Scotland's under-13 badminton team coach has been to see the Olympic champions and picked up some training pointers for his young hopefuls, Roddy Mackenzie reports
As Scottish badminton looks to net players from an increasingly younger age group, there is likely to be a Korean influence on the development of our most talented players.
Tom Courtney, coach to Scotland's under-13 squad which is now meeting weekly at Kirkliston, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, has just returned from a 15-day trip to Korea, funded by Glasgow District Council and the Scottish Sports Institute, to study how the world and Olympic champions develop their young players.
Mr Courtney, who has coached at every level in Scotland, including the full Scottish international team, spent time in Seoul and Cheju Island. He says:
"More than anything, I was impressed with the attitude of the children over there. They are so respectful towards adults and they have a different approach from those here.
"At the training halls I went to for the Korean junior squad, the temperature was - 12C but I did not hear any of the children complain and they were aged 9-12. I think it would be different here.
"There is a respect for authority and I didn't see any sign of graffiti. The children were so well mannered and it spills over to their badminton.
"Their way of showing respect for an opponent on court is to play as if they were playing against the Olympic champion. They have the view that you should whip an opponent 15-0 15-0, as it shows more respect for them than fooling around on court if you know you are a better player."
Mr Courtney admits it will be difficult changing the thinking of Scottish schoolchildren.
"The under-13 squad I have is the best I've ever worked with and the enthusiasm of the players rubs off on the coaches," he says. "They are well mannered at this age. I think the more difficult time is when youngsters get to 15 or 16.
"But if you're talking about changing the culture, then it needs to begin in the home.
"There are some really talented young players in Scotland and the structures that have recently been put in place mean that we have national squads at under-13 and under-15 level.
"In Korea, they have a junior squad aged 13-18 and all the players get the same work at 13 or 18."
Gillian Martin, a former Scottish champion and now the Scottish Badminton Union's director of coaching, believes there is no shortage of talent coming through and a growing number of opportunities. Having a national squa at under-13 level is a relatively new development but it gives players access to top-level coaching at an early age.
"It is the second year we have had the under-13 squad training and there are eight boys and eight girls in it," says Miss Martin. "We also have a squad of eight players at this age-group training in Dundee on a regular basis and a cell of four in Inverness.
"Obviously, at that age players develop at different rates and some of those players may not be the best in the older age groups.
"But we also have 16 players training regularly at under-15 level, which is the next stepping-stone for these young players."
The SBU's strategy of running badminton festivals to attract youngsters has been an outstanding success, with 800 pupils going through coaching sessions at last year's European Championships in Glasgow. Another festival is planned for February 27-28 at Airdrie sports centre, prompted by an approach from Neil Brownlie, school sport co-ordinator for Columba High in Coatbridge.
"There was a lot of good coaching around when I first took up the game," continues Miss Martin, "and there is still a high standard of coaching available. But we are always looking to increase the number of qualified coaches and we need as many young ones coming through as possible.
"I think there are more opportunities for young players than in the past and we're sending more players to tournaments in England.
"We're revamping our coach education programme and have had productive meetings with England and Wales on this. We are looking at what is done in other countries, including Denmark, which has been so successful at producing good young players.
"We have a lot of good players coming through, such as Debbie Bradley and Grant McDonald (both Calderhead High) and we have a promising under-12 player in Linda Sloan (High School of Glasgow)."
One development that will assist young players is the opening of area Scottish Institutes in March, which will tap into the national institute. This will give them the most up-to-date information on physical conditioning and sports science as well as improving badminton technique. There will be six places open to badminton in the east institute, based at Heriot-Watt Univer-sity, and nine in the west, set up at the Palace of Arts on Glasgow Green.
Scotland's schools' team finished second to England at last month's Under-17 Home Countries Quadrangular and its squad for the Under-15 Eight Nations event is playing in Wales this weekend (February 22-25).