Mon, 07 Apr 2003

Rexy courts success as coach in UK

Bruce Emond, Contributor, Milton Keynes, England

Like a home owner showing off his pride and joy, Rexy Mainaky leads the way through the National Badminton Center, calling it "the best of its kind in Europe".

The two-story red-brick building appears deceptively small from the outside, but the inside is replete with everything needed in the bid for international glory.

As with Milton Keynes itself, one of the meticulously planned "new towns" built in post-World War II Britain, the center testifies to the efficient use of space and resources. Courts give way to gym and weight room areas, a hydrotherapy facility with adjacent physiotherapy and massage space, and a cozy upstairs players lounge and cafetaria.

Rexy spies one of the women's players curled up in a corner of the lounge. "Hey, who's that? Don't forget practice this afternoon."

His tongue-in-cheek reprimand is met with a smirk and a few muffled, unintelligible words. Joking asides are all in character for the 35-year-old, who formed with Ricky Subagya one of the greatest men's doubles team in badminton history.

In their heyday in the mid-1990s, the pair swept all the major titles that the sport has to offer, from the prestigious All- England (twice), the World Championships in 1995, the Thomas Cup men's team championships on four occasions and, the jewel in any sporting career, gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

They were a finely tuned balancing act: the shorter, dynamic Rexy a bundle of barely contained energy and emotion, blessed with the confounding ability to follow a string of unforced errors with an awesome pick-up, complemented by lanky, poker- faced Ricky, the calming force who kept his partner on an even keel.

Rexy's outgoing disposition has served him well in his position as the men's doubles coach in England over the past two years. It's a slow day at the center, with most of the men's doubles players making final preparations to leave for the Japan Open, but Rexy helps out by coaching some of the remaining members of the team.

"He has a friendlier, more relaxed approach to coaching than we were used to," said Tracy Hallam, England's number two women's singles player.

Rexy said he was ready for the cultural adjustments entailed when he moved from the insular environment of Indonesia's own National Training Center (Pelatnas) in Cipayung, East Jakarta, to England to replace Korean ace Park Joo Bong.

His first month in his new job included getting to know the personalities of the players. A good measure of patience, which he had learned from the example of his own coach Christian Hadinata, also stood him in good stead.

"In Indonesia, when we tell the players, `you have to do it like this', they'll just listen but we don't know whether they agree or not until they're out on court, but here they answer, `why?' There is communication and discussion... I've tried to take the approach of a friend..."

From his own playing days of strenuous eight-hour workouts six days a week, Rexy moved to instill more discipline among some of the players, who were used to training every other day for four hours at most. Most now train five days a week.

He has also tried to remedy the curious loss of confidence of English players in crunch situations.

"When I was a player, I knew that European players didn't have any confidence in facing Asians, so I wasn't scared about stepping on court against them," he said.

"Every day, I tell my players that the secret to why you lose is all about confidence, that if you have the confidence, then it isn't a problem... I tell them they have to think positively, stop the swearing and smacking their racket on the court, because it's not the racket's fault."

His advice seemed to pay off when England's Nathan Robertson and Anthony Clark beat former world champions Candra Wijaya and Sigit Budiarto at the Sudirman Cup in mid-March.

It was a "dead" rubber, with Indonesia having taken an unassailable lead in the team match, but it was a confidence booster all the same.

He is alarmed by the badminton situation in his homeland, now suffering from a sad lack of champions after the golden years of the 1990s.

Rexy blamed the "collective" system favored by the All Indonesia Badminton Association (PBSI), in which prize money and team contract earnings are divvied up among all the players at the training center.

Players who have yet to make a name for themselves become "lazy", he said, and fail to mature as professionals ready to meet challenges both on and off the court.

He also faults the militaristic structure imposed at the center by PBSI chairmen who have followed Tri Sutrisno, the organization's head when Rexy and Ricky were making their ascent in the game.

Although Tri was from a military background, "he was fine because he allowed us to be individual thinkers, that's why Ricky and I came up so fast... but I never stop questioning why they (PBSI chairmen) have to be generals... those after him (Tri Sutrisno) have treated the players like soldiers".

Rexy eventually wants to return to Indonesia, with a "mission" to find future champions outside the traditional hunting ground of Java.

For the time being, however, England is home, a place where his two children are happy ("their English is probably better than mine") and his wife has adapted to an unfamiliar situation.

"If a call came in asking me to go back to Indonesia to work, and there was an offer at the same time from the BAE (Badminton Association of England), then I'd stay here.

"I get the same benefits as someone from here, so what's lacking?" he said.