In the world of elite badminton, with players supported by entourages consisting of personal coach, physio, masseur and nutritionist, Beiwen Zhang is among the very few who travel and compete as independent players.
Without the resources to afford an entourage to accompany her through the year, Zhang has made the best of the situation; her current top 15 ranking a testament to her ability and determination in the face of numerous odds.
In her first tournament since March, at the DANISA Denmark Open in October, Zhang went down in the quarterfinals to Carolina Marin in a well-contested battle. It was a creditable performance for someone who had to coach juniors during the pandemic to keep the funds coming in.
How does she manage to remain in top-flight badminton without a travelling coach?
She acknowledges the usefulness of having a coach.
”A coach can help me in feeding (shuttles), motivating, and in skills. You can see, I’m so inconsistent.”
But at the same time, she says, it has to be someone who is the right fit.
“Like sometimes when a coach is behind you, they don’t really know how you feel. It’s hard for me to tell him, because I’m also thinking. If the coach and I think the same thing, that’s good, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Then do you listen to the coach, or do you listen to yourself?
“So sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes it’s not.
“I’m used to being without a coach. I’ve been by myself for seven-eight years.”
Interestingly, while Zhang herself is comfortable with the practice of not having a travelling coach, she has been coaching young players.
“Coaching teaches me a lot; mentally, it’s helping, but skill-wise, no,” she says. “The juniors have the same problems every day, you have to remind them all the time. Adult players know their problems, so you don’t need to remind them every day, every single shot.”
How did she train when the pandemic was raging?
“Every day I trained for only one hour and the gym was not open. Right now, some gyms are open, but we have to wear a mask. It’s not healthy (to train while wearing a mask), but I can do cardio outside. I’m used to adapting, because when I didn’t have many sponsors, I had to stay home and there was no place to train. I’m used to stopping badminton for three-four months, that’s OK for me. My type is — we’ll see!”
“I’m just wishing I can play with higher-level players, so I can get used to that speed and focus while training at that speed. If I get used to playing with slower players, mentally it’s not pushing my limit.
“Last year I was invited to Chinese Taipei to train and I got used to that speed. Sometimes my level is good, and some other times it’s bad. I just wish I can get consistent training.”