I have such a passion for this sport as it is an immense game. I totally love it and it seems many others do as well. The Guardian newspaper at the start of the year had badminton at number 7 of most popular sports in England out of a total of 33 “Sports”. On closer viewing though the sports that beat it were:
6. exercise movement and dance (whatever that is as a “Sport”),
5 . golf,
2. Athletics (albeit the image used look like a group of park runners)
1. Top of the pile was swimming.
So when you analyse these 6 that beat badminton I feel football is the only team based activity like badminton (maybe golf as well). Golf and football are the only direct competitive sports focused on a scoreline and not a time or distance on this list. Golf and Football also dictates the need for an opposition, not so in the others. This for me is a big factor in my love for the game which is being competitive. Having a social element in sport, having banter with people over what may happen in a game, the off court chats and just feeling a part of something bigger than the the game alone. Others may disagree but I do not feel you get this in the same way from something that others are not directly involved with and that you must complete on your own.
I think I first picked up the racket when I was 13-14 years old, so I was a teenager and starting to think about what I wanted to do rather than what my parents pushed me into doing. At this time my mum was playing at a local club the same night of the week as I was going to Scouts. Truth be told I think I had stopped enjoying the Scouts and partly because I was embarrassed about being 14 years old and in Scouts, I was quite a self conscious teenager. I knew I could not just stop going to scouts, my parents would not have had it so I asked my mum if I could come and play badminton instead, what a call that was! I just seemed to take to the game so quickly and threw myself about the court getting involved as much as possible and competing hard to try and win the games. I loved it and was thriving. Some of the adults would give me tips and help me out but there was no formal coaching, a lot of self learning, reflecting and trying things to get better and ultimately win! (Let’s not get confused here, sport first and foremost is about winning!) I’d even saved up paper round money to go and buy myself a quality racket. I still have this racket and it will always be one of my favourites. A Wilson branded racket would you believe but it is immense. It’s about 17 years old now, I’d be incredibly upset if anything ever happened to it. But this was the way I was feeling about playing the game generally.
Unfortunately this club declined and disappeared (but I’m pleased to hear that currently it is back up and running). My mum tried out another local club which I went along with her to for a bit. I was probably about 15-16 at this time. I was also playing weekly with school mates in prep for GCSE examinations and we needed practice and were great competition for each other, really challenging each others games and enjoying the sport. But the new club was not the same for me as the first club I had joined, not even close. They had qualities about them that did not suit me but possibly suited my mum, by now I was a far stronger player than she was. And from memory a much stronger player than many at this club and this actually excluded me. I remember being on court and nothing was coming my way because the other players were trying to avoid putting the shuttle near. I’m not wanting to sound arrogant here and I still had so much more to learn but this was quite a low standard of club and I am an aggressive player, especially then. I also understand why people kept the shuttle away from me because as with all sporting games my opposition also wanted to win. This was a club in St Ives just for reference. I latched onto this way they were playing against me, but there was nothing I could do. They were playing tactical game but it was bad tactics just to avoid putting the bird my way. What could I do?
I got fed up and I left this club. I’d finished GCSE’s, I’d picked up the oval ball again and I had many other things going on in my life and I felt I did not need badminton anymore going into A-Levels. I’d even stopped playing with mates recreationally. On reflection I should have done more to find another club that fitted me, not something you think about so much as a teenager.
Time passed and I wasn’t thinking so much about badminton, I did my A-Levels, went out to work, started martial arts as I drifted away from rugby. Life rumbled on and my rackets gathered dust. Then as things happen, life changes, and in 2007 I left Cambridgeshire altogether to take up study in Coventry. This was a turning point in my life and an opportunity to branch out and try new things (or pick up on old things). I was leaving the world of martial arts that I entered for the last 2-3 years in Cambridgeshire (and enjoying) but what was I going to do in Coventry? I thought about picking up the oval ball again and getting back on the rugby field. This was seriously being considered but I met a few of the guys and they were idiots and I was not game for a suicidal amount of drinking, even if I did enjoy a good night out. No, this was not what I wanted.
So I approached the badminton stall and the people I spoke to here were incredibly friendly and welcoming. I got the info I needed for the club and got along to the first club night, another great decision! (not that I realised it at the time as I just wanted to try badminton again). There must have been about 70 people turn up here and there was only 3 courts, this seemed like madness! Credit to the club for getting everyone involved, some sort of round the world activity. I remember walking out on court, Wilson racket in hand, setting up to hit the shuttle for the first time in 4 or 5 years I think. Here’s the clearance to me, I was going to clear it back, lined up, missed the shuttle completely with a total air shot. How embarrassing! I wasn’t the player I remembered and when you are trying to create an impression at University this was not the way to do it. I moved off court and thankfully next time on I stepped up I hit it. As term began club numbers settled down to about 20-30 members, I was a fresher and so pleased just to be playing again and I was falling back in love with the sport again that on reflection I had definitely missed out on a lot. I was also meeting new people and cool people who were accepting of players of all abilities which in some ways surprised me with badminton, but this is University I guess and young people are far more open minded.
Unsurprisingly I wasn’t picked for the team straight away but I made sure I got along to as many club sessions as possible (3 in a week was what was on offer) but it was freshers year and sometimes the early starts were too much. But I was given the nod by the second team captain for a run out on the team as I had improved and started to find my game again. I loved the format of BUCS leagues for Badminton, 2 singles player and 2 doubles partnerships forming a team of 6 and doubles was and is my game. I remember the lad I was partnered with as well for my first year, top lad but oddly I was warned that he was a loose cannon on court and no one could get on partnering him so good luck. Always a good pep talk… However it couldn’t have been further from reality, we had an absolute blast and gelled incredibly well with our games complimenting one another so well and I do remember we won most of matches which was awesome as well as being the only part of the second team that year to take something from Varsity day. (Varisty day being the Cov Uni v Warwick Derby fixture in all sports, it’s critical this is understood for later on).
Then there were the Coventry University badminton club socials. These were some of my most favourite nights at University, always consisting of a theme of some sort, maybe only 1 a month but they were great fun and began to cement some friendships that would last well beyond the 3 academic years. For some it resulted in much more which is absolutely amazing! These occasions I felt were always important for the club, people could get to know each other off of the court but it added to the club experience at University.
When the exams kicked in unfortunately that was it for the year. Everyone kicked out of sports hall use and make way for endless rows of tables and chairs, that was it for year 1. For me this also meant going not far off of cold turkey from badminton for about 5 months over the Summer break. This was quite hard to take as I had fallen in love with the game again for sure. But I got a few games in with a mate over the Summer which was cool and it really wasn’t long before second year was coming. I’d put my name down this time as getting involved on the committee, I thought I’d go for the popular role of club treasurer, a great way to make friends, haha. But I also knew going back, not everyone has left and I know some badminton players already, get some courts booked guys! We were fortunate enough that the first team captain of the club was a national player and I’ve never seen to that point (and certainly ever played against) anyone of this ability. He’d been battering me during the first year (but teaching me so much as well) and now he was picking up where year 1 had left off. But for all his ability he had no attitude, never looked down on anyone knowing he was a far greater player and was genuinely happy to help where he could. This was a refreshing attitude from such a player and in many ways inspiring. My lesson from this was that I wanted to forever more emulate this attitude in all subsequent badminton clubs because this is absolutely the right way to play the game and get other people involved. If you have an attitude about you, then your club will suffer and in time potentially die out and I’m currently seeing this more and more in many sports, not just badminton. This is not the type of person I want to be and an important detail in welcoming the next freshers.
So second year is off and I was behind the stall this time. Also unsurprisingly we had another ridiculous amount of freshers turn up early on and again this quickly fizzled out as they are all trying new things. Then when it comes to paying some money they run and run quickly. Not right but what was great was we identified those that really wanted to commit to club and keep them. For me as well it meant finding a new doubles partner for matches, manage my role on the committee and encourage club participation but that was all cool. When you love the sport this stuff is not a chore. The new doubles partner was found and we also continued to have a very good year. The team (2nd) had a great year in getting promoted, results were great and we had a strong squad which was awesome. We also pushed each other, I remember team training sessions, pushing each other on sprints, and in practice games on court. This year’s varsity day sticks in mind, my partner and I were playing for the win (of the second team fixture) in the 3rd end and it was 18-18. We couldn’t find a way to win it though. So the match was drawn which was a significant improvement to the previous year. Coventry still lost overall however Coventry had always lost in the entire varsity day history between the Uni’s, so to take this wasn’t a bad result at all. But again second year was over, another Summer loomed. Before this I chucked my hat in the ring for presidency of the club and as mine was the only one in that was an easy election. I had had two great years by this point and it was important to me to try and continue this run for the club and for the University and give more back. I wanted to see that the Students coming through had experiences and memories like I had to look back on fondly. I also wanted to try and continue to drive up the competitive nature of the club and ultimately play a good standard of badminton. I also wanted to get the club involved with the University alumni activities to try and kick this off so all students still felt a connection, this may have been wishful thinking and a little naive as it relies on future years to feel as I did, but hey, I had to try.
Final year, more work, less time, less badminton? Not likely! It actually meant far less drinking which cannot be too bad and much better time management to maximise what I wanted to do more of which was ultimately as much badminton as in previous years. But just before term started I learnt that 2 of my key committee members (and good friends) were not returning to University as they had landed other opportunities and to say I was a little gutted was an understatement. 1 was also my doubles partner who I was hoping to have another successful season with, especially as we had been promoted! This couldn’t break things though. I started firing messages out to members of the club that were all quite junior (only just completed freshers) and I was looking for people to step up. It was amazing because the response was great and people got involved. They rallied quickly and we were prepared for the start of the new academic year. What was pleasing was this was another great badminton year for me. We had competitive badminton, the second team struggled as we were not as strong and in a harder league but I cannot fault the players commitment, every one of the lads really gave 100% every time, my new partner and I went through this entire year undefeated including taking both our Varsity games. So that was something to celebrate even if the team struggled. There are many more fond memories from the social side of this year as well.
My biggest badminton memory would be of Varsity 2010, St Patrick’s Day Wednesday March 17th, if the lads involved ever read this they will not thank me for immortalising the occasion online but it’s a great tale and truly highlights why people love sport. The entire University was rallied for this year, this Varsity was going to be the one! Teams were picked and we had an earlier fixture in the afternoon. Let battle commence! Things were level pegging, my partner and I did our job and took 2 wins of the 8. Unfortunately the singles lads only won 1 of 4 and the other doubles lost their first match. The tie was 3-4 to Warwick. Final set of the final match, Coventry playing for the Draw. The focus wasn’t too high but I heard the score 12-20 called with the Warwick lads just about to serve, I thought “get in lads”, see this one out and we have a draw. 13-20. 14-20, 15-20, 16-20, ok lads, stop this and get the match point, 17-20, 18-20, Come on! 19-20, 20-20, (full credit to Warwick player serving) 20-21 Now you get the point, FFS! 21-21, 22-21, 23-21 Seriously! Are you kidding me. We were gutted and not least of all those 2 lads, this loss probably hurts more than any event to date and I still remember the feelings at the time. But chin up, it’s St Paddy’s day and we have the Derby rugby match to go and see. Time to go and get the Guinness’s in. We had a good few pints and reflected on the game, amazing how much a beer can make things seem better. Until we arrived at the stadium where the head of sports and societies bounds up to us as excited as anything to tell us the entire day was drawn and everything was on this rugby game! Unbelievable! The way Varsity works, if a team wins 2 points, a draw 1 point and nothing for a loss, so as there are 5 hockey teams that is 10 points up for grabs. But we were gutted, we knew there and then that one of those single badminton points above was a 2 point swing where Coventry could have been guaranteed a draw and playing for the win! Instead of level pegging and unfortunately Coventry lost the rugby and another Varsity day to Warwick… What a sporting memory though and what a night out that followed! I don’t really remember all of it…
Final year was then over but I’m so pleased that through Badminton I have forged friendships that have lasted through the common interest. The end of University was tough knowing I wouldn’t be coming back to all of this but it always had a definite end point. It was back to Cambridgeshire where I went cold turkey on the sport again and picked up the martial arts again, only to play a handful of times in the 4 and half years away, again. This didn’t last… It did take until 2015 but I found another club to get involved with locally. Was I rusty? Yes. Did I need some more practice? Hell yes! Am I loving the sport again? Absolutely! And I’ve even got my wife playing competitively and enjoying it, training her up from an absolute beginner and I could not be more pleased with how well she is doing.
I look back at my badminton time to 2015 with many fond memories beyond just the sport. I love playing the game and I love winning. If I’m not trying to win why am I bothering to play? I ask myself this, I generally cannot tone down my shots and the way I play to suit others, make it easier for them, it’s not in my nature. Plus people take full advantage of this given the chance. I look for people to push themselves and challenge me, take me on and beat me. When I recognise my opposition is strong I try and rise to their level and be competitive, find a way to get around them and take the games. Always in the background of this I’m looking to improve, get stronger, get faster, become more tactically aware. When I played at University I would try and blast and muscle my way through, maybe because I was younger and quicker? However I feel fitter now as I drink less and I am considerably lighter in weight. So perhaps the variation comes with experience which is everything and I would encourage anyone reading to draw on that experience from others to make improvements to their own game, no matter what sport.
What’s also amazing with Badminton is that it’s such a social sport suitable for all. This is a credit to the sport. I have had many great socials with previous clubs and my present club through people who share a common interest coming together, getting to know one another off of the courts. Take a little time to get to know the people around you as well that you play alongside week in and week out, it makes you feel so much more a part of something bigger than just the game. I also think if these friendships are formed it makes it easier to help one another and improve your game within the club. I’m always happy to help and offer advice and pointers if wanted, it’s not always so I don’t volunteer it all the time. It can be harder to approach someone if you feel asking makes you look weak, in my mind this couldn’t be further from the truth as it shows you want to get better, you may just not know how to do so. If you don’t ask though you cannot hope to know. Sport shouldn’t be easy, it should be challenging and engaging. I’d rather win (or even lose) a hard fought, tough game than obliterating easy opposition, there’s no satisfaction there. The buzz off of a hard fought victory is amazing and there lies the love and addiction.
On reflection of the entire piece I started the writing in order to share a passion of one sport that I love. I’m sure many others who participate in sports get the same feelings and have their own great stories and memories. You don’t get these in a gym. I do use the gym but only to get fit to play badminton. I don’t have any legendary tales to tell about my greatest set of weights lifted, or quickest 5km row? Who does? I guess if you are fed up of the gym then give something else ago that gets you active or allows you to meet new people, you might just surprise yourself at how refreshing a change is. Badminton is not just a game I occasionally play, it’s without doubt a part of my life and who I am now.
I really hope you have taken something from my blog here. I’m passionate about this sport, thanks for reading.