To say my coach and I are close would be an understatement. It was about one year ago today when I went to his house for the first time and sat with him and drank tea. Now I’m a regular fixture there eating lunch with his family once a week; His son slings his arm around me as we read books together (books for 6-year-old fits my Chinese level quite nicely), I watch his wife paint while we gossip, and his mom has just kinda accepted me like when a kind cat finds a stranded puppy on the street.
And obviously we have a good relationship. So much so there have been a few rumors about us. (All false of course.)
When I went to my school’s gym to play with the teachers the other night, he went with me. When I’m at my coaches gym, and he’s not there, people ask me where he is, like I should know. I go with him to his hometown, he’s tried to come with me to America. I invite him to hang out with my friends, he brings me along when he has errands to run.
At this point we’re a well-known duo à la Batman & Robin. He’s the cool one that everyone admires and asks for help and I’m the pipsqueak just trying to keep up and learn.
But with all that time together I guess getting mad at each other was inevitable. And our fight happened when I had a headache, and it was really hot and humid and I had hiccups for about 30 minutes of game play which was sooooooo annoying, so my mood was pretty crap.
There were four higher level male players all playing with themselves, so I played with another group with so-so people. I played lazy but still won most games. I didn’t really see my coach much as he was playing with the higher level people and then he taught class to kids.
So at 9pm, with my headache and my tired body I changed my shoes and told my coach bye.
“Don’t leave yet!” he said. “Wait a minute. We’ll play together and then I’ll drive you home.” I can never say no to him, so I put back on my badminton shoes and sat down to wait.
Seeing me sitting, one of the higher level guys asked me to play. So I played two games and played pretty okay.
Then my coach comes over and we start playing. I started off by saying I was tired and had a headache so, “don’t be mean to me today.” He agreed. But with every shot I missed or every shot I didn’t go for, he yelled my name, or tsked me.
“Don’t move!” he said at one point. “If you don’t move, I can get the shot. If you move then I stop so I don’t hit into you, but you are too slow to get it.”
“But it’s at the front of the net,” I said back. “That should be my shot to get.”
“Not necessarily,” he said. There was another shot to the back of the court, but on my side. I didn’t even try to get it and my coach yelled at me again. “That was yours!”
“MINE?!” I said back annoyed. “That was back of the court! That was yours!”
“Nope, it was yours,” he said all annoyed.
Then later, on a near identical shot, I went back and hit it. I did ugly footwork to get back there and hit it kinda above my head, instead of in front of me which would have more power.
“That was mine!” my coach yelled.
“Yours?! That was MINE. You told me last time!” I said really annoyed.
“Your footwork isn’t good enough to get it, so you should let me,” he said facing me.
“But if it’s mine I need to understand it is mine and try for it. Let me use my ugly footwork! I don’t know which is mine and which is yours and if you don’t let me try for ones that are mine, I’ll never understand.”
“But you’re too slow!”
“You confuse me too much! One time you say it’s mine, the next time you say it’s yours! Of course I have bad footwork because I don’t know where I’m supposed to go or what I’m supposed to do!”
“Because you’re too slow! You aren’t getting in the ready position,” he yelled back.
“My head is dizzy because you tell me too many different things!” I yelled. (That was kinda the most dramatic way I could think of saying that in Chinese.)
I should mention that everyone else had finished playing that night and were just hanging out, watching us.
“Go sit down,” he said really annoyed. “I’m gonna play two against one.” I threw off my badminton shoes and sat down in a huff on the side while he played an angry game where he actually almost won against two high level guys.
After his game one of our opponents came over and started telling me some advice, but I was in no mood to hear it. In addition to my headache and tiredness, I had been hanging out with a friend the past day and hadn’t spoken any English in a 24-hour period. So I was just done with understanding Chinese. I just kinda nodded at the guy wanting him to go away.
Then my coach comes over and we start yelling again about the same stuff. I was saying he was confusing me. “I’m not clear which is mine to get and which is yours. You need to let me try for ones that are mine, so I can learn.”
“But your footwork is too slow!” he’s yell back.
“My footwork will improve if I know what to go for!” I yelled back.
“But what is your shot and what is my shot isn’t certain,” he said back. “Stop, listen to me…”
“No, you stop and listen to me!” I said yelling over him.
“No! You stop. Listen to me!”
Yep, we got to that level of cattiness. We kept yelling at each other and then we jumped out to the court to reenact what happened in the game and how we could fix it. Me in my socks and him continually saying, “Stop. Listen to me.” There were two young guys just hitting it back and forth but we took no notice of them and kept yelling and standing right in the path of one of the guys because that’s where we stood when playing. We had 15 empty courts and chose the one with someone playing to work out our grievances. But I could see the two guys thought it was funny, as did everyone else still watching.
We went through it again and again and finally we went over to the computer to watch it. My coach has security cameras installed all over the gym and one of them is focused on the desk and the first court where we played. So we watched it again and again and he critiqued what I did and what I should have done and I showed him where I was hesitant and what I was thinking. It was funny because we could see where we started fighting too. We couldn’t hear anything, but our body language was clear enough.
By this time my anger was pretty much spent and what he was trying to teach me began to sunk in.
“It’s not based on who you are or where you are standing,” he told me. “It’s based on who can hit it and give their opponent more trouble. Even if you’re closer, but it’s past your shoulder a little, you can’t hit it with any power. But your partner can go to the back and hit it with more power. So it should be theirs, not yours. The same with the front of the net.”
“But I thought front of the net was always the woman player,” I said.
“Not necessarily. It depends on the partners level. If they are the same level then they take equal responsibility. If they are different levels then the one who is better needs to take more responsibility.”
“So how do I know which shot is mine and which is theirs?” I asked.
“You know based on level. If you are much better than you need to try to get every shot because you have a better chance to trouble your opponent. If you are lower, you only go for the ones you are confident you can get easily and hit back well.” He told me to basically forget “girl” and “guy” in mixed doubles and just play based on ability level.
“But, who else knows this?” I asked kinda annoyed because this was the first time I had ever heard of this.
“Everyone knows this!” he answered exasperated.
“I don’t think everyone knows this,” I said. “Guys always tell me to go to the front when I know I’m supposed to do more.”
“Because guys tend to be stronger so they can get better shots from the back of the court.”
“But I’m a strong girl. I do okay in the back of the court.”
“You do,” he said. “If you can get back there in time.”
We also had a small fight about my footwork because in training, and when I play half court singles, I do fine.
“Why can’t you do proper footwork when we play doubles?” he asked. I think this is one of his biggest frustrations because he trains me so hard, and I do it right, then I mess it up when we play together.
“Because in training, or half court singles, I know I need to get every single one so I can move with no hesitation. In doubles I’m not sure what I’m supposed to get and so my idea isn’t certain so my footwork hesitates and then I lose the rhythm.”
“You can do it in training, so I know you can do it in a game.”
“My biggest problem is footwork,” I said after analyzing the video of us playing for awhile. “But footwork comes from my ideas so my biggest problem is my ideas.”
“Yes,” he said nodding.
So we ended the night as friends and we chatted on the car ride home. I was telling hm all the work I had to do before the end of class next week and said I had 60 diaries I had to read from my writing class students. (They had to keep a weekly diary and give it to me at the end of the semester and now I have hours of reading in front of me.)
“I’ll help you!” he said laughing, knowing he couldn’t understand all the English.
“Noooo,” I said. “It’s a diary! I promised them I would keep it secret and not tell anyone.”
“That’s so American,” he said. “In China we don’t think our diaries are secret.”
“I live by myself, yet I still hide my diary. I would be so mad if anyone read it.”
“Are you gonna write in your diary tonight?” he asked me. “I know what your gonna say. ‘Today I was so mad at my coach!’ Right?”
“Of course!” I answered. “And don’t forget ‘My coach is so dumb.'”
So crisis over and we’re friends again. Before I was willing to listen to him about everything and not question anything because I knew I had no idea. Now I have some inkling of how to play, I don’t obey so easily and need to understand game play on a deeper level, which means pushing my coach to explain things in a way I will understand. I know ultimately he’s right, but I’m not willing to accept his blind criticism anymore and I’m not willing to keep my mouth shut anymore.