‘There are going to be bumps in the road’

Dev S Sukumar. Birmingham

There has been a buzz around KENNETH JONASSEN accepting Badminton England’s offer of chief coach. The former top-ten Dane, who retired in 2008 and has been coaching since then, is highly regarded in the circuit. Suddenly, everything has changed — the offer is a demonstration of Badminton England’s seriousness about propping up its flagging international fortunes, especially in the singles. India will need to be wary about the English team at the Commonwealth Games.
Nobody has any illusions about the kind of impact Jonassen can have. Still in his mid-thirties, he is known as a tough and astute coach, a hands-on guy who will tolerate no nonsense from players. Moreover, as a top-ten player himself, he brings his experience of contemporary badminton to practice sessions. On the sidelines of the recently-concluded All England, Jonassen talks about his vision for the England squad:

What is it about Denmark that has produced so many top singles players?
It’s about everyday practice. Denmark’s singles players want more than just to be No.1 in Denmark, they want to be No.1 in the world. Our goal is not to be satisfied with our current level. While playing with (world No.3) Peter Gade… we understand that we have to give our best each day. That’s how we think about it in Denmark. I’ve no idea how the English system works, but in Denmark there is a healthy rivalry going on.
With one player it’s difficult. With a group, you keep pushing the limits… when they think they’ve reached their limits, I need to push them more. And there’s something called quality in practice, in intensity. We have Asian players coming and we have an exercise for only two minutes; they’re used to doing it for 5 or 10 minutes, but after two minutes in our environment they’re very tired. So ours is short training, and quality rather than quantity.

Did you take up the England offer because you achieved all you could as coach of Denmark?
I don’t think I achieved all I wanted. I was thinking of it as a personal experience, I needed to try something else. I always knew I needed to distance myself from Danish players, and then I got this offer. And to do something on my own.

What will you demand from English players and the set-up?
Obviously, from the players, it’s commitment. They have to be ready for some changes. I don’t know how they practice… for me it’s just about commitment, about the willingness to change, to try something new. It’s about belief in themselves, that they can reach a higher level. If they’re satisfied already just being No.1 in England, then we need to challenge them on that point. They need to want to reach quarters, semis, and win medals at big tournaments.

What kind of approach will you bring to the training?
In the men’s singles, I believe some of them can be in the top ten, they have the same skills as Danish players. I know I’m old now, but I still will be on court with them, because I can do that in Denmark as well. I still have the level. I bring a certain intensity on court as well, so I can step up and press them and show them: this is the level we have to reach, and even go further. I don’t want them to reach the same level as me; they have to go higher.
I’m very personal when I coach. I want to know how their mind works. If they’re nervous, they have to let me know. I can’t help them if they don’t tell me. We need to be straightforward. It’s a strength to tell your coach, that you’re nervous right now. That’s the relationship I have with my players. They believe I can respect they get nervous and help them in that fashion, instead of getting nervous and not doing half the things they are used to doing.

Can you adapt to the training culture in England?
I don’t know. First, I’m going to have a talk with the coaches that work with the players. I’m straightforward. When the players are doing something stupid, I’ll tell them, and they can disagree or agree. It doesn’t matter. Of course there are going to be bumps on the road. We can’t be polite, and that’s okay with me.

The advantage with Denmark is that you have a strong league there that throws up talent. Do you have a similar long-term vision for England?
I’m not thinking of the league. That has been a strength in Denmark, bringing foreign players to raise our level. But nowadays, with so many tournaments, playing in a league puts a lot of strain on the players. In some ways it’s good, but… it’s difficult to get the right programme going.
I think cutting down on tournaments is important; you need to be ready to compete when you go out.

Are you looking at the Commonwealth as your first big test?
It’s difficult to say how soon we’ll look at results… we’ll see.. there is the World Championships this year, and then the Commonwealth.


About badmintonmania

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the Indian in Thoreau's Walden who makes cane baskets and is surprised nobody wants them. A. was talking about discipline when she said: "But Dev, if you want to move ahead in life, you'll have to be like that," and she may as well have defined everything else for me. I've played the low percentage game for too long to believe there's anything in it but the romance; the odds keep getting jacked up higher and higher; and you may be a good Idealist but a worse Fool.
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