Life Lessons, From Coach Kim Ji Hyun

Wednesday, August 14, 2019
TEXT BY DEV SUKUMAR | BADMINTON PHOTO

Urging her player on.

“A coach is like a doctor,” says Kim Ji Hyun, who is currently in the midst of diagnosing problems and finding solutions for her high-profile ward, Pusarla V Sindhu.

The former Korea international and coach – who changed her name to Ji Hyun Marr, but is better known worldwide by her maiden name – is in the 20th year of her coaching and is a veteran of many a campaign. With the TOTAL BWF World Championships 2019 coming up, she has another challenge on her hands. As women’s singles coach with India, she is tasked with prepping Pusarla for Basel and beyond. With Pusarla having had a roller-coaster ride this season, Kim’s inputs will be vital.

“Sindhu’s powerful and has a good physique, but I feel she has to develop more skills,” says Kim, perhaps the most well-travelled international woman coach, having worked with BWF’s training academy in Saarbrucken, and the New Zealand and Korean national teams before arriving in India earlier this year.

“The way she plays, I feel it’s not smart enough. I mean, at the top level, you have to be smart. It has to be a combination, like your technique, and hitting and mentality. There are so many skills she has to work on, especially net skills and deception. Step by step. We’re working on skills, and changing tactics, as you can’t use the same tactics over and over again.”

As for the World Championships, Kim says, “If you play the same kind of game, you won’t have a chance.”

Kim praises Akane Yamaguchi – who was ruthless in her decimation of Pusarla in two matches this year – and Tai Tzu Ying as the players to watch at the Worlds.

Kim was previously with the Korean team.

“Yamaguchi, she’s so short, but she’s very smart, especially in how to recover on court. Tai Tzu Ying is one of the most beautiful players I’ve ever seen. So many skills, so many beautiful techniques. No one else has it. Also, she’s fit and very smart. I think she’s the most talented player, in my opinion.”

Kim was part of an eventful era in women’s singles, having played alongside names like Susi Susanti, Bang Soo Hyun, Camilla Martin, Gong Ruina and Gong Zhichao. While she concedes the current game has become faster, badminton in her time, she recalls, required greater fitness.

“If you were not fit enough, you die! I think the fitness required was even greater than today. Basically, you had to be prepared for two hours. It was all about drop, clear, good strokes.

“You lose, I lose,” says Kim, of the coach-player relationship.

“Those players – you nearly died playing them, I guess. They hardly made mistakes. It was crazy to play Susi, wow, how could she play like that – she used to play such long rallies, hardly made mistakes, long clears, drop shots. One-and-a-half hours, you’d be dead. In Indonesia, if you played half-an-hour, you’d be dead.

“There’s more variety now. Now the matches are shorter, but it’s more attacking. The game is faster. There are more styles now. If you start slow, no chance.”

Kim sees herself not just in the role of someone offering technical support, but as motivator and counsellor. “The no.1 factor is trust in each other. If you don’t trust each other, what’s the point? You have to believe in yourself, and you have to believe in your player. Always stay positive. No matter what, you have to create a positive (atmosphere) for your player.

“I devise some funny exercises, so it’s not the same things over and over again. I have to integrate more skills. I create more exercises that make the players think. Sometimes we have lunch or dinner together.”

With the World Championships around the corner, and Tokyo 2020 a year away, does she feel the pressure while sitting in her player’s corner?

“It depends on how she plays. As a player, if you lose, I lose. You win, I win. But you have to have something to look forward to (for) working on. A coach is like doctor. You play one tournament, you notice something, and then you get back and work on that.

“At the top level, you can’t say who’s good, who’s bad. It’s all about mental strength. Players fight for every point. You can’t give a chance. You have to be consistent every time in your performance, your mentality. Sindhu was down when I arrived. Now she’s coming up, but I want her to stay up. It’s not about teaching badminton, you’re teaching life skills, respect, attitude, loyalty, everything is connected.”