Youngster Jacqueline Rose Kunnath talks about making the transition to the senior level

The transition from age-group competition to the seniors’ circuit can be tricky. The same methods which worked well for a teenager may not bring success at the professional level. For badminton player Jacqueline Rose Kunnath, it was all about keeping the adrenaline in check. As a junior, her flamboyant style won applause and trophies in equal measure. This trait, however, proved a problem when she made the jump. “Initially, the shift from the junior level to the seniors was tough, but my performances are improving now,” says Jacqueline.

The 20-year-old explains how she learnt to modify her fast-paced game. “I have worked a lot on getting calmer on the court. I’m now better at controlling the pace of the rally. Before, I had a tendency to just go boom-boom and finish things fast,” she says. The change came about with the help of yoga and meditation, to go with a good deal of match-experience.

“I think I’ve just come of age. The mental aspect in badminton is huge. When I’m in the correct frame of mind, I feel like I can beat anyone,” she says. The final-year degree student from Jain University, who has won a host of State-level junior tournaments, now has her sights set on breaking into the international scene. “I want to make a mark in international badminton, but it will take a while. Right now, I want to do well on the national circuit; that is how I will get recognised,” she says. Having been part of the Indian junior team, playing at the highest level will not be a new experience for her.

Jacqueline is also lucky to have a proficient coach in Thomas John by her side. A strict taskmaster, the 61-year-old John has coached the England team, as well as many Indian stalwarts. “You cannot meet someone as dedicated Thomas sir. He’s so driven; he’s more energetic than all the trainees. I’ve been with him for four years, and he is here to conduct practice every day, no matter what,” she says.

Another able ally is her father, Thomas Kunnath. Kunnath and John run the Tom’s Badminton Academy where Jacqueline trains. Commonwealth Games medal winner Ashwini Ponappa and other big names are put through the paces here, which no doubt augurs well for the youngster. A familiar face at local competitions, Kunnath also often dons the role of a tournament organiser. “My dad is a big badminton enthusiast. At the age of seven, he introduced me to the sport, at the East Cultural Association. He loves to be involved, and I think he has played a part in the growth of badminton in Karnataka,” she says. Jacqueline is also grateful for the support she has received from Jain University, where she is allowed to write her exams despite absences. When asked about her life at school, a beaming Jacqueline recalls, “I studied at Bishop Cottons, and they were good to me. I was allowed to miss class, so that I could attend badminton practice. When it was time to study, the teachers and the principal ensured that they provided all the help I needed.”

Still only 20, the well-spoken and confident athlete talks of life at school like it was eons ago. Professional sport does force one to grow up fast.