The Thomas & Uber Cup was billed as the saving grace of badminton this year but eventually succumbed to the continuous threat of COVID-19 as the Badminton World Federation (BWF) postponed it to next year.
So, what's next for our national shuttlers? The delay of the team event in Denmark means the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) are left with a competitive gap to fill until the end of the year.
Next up could be at our neighbours Thailand, who are understood to be keen on hosting the Asian leg of tournaments on the Word Tour. It is a grand plan if it materialises, as there could be up to three events including the World Tour finals that could happen.
But with Indonesia, South Korea and Chinese Taipei pulling out of the Thomas & Uber Cup, the sentiment is that they and others are likely to prioritise safety over travel to any country, no matter how short the distance.
So, if the Asian leg does not happen, what do the BAM do? Having daily training sessions won’t cut it, neither would continuously having internal tournaments.
Shuttlers like Lee Zii Jia genuinely feels the internal affairs doesn’t have much of a competitive edge, while others have gone as far as to say they do not feel any pressure competing in these tournaments. No pressure means not pushing themselves.
They can hardly be blamed, though. This mundane routine is bound to get to anyone, let alone shuttlers who have spent the most parts of the year travelling and competing on the World Tour. But this gap could be an opportunity for the national body to focus on the mental strength of their players.
If we rewind back to earlier this year, Malaysia could have had two big titles in the bag with more composure in crucial stages. In the Asia Team Championships final against Indonesia in Manila, Lee held the match point in the first game against Anthony Ginting, but ended up losing 20-22, 16-21.
After that, men’s doubles pair Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik were also in a similar situation in their encounter versus Marcus Gideon-Kevin Sanjaya but lost 20-22, 16-21.
In the All-England Championships, Lee was two points away from the final before losing controversially to Viktor Axelsen 21-17, 13-21, 19-21.
All fine margins, but imagine if the tables had been turned with more mental confidence. Perhaps our shuttlers can revisit these moments, with a sports psychologist beside them, to dissect what went wrong. They can be advised, be given options on how to handle pressure cooker situations.
As of now, they do have all the time in the world. No rushing for travel, or preparing for tournaments. Our shuttlers could also take their own initiative and read books on mental training, which like physical training, requires constant practice and repetition to get better.
The onus doesn’t just fall on BAM and the shuttlers, as this is also where supporting bodies like the National Sports Council and National Sports Institute can play their part through their expertise.
The 4C's of mental toughness in sports can be derived from confidence, control, commitment and challenge, so the big question is: do our shuttlers have it all?