This week, junior players from the Cook Islands would have been making history as the first team to represent their country at the Barfoot & Thompson BWF World Junior Championships 2020.
The event was originally set to take place in Auckland, New Zealand, from 28 September 28 to October 11, but the event has been postponed until January 11 – 24, 2021.
The annual World Junior Championships fell victim to the Covid-19 pandemic, like many other sporting events, including the postponed AIMS Games and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
It came as a huge blow to the enthusiastic Cook Islands players who have made significant progress since their participation in the VICTOR Oceania Championship 2019 and 2020 edition. Subsequently, they have been part of Badminton Oceania’s Tier 3 programme in the player development pathway which has included attending development camps in New Zealand and the AIMS Games Championships in 2019 – where they returned home with some medals.
Tier three aims to bring junior players from selected Pacific Island countries together into a performance training environment and build a progressive and positive training culture linked with tournament experience at a level above what is available in-country.
To combat these missed opportunities from 2020, the juniors were enrolled onto a physical testing programme with the support of a professional physical coach. The weekly sessions will span over six months, aiming to improve the various fitness elements involved with the complex sport of badminton.
The physical coach is putting the players through the paces in regular strength training session in the gym. Additionally, the players are tested every eight weeks to measure their progress using some of the following tests:
• Yoyo Test
• Vertical Jump Test
• Horizontal jump test
The players have only been participating in the sessions for approximately two months, with funding to participate in the intense training sessions for six months. However, the players have already started to show significant improvements.
In the Yoyo tests, AIMS Games medalists from 2019, Tehani Matapo and Tereapii Akavi have already improved their results (from level 14.1 to 14.3) to surpass the average standard for Under-15 players. Similarly, their sixteen-year-old compatriot Eleanor Wichman has bettered her results by half a level to surpass the average standard for Under-19 players.
Moreover, Shane Pederson and Zarrian Heather-Rau have already improved on their first score by over one level – exceeding average scores for Under-19 players and the Oceania average.
You can follow more progress of the juniors on the Badminton Cook Islands Facebook page.