Winning medals and confidence – with Will Schram and Mike Ra – Episode 10

George Brown College badminton head coach shows that medals come when you practice hard and believe in yourself

On this episode of The Dialog’s podcast, Huskies’ badminton head coach William Schram talks about his journey from playing badminton to coaching and what he expects from his athletes. He also points the importance of pushing people into a self-confident mindset, and tels how this mentality changed the game of one of his athletes, Mike Ra.

Luiz Felipe Lamussi: Hello and welcome to The Dialog’s podcast! My name is Luiz Felipe Lamussi, awarded best FIFA player 2013/2014 by my mom and your host for this season! And today I had a great conversation with George Brown College badminton head coach Will Schram about his career here and how sometimes sports are less about winning medals and more about pushing people to believe in themselves.

Okay Will, thanks for coming by today. And I need to be honest with you. I played badminton once, but it’s a totally different game, a totally different sport, so what was, what made you like this sport and what made you continue playing and then start coaching and what do you like about it?

Schram: Well, so, I played, I played quite a few sports when I was younger, like, baseball, badminton would be two of my best and I played both of them provincially and then I ended up playing badminton nationally. Basically, I asked myself a question when I was about 13 or 14, which one was harder and badminton and badminton was much harder. And then I was going to college. I was actually going to Humber college at the time. I was going to Humber and my old coach Keith Arthur asked me if I was looking for a part-time job and he offered me a position to just spar against his top players at the time. Very quickly I was, you know, working 20 hours a week and then traveling nationally with a group of athletes who were playing nationally and did that for about four or five years and just never really stopped.

Lamussi: How was this transition for being a player to becoming a coach? You were saying you were just sparring for the time.

Schram: I don’t know. I didn’t have a lot of coaching experience. I worked a little bit with younger kids when I was younger. It was more like giving back, something everyone did at the Boulevard Club growing up. But, for me, I think it was quite natural going from being a player to a coach because I’m more of a players’ coach, you know, I understand. I played at a pretty good level so I understand what it’s like to be a player. So, being inside their head, like, I understand what they’re thinking and, so, for me, I think it was just a natural transition.

Lamussi: And you are coaching a team. But badminton is a single player, it can be in doubles, too, but how it is… I’m asking that because I was doing some research before our interview and I read an interesting quote that you said that “gold would be nice but just the fact that they were all able to all get medals means more to the team than just one person getting gold and one person not getting a medal.” So, how is it to coach a team, work as a team in an individual game?

Schram: Basically coaching an individual sport, so, in badminton you have singles, you have doubles, which is two males or two females, then you have mixed doubles, right, so they’re totally different strategically. So, basically, you just, you just completely break it down so they’re completely separate entities, separate sports, essentially. A doubles player is very different from a singles player.

Lamussi: How do you do that?

Schram: I don’t know. So for me, I was a singles player, right. Singles was my best game growing up. The best way to differentiate it is, basically, when you are playing by yourself you are playing for yourself all the time so your shots don’t, you don’t have to worry about your partner at all. All you have to worry about is yourself and your opponent. In doubles, you have to work with your partner. You have to be one. So, if you play as a doubles team and you play as one, always moving together, flowing together, you are essentially one, right? The common goal is to win the rally, to set each other up. So, it’s not like you’re separate. You are still one team.”

Lamussi: Do you think you translate that to your whole team, like being one is more important to everybody winning a medal than just one winning a gold medal?

Schram: Playing together. Exactly. Yeah, we would have loved to have won gold. Ace came really close and Anh just had some really steep competition and she was injured in the semis and she won her semifinal and then she went to the finals and I finally had to ask her to stop and she finally, she finally listened to me. But, yeah, it was great.

Lamussi: Last season for you, four medals, you were awarded as the best coach of the year.

Schram: Yeah, it was nice. Basically, overall, last season was just phenomenal, right. We started off thirsty, we were hungry, right. After the season before, you know, we had those letdowns and then every tournament just got better and better and everybody applied themselves more and more and kept working harder. They were training outside of practice, they were getting fitter, stronger, smarter and their game was really coming along. Our coaching staff is a great staff. Last year was me, Howard and Don. And we all bring something different to the table. It makes us a very good coaching staff. I’m a little bit tough, Don is very good at developing players and pushing them. And Howard is a very good motivator, he is the everybody’s best friend on the team. They all have great badminton knowledge. Going to nationals was a really great experience. My first time going to nationals as a coach for the George Brown Team. Our team was very excited and motivated.

Lamussi: Did you have that experience before? Going to the nationals?

Schram: Yeah, I played many national tournaments and I’ve coached many athletes at national tournaments. But I never coached the full team, which you start out with 16 athletes on the team and you get to regionals and you break it down to seven or eight athletes.

Lamussi: That must be hard, but is part of the job.

Schram: Yeah, it is tough but it is all about results. Like, if you have the results, you deserving to go and everyone knows that. Nobody would argue that they should have been the one to go if they know it’s better for the team. That’s athletics, right?

Lamussi: Yes, and that’s funny that you said because I’m not from a sports background, I’m more an artsy kind of background… And one year ago I was at the beach and I this scene that brought my attention. I was seeing this surf coach and this little kid next to him. She was probably seven or eight years old. And there was also this teenager who was probably 15. And he was screaming at them things like: “You need to get better! Do you think that this performance will help to win the championship?” and things like that…And I was like: ” Oh my god, she is only seven, why he is talking to her like that?”But then I realized that she was not crying, she was not on despair or anything like that. She was actually focused and listening to him. And it was really fun for me who doesn’t have this background and didn’t live all of that. And you as a coach need to push harder so they keep showing results, right?

Schram: Yes! For me as the head coach, I expect the most from people all the time. You come to practice, you are going to give 110%, you are not going to mess around, you are not going to sit down and relax, you are going to play your best. I made that very clear since day one. So everybody knows me, they know what I’m like. And it’s important to push people because if you don’t push them, sometimes they will never take that step. A good example of that would be the guy in our team, Mike Ha. Mike is a very good player, he is an amazing athlete. He is fast, strong, he has great hands in badminton. But in year one he didn’t have a lot of confidence.  By year two he was a different player. He was playing a lot more, he was trying harder and working harder. And slowly, over the course of the last season, gaining more and more confidence in himself. At the beginning of the last season, I wouldn’t have thought that he would have been on the regional team. Midway through the season, it was obvious that he would be. He was just playing at that level, working hard, all the time. And then, all the sudden, he gets there and plays with Amy and surprise everybody. He came out of the shell, total confidence and a lot have to do with pushing someone. Made him believe in himself. Is not just pushing like yelling at them. But pointing out sometimes: “That’s it! That’s the Mike I want.” That’s who you can be! And once he had that, he was just unstoppable. He won the silver at the provincials. And then he went to nationals and it was the same thing. And Amy obviously played incredibly well as well. And she is very shy and quiet but all of the sudden she was just confident. And that’s what it takes to be a good athlete. If you think you any good you will never be good.

Lamussi: And coaching is not only about teaching the technics…

Schram: No, it is not. Technics obviously is huge but it’s not just about that. When you have a group of athletes who have already a good strong foundation, it’s more about pushing them, making them believe in themselves, okay? Making them want for themselves! At first, you make them want it for you but then you want them to want for themselves. Because if they don’t want for themselves, they will never succeed.

 Lamussi: Will mentioned Mike Ra during the interview. And I have to admit that it brought my attention while we were talking about Mike. So, naturally, I connected with him to understand his improvement process and how Will helped him on that.

Lamussi: Hey Mike!

Mike Ra: How are you?

Lamussi: Fine, fine.  Thanks for coming today. I want to start asking, badminton, how that came into your life. When did you start playing?

Ra: I started playing in grade 10. One of my friends asked me to go play. So I was kind of interested. The thing is I got more interested after I’ve seen the intensity of how hard is to play.

Lamussi: It’s a hard game, right?

Ra: Yes.

Lamussi: It’s funny because I interviewed your coach, Will Schram and he said the same thing. He chooses badminton because it was a hard game.

Ra: It is really interesting because I think you get to enjoy more as you become more competitive. Because you can play against good players.

Lamussi: How was last season for you?

Ra: Honestly, last season was really surprising and enjoyable because half of the team got into national’s playoff. And it was good because we get to stick together and cheer together. We got the banner and the provincials which it was really surprising as well because usually Humber gets all the titles. For women and men…

Lamussi: And I asked about last season because Will told me about your improvement. How you changed. Do you think you changed?

Ra: I think I changed a lot because the first year wasn’t that great. I didn’t play really good, which I think was a lack of confidence problem. But after that, I had a center goal so, I just keep playing and practicing and this brought my confidence off. So, that’s how I improved last year all my games.

Lamussi: Oh, you had the technics but the confidence was the missing piece.

Ra: Exactly!

Lamussi: Tell me how was this process to discover this confidence inside you.

Ra: I think you just have to keep playing the game, know that you can beat them. You have to think that every match matters. If you want to improve in badminton you have to have that winner’s mentality. You have to keep going on and on, that’s how I think I improved and brought my confidence off.

Lamussi: I asked about Will because I asked him how he defines his coaching style. And he said he was the tough guy.

Ra: Yeah, he is.

Lamussi: Tell me how do you define Will as a coach?

Ra: If I can be honest, he is a tough coach, honestly. I think the first year was tougher because it was his first year. Maybe he had a lot of expectation. Especially about Alex Chao. I think the second year, it changed.  I got to talk more with him than the first year. So, I got closer to him, so I understand now. Sometimes Will will push you, sometimes he will be nice…If I had to define Will, I would say he is really good motivating us. Even if you are playing against a good team,  he just keeps motivating you. He tells you what to do…

Lamussi: Do you think last year, before the season starts, did you think you would achieve the things you achieved?

Ra: Last year, I didn’t expect any of that, but I think that this year I will achieve it. I think I can go to nationals and maybe win a gold. That’s what I’m aiming for. Because last year I was like: “Who knows..”, But this year I’m pretty sure I’m going to nationals.

Lamussi: You are confident!

Mike Ra: Yeah!

Lamussi: Thanks for coming today.

Ra: No problem.

Lamussi: And that’s all for today, folks! Please don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast. You can do that on the Itunes app or any other podcast app that you use. I know I keep repeating that in every episode, but… Subscribe! Thanks, see you next time, bye!


Winning medals and confidence – with Will Schram and Mike Ra – Episode 10