This week, junior players from the Cook Islands would have been making history as the first team to represent their country at the Barfoot & Thompson BWF World Junior Championships 2020. The event was originally set to take place in Auckland, New Zealand, from 28 September – 11 October 2020, but the event has been postponed until 11 – 24 January 2021.
The annual World Junior Championships fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, like many other sporting events, including the postponed AIMS Games and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
It came as a huge blow to the enthusiastic Cook Island players who have made significant progress since their participation in the VICTOR Oceania Championship 2019 and 2020 edition. Subsequently, they have been part of Badminton Oceania’s Tier 3 programme in the player development pathway which has included attending development camps in New Zealand and the AIMS Games Championships in 2019 – where they returned home with some medals.
Tier three aims to bring junior players from selected Pacific Island countries together into a performance training environment and build a progressive and positive training culture linked with tournament experience at a level above what is available in-country.
To combat these missed opportunities from 2020, the juniors were enrolled onto a physical testing programme with the support of a professional physical coach. The weekly sessions will span over six months, aiming to improve the various fitness elements involved with the complex sport of badminton.
“The Cook Islands responded well to the pandemic and the players were able to return to badminton faster than most of our other members. Therefore, we worked with Badminton Cook Islands to set up this initiative to maintain the players progress and keep them motivated“, says Badminton Oceania Development Manager, Robbie Thackham.
The physical coach is putting the players through the paces in regular strength training session in the gym. Additionally, the players are tested every eight weeks to measure their progress using some of the following tests:
- Yoyo Test: Participants run between markers placed 20 metres apart at increasing speeds until exhaustion. This is useful for badminton players to test and improve their aerobic endurance, which is essential for the long hours of training and rallies involved in the sport.
- Vertical Jump Test: Players jump straight up and reach with their hand to touch the highest point of a measuring device, in comparison to their standing reach height. This measures their progress in lower body power which is important in badminton for the fast recovery of deep lunges and excessive jumping.
- Horizontal jump test: Similarly, the horizontal jump is used to measure players progress with explosive leg power which allows players to manoeuver around the court quickly.
The players have only been participating in the sessions for approximately two months, with funding to participate in the intense training sessions for six months. However, the players have already started to show significant improvements.
In the YoYo tests, AIMS Games medalists from 2019, Tehani Matapo and Tereapii Akavi have already improved their results (from level 14.1 to 14.3) to surpass the average standard for Under-15 players. Similarly, their sixteen-year-old compatriot Eleanor Wichman has bettered her results by half a level to surpass the average standard for Under-19 players.
Moreover, Shane Pederson and Zarrian Heather-Rau have already improved on their first score by over one level – exceeding average scores for Under-19 players and the Oceania average.
You can follow more progress of the juniors on the Badminton Cook Islands Facebook page.