Peter Gade: A coach beyond reproach

"I don’t have any regrets. I gave my best in all my matches," says the former World No. 1 and All-England champion.

After a fairly successful stint as a badminton player, Peter Gade has become a good coach.   -  M. Vedhan

Peter Gade was known for his sound technique. And his effortless footwork on a badminton court was a spectator’s delight. The All-England Open champion and the former World No. 1 brought all the commitment and skills that made him one of the most successful badminton players in the world to the coaching camp he held in Chennai in November.

The 20-day camp that the 42-year-old Dane conducted for players aged between 12 and 17 at the FireBall Academy gave ample evidence of how much Gade — the winner of 22 World Tour titles, five European singles championships and five world championship singles medals (silver in 2001 and bronze in 1999, ’05, ’10 & ’11) — loves the sport and how much he wants to nurture the younger generation.

“He is really great as a coach. I learnt a lot about footwork,” said a 12-year-old girl who had come from Bengaluru.

Ramesh Packirisamy, who had arranged the camp in Chennai, was amazed by Peter’s work ethic. “Peter talks very little. He wants to spend as much quality time with the kids and brooks no interference from anyone. Peter wants to make use of each and every minute of the camp. Such is his commitment,” he said.

After winning the title in the world badminton championship in August, P. V. Sindhu hasn’t done well in subsequent tournaments. Any reasons?

Talking about Sindhu is not really my business. At the same time, it is only natural that after winning a big title it takes time to settle a bit and new goals need to come up. I am sure that with the competitive nature that Sindhu has, she will come back soon.

How promising is the 18-year-old Lakshya Sen?

Three years back, Lakshya was training with the French national team. Feels nice to see him, a very talented player, taking more steps towards becoming a world-class player.

After Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, there is a huge gap in standards in the Indian women’s ranks in the international arena...

It is a combination of different factors. A lot of coaches are working hard to bring out the next Sindhu/Saina. With the (huge) amount of interest in India, I think female players will emerge. Hopefully, they will attain the same level as Saina and Sindhu. (But) that is not easy. It is a huge challenge.

Gade at work in a coaching camp in Chennai recently. “You can see that there is a lot of interest and passion for the sport,” he says.   -  K. Pichumani

 

Your views on the Indian badminton scene...

Overall, the gains of Indian badminton are huge. You can see that there is a lot of interest and passion for the sport. This is only the beginning. We will see, hopefully, more Indian players reaching the top. Now they have many players in men’s singles. May be one or two will break through and go to the top 10 and stay there. I am sure the potential is there. Lakshya is more for the future, may be. This Olympics will be too soon. I am sure he will be one of the players to look out for. There is a big group of men’s singles (players) in India. May be one or two will emerge and take the next step.

Why did you choose Chennai for the camp?

There isn’t any special reason. This was a process. During the past year, I got many enquires to do a camp in India. When Ramesh (Packirisamy) contacted me, I made it clear what kind of demands I had. He has been following them. I am only happy to bring badminton to new parts of India. In Hyderabad, there is a lot of interest and in Delhi and Mumbai, too. It is very interesting and a challenge, too.

Will your visit to India be a one-off? What is the feedback from your camp?

This is the first project I would like to evaluate. But (so far) there have been lots of positive reactions from my coaches and players. It is a big change from the daily practice (the players are used to). They have taken up the challenge. They would have to get used to our way of doing things.

It is a step-by-step method. It doesn’t mean what they (players) have done with their own coaches in India is wrong. It (my coaching) may be a bit different. They have to take the best of both sides and understand the game and try to understand the different perspectives that the coaches provide them (players).

How have coaching styles evolved over the years?

There are different ways of looking at it. If you look at coaching on-court it has changed a lot because coaches are hugely involved in the game (now). There are many breaks during matches where the coaches can be very active. Coaches mean a lot today. In our time, coaches meant less, they had less impact. For everyday practice, I think coaches are very, very important. It is a big part of interaction, how to develop and push players to their limits. For that you need to use each other. So many coaches have been putting in a big part of their life. It is a huge commitment from both coaches and players. I admire them (coaches).

Did you start the Peter Gade coaching academy after you quit playing?

While I was still playing, I had started talent projects in Copenhagen. It was natural for me to pass on my knowledge especially to young players. I like to do it. I also love to continue with different projects so that we have the next generation coming.

What would your signature coaching style be?

I have a honest way of coaching. I try to create a safe environment around my players, meaning I support them. But also meaning that I put a high demand on my players and they know it from every single practice session. I want them to set the bar high in the technical, mental, physical and tactical areas. It is my job to push them. It is my job to look at the small details. I know if the base is not strong they are going to limit themselves. I try to develop space with an individual perspective. I look at each player and see what kind of personality he/she has. Each player is different. We need to promote the individual feeling, while at the same time building a strong base.

Any coaching ambitions?

I don’t need to be the Denmark national team coach. I don’t want to travel as much as I did before. I love to work with young players who are trying to understand the game from an early age. I’d like to pass on my experience, meaning that there is not just one way to do things. The base you need to build around a player needs to be very, very strong. If you want to be one of the best players in the world you need to have a strong base looking at all parts of badminton: the mental, technical, physical and tactical parts. It is all about living a badminton life. It is a lifestyle, not a hobby.

Can you recall your stint with the French national badminton team (from May 2015 to’18) as its High Performance Director?

It was a personal challenge for me. It was challenging to work with a different culture. It (France) does not have a badminton culture like Denmark, Malaysia, China or India. France is a new badminton country. I tried to make an impact. They (French Badminton Association) hadn’t defined the culture yet. I tried to help them do that. You have to ask them whether I succeeded or not. I am quite happy. In France I looked at things differently. I learnt a lot.

Like France was an experiment for you, are you looking at similar adventures?

I did my travelling. I also now have time to be at home with my daughters, aged 11 and 15 years. I want to work with players who want to be as good as possible. That’s why I started the Peter Gade Academy (in Copenhagen). This is also a sort of experiment. That’s what I feel with badminton. I have tried so many things. When I came back from France (2018), I started my academy in Copenhagen. I want to bring new perspectives to the game, work with players in different ways. Being a National coach there (in Denmark), there are lots of things you have to consider. There might be political demands. With my academy, I can work with players exactly the way I want. That’s a big part of why I did this.

Gade with the All-England trophy in 1999. “All-England is a huge thing in Denmark. We have so much tradition for All-England and to do that at an early age was amazing for me,” is Gade’s remark.   -  Getty Images

 

It’s a been a long 17 years on the senior circuit. How has your journey been?

It is a very long period. When I look back, everything looks like two different lives. I am happy and proud to have competed at the highest level. I feel very humbled and very proud to be part of a legacy with Lin Dan, Lee Chong Wei, Taufiq Hidayat and a lot of other players like Gopi Chand. So there were many battles that were fought. I learnt a lot from them and that’s what I want to pass on to the next generation.

How was it winning your first big title — the 1999 All- England Open...

It was quite soon!!! Jokes part, it came at the right time. I got my name in the history books. All-England is a huge thing in Denmark. We have so much tradition for All-England and to do that at an early age was amazing for me. It gave me an amazing opportunity to try and make my impact on the sport and I think I did it.

How was it working with the legendary Morten Frost?

Morten played a big part during my progress from a junior player to a senior player to making the national team. I have a lot of respect for him. His view of the game was very honest. He looked at the big aspects of the game. He also looked at the basics. In some ways, we share the same vision. It was great to have big discussions with him. I challenged him, he challenged me. He tried to make my game more complete. And he did. I am happy for that.

You are one of the most successful European players in Asia, winning 13 titles in the region.

In the beginning of my career, my idols were Asian players Hariyanto Arbi (1995 world singles champion) and Yang Yang (Olympic champion and two-time world champion). I wanted to play like these guys. I wanted to play as aggressive as these guys. Going to Malaysia and Indonesia was a great challenge. The spectators were different, the conditions were different from Europe. For me it was a great challenge to say ‘Hey, I can handle this.’ That was a big inspiration for me. And also a big part of why I played really well in Asia.

You did play in the India Open in 2011. How was that?

That was during the last part of my career when India started to emerge as a big power again. India is not influenced by the West so much. I like that. India has its own way of doing things. It has a long tradition in many, many ways. How to live and approach life. I think you feel it when you arrive in India. I always felt very welcome.

People (here) appreciate the culture and tradition of badminton. I can only hope more great players will come from India in the future.

How was it playing against Gopi Chand in the semifinals of the 2001 All-England Open? You lost to him and Gopi went on to win the All-England title then.

I had some interesting matches with him. I really felt good playing with him. Still I have a lot of respect for him for the way he approached the game.

Have you been in touch with Gopi Chand in recent times?

No. I have not spoken to Gopi Chand. He has produced very good results with his players. I want to congratulate him. Indian badminton owes him a lot of credit, together with other coaches, for bringing India back to the world class level in the last 10 years. We are only seeing the beginning.

From 1998 to 2001 you were World No.1. What does it take to get and be there?

It is a very tough job to be at the top. Every time you enter a tournament, you have to win. It was like that for me because I was only 21 years old when I was World No.1. Every time I entered the court there was a lot of pressure. I wanted to win titles regularly. It is something at the highest level that you have to like.