By Mark Etheridge
South African badminton has a new coach. Well not exactly… the code has a former coach in town for a second bite at the cherry.
Last year’s Rio Olympics saw former national player Chris Dednam in charge, but now back into the frame comes Stewart Carson, the man who did the same duty at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
Carson left South Africa in 2014 to take up a job in Ireland. But just a year later he was swopping both continents and codes as he took up a job with Squash Australia.
Now, coming back to the African continent he’s back to badminton.
He reflected on his time away from SA, and also shared his vision for the future of badminton in the country and on the continent.
‘I left here in 2014 to take up a job at Badminton Ireland as programme officer, and quickly progressed to one of the national coaches,’ he told Team SA.
‘By the time I left Ireland in 2016 I was high performance manager and tournament coach for their top players, including Scott Evans (top-25 player in singles), Chloe Magee (top-30 in women’s singles and top-25 in mixed doubles with Sam Magee).
‘As the HP manager I was responsible for securing funding, building a relationship with the Irish Institute of Sport, running the academy, talent pathway and managing all player programmes on and off the court. I also helped set up and run the national training centre in Dublin.’
But just as things were going from strength to strength came the next move. ‘The CEO of Badminton Ireland moved on to Squash Australia in 2015 and asked me to join him to establish the set-up for Australia which I had done in Ireland.
‘Squash is big in Australia, they have had multiple gold medalists at the Commonwealth Games, world champions in singles and doubles and currently have three players inside the top 20,’ says Carson.
‘Australia used to dominate squash and has had 22 world champions in men and women’s singles since 1970, but they’ve slipped back in the last 10 years, so the main part of my job was to restore squash to its former glory. I would obviously not be on court, but had to manage the entire HP programme – from finding [young] talent at 8-13 years old, and putting players on a path to becoming world champions.
‘I then had to take the current 19 to 22-year-olds and prepare them to take over from the current group of players, as there’s a huge gap. Under my guidance we set up a new national training centre in Brisbane with all athlete support services in place, won four medals at the 2016 World Doubles Championships and had a top-seven finish at World Junior Championships last year.
‘I learnt about managing programmes and athletes, but I really missed badminton, so when the job in SA came up I saw it as an opportunity to use the experience I have gained over the last three years to help SA badminton.’
One of his priorities will be to boost the sport on the whole continent. ‘I have a real desire to help not only SA, but African badminton players. When I left, SA badminton was the best in Africa, we had won U15/19 and senior African team championships (all the players U25), so there was a great platform to build on, we had a quarter-final at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the highest African world rankings in men’s singles, doubles and mixed.
‘But since I left it has slipped back, so I want to get it back to where it was and build on that using everything I have learned over the last few years.’
Lack of talent is certainly not something that concerns Carson. ‘We have lots of talented players coming through, so with the right exposure and training and given a bit of time, we can get back to the top of Africa and climb the world rankings once again.
‘The Nationals are at the beginning of October in Gauteng, so I’m extremely excited to meet with all the players and put plans in place. We have some great coaches in SA and we would not be able to produce players without their hard work, so I’m also looking forward to working with them again.
‘We have the African qualifiers for the Men’s and Women’s World Team Championships (Thomas and Uber Cups) in February, so that is the first big event for us, with the finals in May 2018 and the 2018 Commonwealth Games in between, so it’ll be a busy few months.’
Picture of Carson during his Irish stint courtesy, supplied