OA 2024 Issue 05


Felix Wright left the College last summer having spent five years at Dulwich. During that time, he has become one of the best badminton players for his age in the country. Most recently winning the men's singles title at the U19 National Championships. Trevor Llewelyn met with Felix at the end of the summer to talk about progress so far. ONE TO WATCH FELIX WRIGHT ENGLAND U19 SINGLES BADMINTON CHAMPION

My parents could see that I was enjoying the sport and that I had some talent worth investing in. Before long they were spending their weekends driving me all over the country for tournaments. One weekend it was Yorkshire, the next Bournemouth. They were and still are hugely supportive of me. When did you enter your first national tournament? I think my first major national tournament was the Under 15 English National Championships; I would have been 14 at the time. I honestly can’t remember feeling terribly nervous, which was probably because I was relatively unknown on the circuit and did not know what to expect. I made it all the way through to the quarter-finals. That was definitely a good result. Did that result affect your approach from then on? It certainly changed my mindset. From that point on I entered every tournament, regardless of the standard, expecting to at least make the quarters and looking at the semi-finals and final as realistic aims. Suddenly I knew how good I was and that drove me to train harder to improve. How has your ranking improved over the last four years? While I was an U15 player I was ranked in the top 20 or 30 for my age. Fortunately, I have steadily worked my way up the rankings since then. I won a bronze medal in the Under 17 English National Championships, and as an U18 I was consistently in the top five. Over the last year I have moved into the top two. As an U19 now, I am in the last year of the Junior category so next year will be categorised as a Senior. What does the next competitive level look like? I am currently a member of the Engage Group, which is part of Badminton England’s Junior Performance Pathway. This is a select squad of players who train together and represent England internationally. It is designed to provide the amount of support that players of my level need to keep pace with the best players both in Europe and in the rest of the world. It is also intended to make the transition to the Senior level as seamless as possible.

When did you start playing badminton? I have enjoyed sport ever since I can remember and at my preparatory school I was in most of the top teams, but badminton was completely unknown to me until I joined an after school club at the age of nine. When did you discover that you had a particular talent for badminton? The school had employed an external coach and he noticed that I picked up new skills quickly, which even at a very early stage translated into good technique and movement skills. How did you develop as a player after that introduction to the game? Quite soon after I joined the school club, the coach invited me down to his academy, Crossfire in East Dulwich, which had some very good players. Fairly quickly I was playing three or four times a week after school. I still played all my other sports but increasingly focused on badminton. Do you remember your first competitions? I think I was in Year 8 when I started competing in local tournaments. By this point I was a member of not just Crossfire but also the Wimbledon Racquets and Fitness Club, which I am still at today. I was soon selected to play for Surrey, which was the first step up the ladder. When did you realise that you could aspire to playing at a regional or even national level? My first coaches were very sensible and monitored my development carefully. They made sure I had a very good grounding in the basic skills that I would build on later in my career. Of course, I wanted to be the best straight away, but they quite rightly understood that talent had to be nurtured over time. I made good progress by playing opponents who were just that little bit better than me in tournaments that were known to attract decent players. I was certainly put outside my comfort zone, although not so much that I would be beaten easily and get disillusioned.

From a playing perspective I was very unlucky not to be picked last summer for the Junior World Badminton Championships in the USA, although I was the non-travelling reserve. How has the way you train evolved over the last few years? For the last maybe two years my coaches have made sure that I do not just spend time on court hitting a shuttlecock, although of course that is important. There is gym work too that needs to be done. I am lucky to have a coach who puts together a programme tailored to my individual needs. The schedule includes a mixture of different conditioning exercises, which work on both my strengths and weaknesses. I have a weights programme that is combined with plyometrics, which definitely helps me to be more dynamic on the court. Badminton relies on having a good range of movement and rapid changes in direction, so stretching is important too. I don’t just need strong muscles, I have to make sure my joints, tendons and ligaments are prepared for the stresses and strains of constantly changing direction. Now I am older and playing better opponents, rallies last longer, so I also need to have more endurance. What are your particular strengths on the badminton court? Right from the beginning I have been good in defence, which is important because it means that I can keep a rally going. I am also good at reading my opponents’ intentions and am able to respond with shots that hopefully send them the wrong way. What elements of your game are you particularly working on at the moment? I am trying to improve my footwork and to avoid being too predictable. If you play the same shot with the same movement every time, opponents soon begin to read what you are going to do. The key is to move the same way while playing a different shot. In the perfect game you outwit your opponent by playing the right shot at the right time. In theory, if you do this, you shouldn’t lose! The opposition trying to do exactly the same to you is what makes matches so exciting.

I am also looking to get rid of bad habits that have become engrained over the early years – some dating back to when I was nine! It can be difficult to get rid of them, but you have to accept that you need to rehearse new techniques in a competitive environment, even if doing so means that at first you lose points, even games, you know you should win. It strikes me that the mental side of the sport is very important too. Are you mentally resilient on the court? As I have got older I have definitely had to become more resilient. When I was a young player, rallies were often very short, and I got used to opponents not being able to return my shots. Nowadays I regularly meet players who are as good as or better than me and I have to be prepared that they may return what I was sure was a winner. When that happens, you have to learn patience and wait for an opening. It does not matter who you are, even the best in the world have to push all doubt to one side. It is never any harder when the match is close and you are at match point! How do you separate out life on and off the badminton court? I approach both my sport and my life in a similar way. Once I find something I want to improve, I am pretty single-minded about it. Working with a support team in badminton means that I have learned to trust those around me who have my best interests at heart. What are your main areas of focus at the moment? I am working on general discipline around the court. Anyone who plays badminton knows that you must hold your racquet up at all times. It makes you ready to play both offensively and defensively and it tells your opponent that you are ready for them. Sometimes I let the racquet head drop either because I have relaxed or because I have been lazy; either way, it lets an opponent take an advantage. Physically, I have been working on my mobility and flexibility. Once you reach a certain level, you are moved around the court more by your opponents. You are forced to stretch for shots in many directions

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