In this four-part series, we look at the story of Dong Jiong and how this Olympic silver medallist started out on his path of making a difference to disabled and hearing-impaired players in China.
Looking at the World from their Perspective
Making the transition to Para badminton coach was not easy for Dong Jiong.
With his hearing-impaired players displaying similar physical abilities to able-bodied athletes, he would often forget to alter some of his expressions.
When training the team, he would habitually shout out to the players at the side of the court only to later realise that those players could not hear him.
Taking a leaf from basketball, he started to write his instructions on a big whiteboard. Even a simple sandbox with hand markings was used to implement tactics more efficiently.
Such unique teaching methods gained instant effect and the players were able to master the tactics quickly and implement them in the matches smoothly.
“The players admired me a lot – the fact that I was trying to find the feeling in the new role. When they learned something new and achieved results on the court, they were particularly excited,” said Dong Jiong.
“For me, this was just the beginning of my return to the badminton court.”
Due to his success leading the hearing-impaired players, the China Disabled Persons’ Federation then invited him to work as head coach of the Para badminton team.
A whole new challenge presented itself.
Because there are six different classifications in Para badminton across the wheelchair and standing categories, the teaching methods he mastered in coaching the deaf players could not easily be transferred. Simply figuring out the most basic information on each classification took Dong Jiong a lot of time.
One day though, the China Disabled Persons’ Federation invited the Para badminton team to Dong Jiong’s gym in Beijing.
While the athletes were so excited to meet an Olympic silver medallist, Dong Jiong struggled to understand the limitations of each of the classifications and comprehend why some players could never get to a particular shuttle.
He asked them to each talk about their level of play to strengthen his concept of the required techniques. However, as is in most cases in life, sometimes you just need to place yourself in that situation to fully appreciate what is required.
So, after training one day, once all the players had left, Dong Jiong stood alone in the hall and decided to experience what it was like playing in a wheelchair himself.
He strapped himself in and followed the movements of the wheelchair to explore some of the regular patterns of an athlete. He then tried to imagine the various shots a player could use and how those hitting techniques were affected.
After numerous attempts, Dong Jiong finally understood that when a player was in a wheelchair, they would always be at a relatively low angle and could not handle the shuttle in the same way as if he or she were standing.
He deduced that the more you smashed, the more likely it was that you would create opportunities for your opponents. Only by combining drop shots and drives could you take the initiative.
Thus, in his hours of thought and contemplation, Dong Jiong came up with some new ideas about playing in a wheelchair.
“It may seem obvious to think like this now but it was easier said than done to establish that difference,” said Dong Jiong with a smile.
“You can only sit down and experience it yourself to know how flexible they are and how they can use their skills and tactics in motion with the speed of the wheelchair.”
With this big learning curve now established, Dong Jiong permanently took the reins of the squad.
His first assignment at the Asian Para Games in Guangzhou in 2010, ushered in an era of great success for the Chinese Para badminton team.
** This story was originally published on Chinese platform Tencent and translated into English with the permission of the author Zhang Nan.