For our final interview in our three part series we spoke with Stuart Brehaut, a name familiar to many in Australian badminton because he has seemingly never left since he began! Stuart is the National Senior Head Coach and has played a key role since his transition from athlete to coach. We caught up with Stu over the phone on his drive back from Melbourne to his home town in Ballarat with the national senior camp just under two weeks away, Olympic selection and preparation coming very much into frame for our senior athletes.
BA: Stu! Great to have you on the line, can you just introduce yourself, your title and run us through a little bit of your badminton story.
SB: Yeah no worries, my name is Stuart Brehaut, Badminton Australia National Senior Head Coach, I’ve been playing badminton since I can first remember, there’s a family tale where mum used to throw a shuttle to me when I was 18 months old and I used to hit it with a table tennis racquet!
BA: HA! Clearly badminton was a sport in your household, did both your parents guide you towards badminton?
SB: No, not at all, well my mum played badminton and dad was a tennis coach so throughout my childhood I played both until one day I had to make a call on which I would commit my time to and it was badminton. Our family was sport mad so both Ashley (my brother) and I were locked into sport pretty early on.
BA: And did you always have Olympic aspirations?
SB: Yep, before I even knew what sport would be my sport I remember telling my parents I would go to the Olympics and I was fortunate enough to do that at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
BA: What an achievement, and you knew from such a young age that you’d do it, so great! Obviously the Olympics are a career highlight, are there any other tournaments that stick out from your 10 years on the international circuit as a player?
SB: Yeah well as with many athletes the Commonwealth Games are a highlight, I was able to go to three of those 98’ in Kuala Lumpur, 2002 in Manchester and 2006 in Melbourne, I came up against Richard Vaughan a few times actually, we won’t talk about who’s on top but I reckon I could still get him these days! Aside from those I guess being able to play in all the big international tournaments throughout that decade, so Sudirman Cups, Thomas Cups, All England, they were all awesome tournaments to play in.
BA: Quite the list mate! And so when did you make your first foray into coaching then? You pretty much went off the world tour and straight into coaching right?
SB: I’d been assisting with coaching while on the road, doing on court sessions here and there giving advice from a different perspective on the court rather than beside/behind the court. You’re right I finished up and went back and earnt my chops doing coaching at the state and national level before being appointed to the National Junior Coach role in 2008. I really enjoy it and probably my dad’s career might have subconsciously influenced my interest. Ultimately what I love about coaching is being able to bring people to their full potential, that might be achieving something that they hadn’t expected of themselves, I just find it very rewarding and every now and then I get to do it outside of badminton but coaching really allows me to directly do that.
BA: Too right, and so now that you’ve been part of badminton in Australia for some time, what are the biggest changes you’ve noticed over the period?
SB: Probably the most obvious visual change to the game is the pace, players are faster, more technical and more powerful than ever before which is great to see and I think that stems from a mindset shift for the sport. You’ll see now that the top athletes on the international circuit will have the team physio, team doc, team nutritionist etc., but players will also now have their own entourage consisting of all of those support staff. To me that signals a real commitment from athletes and from National Organisations that badminton is here to stay and is worthwhile investing in. As this continues to develop, and more and more money is invested by commercial organisations, it will just snowball so badminton will continue on its path upward. It’s important to remember that although in Australia badminton doesn’t have a status as a mainstream sport, globally it is still massive, so its great to see the commercial side it is beginning to match its participation.
BA: And where does Australia sit in all of this? Do you think the High Performance Pathway (HPP) is a step to match the powerhouse countries?
SB: I think there’s two parts to my answer, one is focused on the sport, the other is focused on badminton’s visibility in Australia. Firstly, absolutely, the HPP is the way forward for badminton athletes in Australia to grow and develop. Being able to identify talent early, have them supported at all levels by a system that will benefit them is different to the set up in the past, athletes who are part of the program will get access to experts that they would otherwise be unable to access. Heading along to the National camps bring them all together as a team, giving them the chance to work and connect with all their team mates, and something that’s been missing particularly in the last 12 months due to the pandemic. Aside from the athlete benefits coaches and parents are being engaged with like never before, and there are a few tools in the pipeline for coaches with national squad athletes coming. It’s all about giving the athlete’s and the coaches with the potential to thrive a chance to achieve the best they can. The second part comes to a larger opportunity we have with this new system, in other countries badminton has the luxury of being a mainstream sport, they don’t have to compete with the diversity of sport we have in Australia and so it’s easy for the tip top talent to make it way into badminton. In Australia we really have to work hard to unearth this talent, and we’ve done a good job in the past, but having this pathway and system goes to the very visible commitment to supporting and nurturing great talent, it may be enough to tip athletes who may have been in a position similar to mine onto our side of the net instead of other racquet sports like tennis or squash. Our greatest opportunity is to bring badminton into the mainstream by putting up top talent, by creating great environments, by educating and training coaches to create better athletes, and presenting to parents the promise their children will absolutely benefit from being part of this program (also delivering on this obviously). We want to rise the tide of talent in this country and the HPP gives us the vessel to do so.
BA: It paints a pretty promising picture for Badminton in Australia when we get it humming along doesn’t it! So you’re off to the senior camp in a few weeks, what are you most looking forward too?
SB: To be honest, seeing everyone in person again, we haven’t had this group of athletes together in the same room for over 12 months and it will be just so great to have them all together again. But to my point before, this is part of the journey we’re on and these camps really start making the HPP real. Part of the overall mission for these camps is to develop the Australia way of playing, it will be a way of playing that is different to every other country out there and it’s going to make us successful. The camps are also a culmination of all the great support we’ve been given, our partners in Commonwealth Games Australia, Sport Australia, the AIS and Li-Ning, a huge thank you to all of them because really it can’t come together without these partners. I’m really excited to be up there amongst all the athletes again!
BA: Well thank you so much for your time Stu, have an awesome time up at the camp with all the senior athletes and the coaches who have been invited along
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