Chou Tien-chen: Meet the belly-dancing world no. 2 without a badminton coach

Chinese Taipei shuttler Chou Tien-chen talks about using belly dancing in training, helping the next generation, and his hopes for the Tokyo Olympics

By ZK Goh ·

Six months out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021, Chou Tien-chen is sitting comfortably at number two in the badminton men's world rankings.

It's a feat all the more impressive when you consider the Chinese Taipei shuttler has played without an official full-time coach for nearly two years, having cut ties with his previous instructor early in 2019.

After going solo, he reached six finals across the 2019 and the shortened 2020 seasons, in addition to countless other semi-final appearances including two in the BWF World Tour Asia Leg in Thailand this month.

"I can strengthen my mind myself," he tells Olympic Channel in English from Bangkok, about his decision to operate without a coach.

"Sometimes a coach might give me a thing to adjust, but it's not the same with me (if I disagree), it's difficult to see or to control."

It is a decision that is pretty much unprecedented among Asian players, but seems to be working for Chou, who has held the world number two position since August 2019.

Why this top men's player has no coach and practices belly dancing

Chou Tien-chen of Chinese Taipei is the men's world number two, and has his...

Training with Pilates and belly dancing

Instead, he works with personal physiotherapist Victoria Kao, and can also count on the advice and support from the coaches working with the rest of the Chinese Taipei team.

The 31-year-old incorporates exercises including Pilates and belly dancing into his training regime, explaining that there is cross-over from doing those routines he can take into his sport.

"There are a lot of movements similar to badminton," he says. "I think there's a lot of body control and a lot of footwork are the same."

In a 2019 interview with AFP, Kao explained that she helps "maintain (Chou's) health and character", and also acts as his motivational assistant.

"I will pour cold water on him and tell him it's just one victory, it's over and you need to calm down," she said then.

"When there are setbacks I will tell him it's okay - embrace your dreams and persist - to try to lift him up emotionally."

Chou Tien-chen of Chinese Taipei poses with his trophy after winning the 2019 Indonesia Open. (Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)

Chou's Olympic Games focus

Badminton provides some of Chinese Taipei's best chances of winning medals at the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Games on the horizon in July 2021, with both Chou and women's singles number one Tai Tzu-ying among the world's best players.

The Taoyuan-based athlete acknowledges that his focus will change to securing enough ranking points to maintain his seeding for the Olympics.

"Many players didn't come here," he says referring to the withdrawals of both Japan and China from the Thailand Open tournaments.

"It's really about detail, the skill, technique; that's the point with the Olympics because it's for real now, for the rankings and seedings. I just need to keep going and put in hard work.

"At the top level, it's more difficult," Chou points out.

"It's about how you work, how you prepare your body and yourself. Every detail is so important."

Ominously for his rivals, the devout Christian – who points skyward after his wins in an act of thanks – says he still has room to improve.

"Every hour, every second, I will pay attention and try to find how I can improve in every point.

"It seems like I have improved a lot, and I will keep going."

Helping the next generation

Away from badminton, Chou has done charity work with children with special needs.

He has also taken the sport into remote parts of the island of Taiwan, running coaching sessions for kids living away from the big cities.

"I have to help these kids to have more confidence," he explains.

Chen hopes that perhaps in the future, Chinese Taipei will produce more players like himself.

"The kids have strong talent so I need to give them more confidence that they can be international players to win gold, to go to the Olympics, World Championships," he says.

"We're looking for the long goals, not the little goals."