Let me tell you today the story of Carolina, a passionate Spanish girl who decided when she was 8 years old that she would become the best badminton player in the world (by the way, badminton is the second most played sport in the world just behind football-soccer). This is an impressive ambition for a child of this age but, how realistic is this for a person living in Spain, a country with no badminton tradition at all?
Carolina trained very hard from the beginning and when she was 14 she did something that changed her life forever: she proposed to a young sport teacher called Fernando Rivas to become her coach and she shared with him her dream of becoming the number 1 badminton player. Fernando was very impressed by her determination, as well as by her playing style and personality. He accepted this proposal and started coaching her right away.
Fernando had developed his expertise not only in Spain, but also in England, France, Germany and The Netherlands. He had also explored a wide range of fields and disciplines: ”I liked sitting for classes at University and listening to teachers speak. I picked notes from science, history, architecture that could help me in sport. Later I specialized in physiology, psychology, bio mechanics”. All this led him to acquire a very rich and diverse experience and, over time, develop a different and innovative way of understanding badminton. His radically new method includes among others original ways to approach physical and mental preparation, game visualization, studying the opponents, moving differently on the court and using science. In Carolina’s own words, “Fernando is very innovative, he likes always creating new things, be different. We can’t be like Asian players because otherwise we would never win”.
Fernando has developed a revolutionary method already known as “the Spanish method” or “the Rivas method” in the badminton world. And it works. This new approach allowed Carolina to become world champion in 2014 and 2015 as well as winning the badminton Olympic gold medal in 2016, becoming the first non-Asian athlete in history to achieve this feat.
But what interests us today is not the detailed content of “the Rivas method”, but rather the MINDSET that allowed a humble coach to develop a brand-new approach to his sport that made him become the best badminton coach in the world. This achievement is particularly extraordinary considering there is no badminton tradition in Spain, especially compared with other countries: currently there are around 2,000 licensed badminton players in Spain versus for example 100 million players in China! However, Fernando managed to upturn the 100-year Chinese tradition of badminton by challenging status quo: “I’ve never accepted what’s taken for granted. China were the best at badminton. Ok. So what”, and mixing science, creative thinking and a lot of hard work: “It’s about studying, innovation, studying more”.
What made Fernando become a man of genius lies in the fact that he managed to transform a strong weakness in a unique strength… if you come from a country with no tradition in a specific sport, why not seize the opportunity to rethink it totally from scratch? This is what Fernando did, was this is his philosophy in his own words: “because we did not have any badminton tradition in Spain, we had to implement a different method based on things that are not done in other places precisely because tradition impedes them”. “Badminton is very new in Spain but very developed in Asia. If we do exactly the same thing they are doing, we would be at the tail end. If I don’t create new knowledge, a new method, and I explore other ways, I will lag far behind”.
Fernando’s key lesson here is that in order to innovate with success, even with unbelievable success as he did, you need to find your own path: you better do things your way, think differently, experiment, take risks… than doing things exactly like everyone else. This will only lead you, after a lot of hard work, to eventually become what we could call “the worst of the good”.
There is a Spanish saying that goes like this: “más vale ser cabeza de ratón, que cola de léon”, which means literally “better be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion”. There are other versions in the world such as “better be the head of a dog than the tail of a lion” and several others including -believe it or not- chicken, oxes, lizards, pikes, cats, foxes and even sturgeons… I let you chose the animal you prefer, but you get the idea: It is better to be able to lead a small humble project or adventure your way being free (and innovative!) than to be obliged to follow and stick to the norm in bigger ones…
This was the story of Carolina Marín and specially of Fernando Rivas; I hope you enjoyed it. Coming back to you now… In which subject can you innovate and find a unique way that will bring brand-new results and value? Or in other words, what lion can you stop following to start leading innovation as a small mouse full of potential? Food for thought…
Informe Robinson: El Milagro de Carolina Marín (video, 2016, in Spanish): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZ28tm5S5HI
Enfoque TVE – Fernando Rivas (video, 2016, in Spanish): http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/enfoque/enfoque-fernando-rivas-badminton/3769088/
How to tame a dragon: Coaches are overcoming the dominant Chinese badminton world (The Indian Express, 2016): http://indianexpress.com/sports/rio-2016-olympics/caroline-marin-saina-nehwal-badminton-fernando-rivas-2932058/