It’s the World Junior Championships in Indonesia this month and thinking about it has brought back great memories of our time treading the boards at that level. Unbelievably it’s ten years since Gabby and I played there together and won a silver medal. I remember it vividly. It was our second World Championships and at the time winning the medal was the biggest moment of our young careers. I’ll gloss over the fact that we let a gold-medal match point slip through our fingers, but as that’s weirdly still pretty raw, the less said about that, the better! I will say though that no one has ever won the mixed final at the Junior World Championships and gone on to win the senior world title. It’s happened in singles and doubles but never mixed, so maybe it was a good thing that we never won.
For juniors, this is the one you want to do really well at, and the nerves and the excitement are everything that we still wrestle with as seniors. It’s the first time you get to see the large contingent of Asian players, and pit yourself against some of the best emerging talent. The 2007 World Champs was our very last event in juniors and so it was a great way to finish our careers and a massive highlight.
We’re often asked about how we came to the decision to go full time, or how we made the transition from good juniors to successful seniors. There’s no major secret. First and foremost, you’ve got to love the sport. We always had our hearts set on making it, and only through having that kind of motivation can you really apply yourself in the way that you need to in order to make it to the top. Secondly, you’ve got to be prepared to work hard, but harder than you could have ever imagined. We’ve always been earlier than everyone else in to training, we train at weekends when other people choose not to. We’ve relentlessly tracked and observed the top players, even when we’ve been knocked out of the tournament through watching videos or watching Youtube to analyse what they did well. We’ve always been very astute with our diets and made sure we had early nights. The number of boozy nights we’ve had is minimal as we know that every day we have to wake up and be in the best possible shape to tackle training or matches. And yet, we absolutely love it.
From day one you have to be willing to pour every inch of your life into this badminton bubble. We have this incredible opportunity to have an amazing career, and we want to grab it with both hands and be the best that we can be. Who knows how good we’ll be, but we will make damn sure that when we look back on everything, that we’ll be able to say that we did everything and more to reach the top. There simply are no shortcuts, and that’s something that stays with you the whole time as a senior player.
We make a point of regularly speaking to the up and coming Brits about the realities of life on tour. Graduating to seniors is a shock to the system and you have to claw your way up, prove your worth, and appreciate that it’s this constant evolution of learning.
Moving to Milton Keynes when we did at age 18 and 16 was the best decision we ever made. It was the final piece of the puzzle and we have our parents to thanks for fully supporting our dreams. Having their backing has absolutely meant the world to us, and without doubt, has played a massive part in helping us to get where we are now. It was them who ferried us all round the country for tournaments, and sacrificed so much of their own time and money, not forgetting of course the endless nights they spent waiting for us at training sessions. We know they are our biggest supporters, and the best way that we can repay those monumental levels kindness and commitment is to keep working hard, and to keep winning.
Our advice to all the juniors competing at the World Juniors, and indeed for all those young players who are considering their options now that juniors has come to an end, is to work hard, be patient, and absorb as much information from as many sources as you can. There are so many brilliant people out there….watch them, listen to them and learn from them, and you won’t go far wrong. World Juniors seems like such a big deal at the time, but practically it’s far more important that you use the experience to develop as a player and as a person, rather than focussing solely on the results.
Best of luck to all the Brits competing at the World Juniors. Enjoy it!