ODENSE: The heartbeat of Denmark’s badminton is their club system.
And with a well-planned and organised way of doing things, this lesser populated European nation will continue to strive to be the David in the story against Goliath as they challenge the Asian powerhouses China, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea.
The badminton culture is very much alive in this nation of 5.5 million people and no wonder -- they always have had stars coming through the pipeline since badminton took shape as an organised sport in 1925.
Currently, the Badminton Association of Denmark (BAD) have 100,508 registered members and there are 539 active badminton clubs.
The BAD’s director of elite sports, Finn Traerup-Hansen, said that volunteers were the pillars of their successful club system.
“Our clubs are led by volunteers. They do not get paid but the clubs source for their own revenue to keep it going. There are leagues for adult and youth players,” said Traerup-Hansen.
In fact, about 200 volunteers from different clubs in the country came together as a family annually to assist in organising the Denmark Open, without demanding for a single cent. The clubs have also become the BAD’s foundation for talent development.
“There is a typical two-hour training for youths twice a week. There are also specific talent group sessions. Coaches at this club also work on long-term athlete development.
“All this takes place at the clubs,” said Traerup-Hansen.
On top of that, the BAD also have performance centres and four age-group squads (Under-13, Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19). Currently, the national junior centre in Aarhus is managed by former Danish great Morten Frost.
Although the focus of the BAD is on their elite programme and they do not have much say on the running of the clubs, they do their part by making sure that the clubs have proper resources.
Training manuals are distributed to clubs so that proper techniques in badminton are used and an introduction of regional and national leagues have also kept interest in the sport at different levels alive.
In fact, all the elite shuttlers based at Brondby are members of a club and they take part in the national league on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Denmark, however, have their own set of challenges too that are being looked into.
Sometimes, there are disputes when clubs want to hold on to a good senior player while the BAD prefer to have them at the elite training centre to take their game to greater heights.
Sometimes, the elite centre cannot take too many younger players because of limited funds.
Besides, it is also a practice at the BAD that only those coming through the Under-19 programme from clubs get into the elite centre.
“A player can be playing exceptionally well at age 17 but we will not bring him into the elite centre yet,” said Traerup-Hansen.
“We want that player to develop his techniques as much as possible when he still can before making a move. Eventually, a compromise is reached.”
And there is also a scheduling challenge for the elite players, who have to strike a balance between playing in the league and not having to compromise their international commitments.
Traerup-Hansen has already planned a half-year calendar for his players for next year -– on who is going where and what their goals will be in every tournament.
“This is so important as we do not want to overload the players with their commitments at the elite centre and the clubs,” he said.
“Sometimes, they just do not get enough time to train. Planning way ahead is so crucial in running this programme effectively.”
And what is unique about the Danish set-up is that the elite players’ source of income are from their clubs.
In fact, they have to pay rent for the hostel provided by the BAD at their elite centre and the players do not enjoy a monthly allowance from the national body.
The Danish players, however, thrive on all these challenges and at every opportunity, they go all out to keep the country’s flag flying high.
Every country may have their own way of doing things but for Denmark, their dependency on clubs are certainly keeping the fire and spirit of badminton alive.