic
    First in, last out. And forever demanding for more training as she sets out to perfect her craft. She shows unbelievable tenacity at every training and competition, and she will never back down from any fight. She will always be the first person to complete any drill, and the last person to stop as she will carry on by doing the drill again and again with anyone else that is lacking behind in strength or motivation. 
     
  • Reason #5: Varun Rajesh for showing more heart than anyone else
    After being a set down in a 3rd/4th game against CDNIS and against an opponent he had previously lost to just a day before, I asked him, "How much do you really want that medal?" He straight out answered me that he wanted it and he wanted it badly. And for the ensuing two sets, he went on a path to prove to everyone that his desire in finishing as the victorious one would prove to be the single most important ingredient in his huge upset against CDNIS 3rd Singles. 
     
  • Reason #6: Trudy Glaser for always rising to the occasion
    "Coach Michael, can you please tell me what I need to do to beat that girl the next time?" If there's anyone who reproach oneself after every disappointing game, it will have to be Trudy as she always sets a high expectation for herself. A defeat doesn't stay long in her mind as she will grab the very next opportunity to turn it around! To fight through her ankle injury, to dive, to stretch, and to reach for every single return during the most important playoff tie against CDNIS, she went on to claim one of the most memorable victories of the tournament. 
     
  • Reason #7: Tommy Mak for bringing tenacity to every game
    If there's a SEASAC tournament highlight reel, you will find that Tommy will appear most frequently as he never gives up on any shots and has this uncanny ability to get impossible shots back. He places his body on the line for his games and he is also the one with the most "battle scars" from the numerous diving episodes on court. 
     
  • Reason #8: Christine Tan for always carrying a smile
    Be it in good or bad times, easy or tough training, straight forward or close game, she greets everything with her optimism and positivity. It makes the coaches' job an easy one as we can always count on her to be supportive and raise the doubles partner's badminton level. Her smile always sends out a strong indication that everything will turn out fine at the end of a game, and even if things don't turn up the way it should, she will be ready to fight another fight with the same enthusiasm and passion. 
     
  • Reason #9: Kevin Sun for carrying the load of expectations with ease
    Kevin's dedication and commitment to training allowed him to emerge as Phoenix's undisputed First Singles on his first year in the school. The team expected him to come out strong against all opponents despite him being one of the youngest in the squad. And he did just that with so much grace under pressure. Besides sweeping competition off at the Dragon's tournament, he was also awarded the title of Best First Singles Player in SEASAC 2015.  
     
  • Reason #10: Samiksha Kattera for doing everything necessary to get the job done
    Samiksha's performance in SEASAC 2015 has been nothing short of exceptional, especially so in the crucial playoff and finals match. At the end of a thrilling 3-setters against CDNIS, she had literally nothing left in her tank to even walk back to the resting point. She gives it her all in everything she does, and she pushes herself beyond all limits. There's no regret in all games that she has played in, as you know she has done her absolute best.
     
  • Reason #11: Rigel Ho for never backing down when the going gets tough
    "Tough times don't last, but tough men do." Rigel is a proud example of how that quote can apply to a person. There was once when the team went out for the Dragon's Tournament and he had to skip it due to his prior commitment to OPUS. When I challenged him to have a 3-hours training with me alone, he accepted it with such grit and certainty. He completed all the difficult drills and tasks that I handed down to him, and he was always ready and hungry for more.  
     
  • Reason #12: Taavishi Jindel for doing everything wholeheartedly
    Taavishi has a million and one things on her mind, but when training time strikes, you can trust her to put her heart and soul into everything. She subscribes 100% to the training plan, and we have all witnessed her growth in the game over a short period of time. She might look dead tired after a training session, but deep inside, the training and match intensity gave her the satisfaction that allowed her to temporarily escape from everything else and focus on achieving her badminton goals.
     
  • Reason #13: Shubham Anand for his fierce competitiveness
    After enduring through a tough ankle injury on the last day of Pre-Season, no one expected Shubham to be able to come back in time for SEASAC at the highest level he had once played. But he went against all odds and proved all doubters wrong. He puts in such fierce drive and resilience to his training and matches, and this allows him to be fearless in everything he does.
     
  • Reason #14: Adeline Lee for maintaining the curiosity in the game
    She has always been the one with the most eagerness to learn and improve. You can always find her staying back after every training session to ask the coaches on areas to improve, and seeking extra training whenever possible to improve her game. As such, her extensive thirst for badminton knowledge allows her to read the game better than any player out there and to be one step ahead of her opponents.
     
  • Reason #15: Ariq Rusli for being ready to fill the needs of the team whenever necessary
    Being placed as the Reserve player for the Boys' team, Ariq needed to wait patiently for his opportunity and be ready to perform when called upon. His improvement over the course of the badminton season is staggering, and his ability to adapt to both Singles and Doubles game makes him such a valuable asset in the team. When called upon to perform at the very highest level, Ariq displayed great strength to show his best game. His performance in SEASAC 2015 offers a glimpse of his huge potential to excel in years to come. 
     
  • Reason #16: Anjolie Arora for always putting the team above all else
    When it comes to training time, you can always find the urgency in Anjolie to run to the SSH/JSH, even sometimes in just her socks. She didn't have the required level of fitness at the very start, but she ensured that she could keep up with the top players at the end. She understood the value of team cohesiveness and group effort, and if she's not playing any official match, you could always spot her helping out with officiating, cheering and supporting her teammates that were out there. That's the level of self-sacrifice that you will always find in her incredible personality.

It's been a remarkable journey, and one that has been about going against all odds and expectations to get to the very top. 

We set out to build an excellent badminton program at UWCD, and a culture based on hard work and sacrifice. All these are made possible within a short time frame through every single one of your commitment and dedication.

Everyone played a meaningful part; parents allowing your children to train late into the night, players that fully subscribe into our training methodology, and a strong school support system to allow the very best training environment. 

Every story has an ending, and this story has turned out to be one of the most memorable ones for all of us. But in life, every ending marks a new beginning and I can't wait to embark on the next journey with you.

Let's turn our focus back to ACSIS, continue the talent development programme from U11 to U19, and get the elusive SEASAC Badminton Champions Banner back to UWCD in the near future. 

Thank you, and big cheers to the numerous milestones we've achieved together in 2015! Even bigger cheers to the many milestones-to-be :)

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UWCSEA Phoenix Badminton Team (Sept 2014 Update)

The new Phoenix Badminton season kicked off on 26 August at the Senior Sports Hall. Featuring trials of Under-12 and Under-14 for girls and boys, many of the aspiring badminton players pit against one another for a spot in the Phoenix Badminton Team. Check out our highlights of selected training/matches and stay tuned to Alpha Academy for updates on the on-going ACSIS competition!

Results so far:

  • UWCD U14 'B' Girls VS GIIS-Queenstown U14 Girls
    Lost 0 - 5
  • UWCD U14 'B' Girls VS NPS U14 'B' Girls
    Lost 1 - 4
  • UWCD U12 'A' Girls VS UWCE U12 'A' Girls
    Lost 1 - 4
  • UWCD U12 'B' Boys VS UWCE U12 'B' Boys
    Won 4 - 1
  • UWCD U12 'A' Boys VS NPS U12 'A' Boys
    Lost 1 - 4

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How Do I Enter Into Competition Mode?

Very often, my players have been asking me what's the best way to get into the competition mode as they have always struggled in the transition from training to competition. But a wise old man once told me, "Train like you are competing, Compete like you are training". Those words have stuck with me throughout my playing and coaching career.

Many players have found it difficult to transit as their training has not been adapted to properly simulate the intensity of a competition. Bright lighting, annoying air drifts, loud noises and coaches' shouting are just some of the many distractions in a badminton hall. As such, how is it possible for a player to play at his or her best during a tournament when he or she has not even prepared adequately for it?

As the competition phase draws nearer, training has to be conducted at a high intensity to ensure peak performances. Consistency of strokes brings comfort and confidence to the players, and being able to run a series of strokes allows players to add more firepower to their arsenal during competition day.

Here's a simulated matchplay training that I've done with my players. Enjoy and subscribe to our YouTube channel via http://www.youtube.com/user/AlphaAcademySG 

HOW: Feeder is playing a high forehand serve to the forehand corner. Player is returning with a drop shot, feeder nets and plays a straight lift after player returns with a net shot. Player then cross court smash and moves swiftly to return with a cross court lift. And the drill restarts again with the feeder lobbing to the rear court. 

WHY: Players need to get used to the different movements around the court and this drill allows players to move their opponents around all corners of the court with a specific purpose in setting up an opportunity for cross court smash. This is one of the many simulated match drills for adapting students to competition phase.

"Train like you are competing, Compete like you are training"

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