Badminton is the most popular racket sport in Britain, with more numerous regular players than tennis among both sexes. Badminton England claims that there are over 1,800 clubs in the country and 22,000 courts. Thirteen clubs are affiliated to the Hastings and District Badminton League, covering an area between Hailsham and Rye, organised into men’s, women’s and mixed divisions. Many more players turn out for casual games at their local sports centre.

So where is the Andy Murray or Serena Williams of the sport? Where the Fred Perry or Billie Jean King of yesteryear? How many people, even general sports devotees, can name a champion badminton player, past or present, British or global? 

The success of professional sport depends upon its appeal as a spectacle, more particularly its televisual quality. And, unfortunately, it’s a game that’s more fun to play than watch. The TV camera can encompass the court, as with tennis, but the speed of both racket and shuttle (the fastest badminton smash was recorded at over 300 mph, double the fastest serve at Wimbledon) often defeats the eye view. And, whatever camera angles are used, they tend to flatten out the trajectory of the shuttle, which is the all-important feature of the game from the player’s perspective. What the spectator sees is two or four players of supreme aerobic fitness, agility and hand-eye co-ordination exchanging rapid exchanges of fire. It’s not a game to foster celebrity.

However, David Fletcher, head coach of the Hastings Junior Badminton Club based at Helenswood Sports Centre, is doing his best with what there is. This Sunday, 24th March, he has invited former international competitor and current elite coach Anthony Clark to attend the centre to offer coaching to local players, both adults and juniors. Clark never quite garnered an Olympic medal, but represented the UK at two Games in 2004 and 2008, won two World Championship doubles medals (in 2006), plus seven Commonwealth medals and 106 England caps over the course of his playing career. He now acts as a Badminton GB Ambassador, commentator and athlete mentor.

Fletcher himself, now 59, learnt to play badminton while serving overseas in the army. He came back to the UK in the late 1980s, moved to Sussex 22 years ago, and has worked as a full-time coach here for the last 15 years. Helenswood is the club base where he coaches juniors of four different age ranges (under 11s, 13s, 15s and 17s). But he also brings the sport into nine separate primary schools across Hastings and Rother each week, setting up breakfast and after-school sessions in school halls that compete favourably with other sports clubs like football, martial arts or cross-country. Many children, he says, like it for taking place indoors and being essentially high energy but non-contact. And a good proportion enjoy their early experience enough to join the Helenswood club out of school.

Beyond that, the opportunities for the most talented competitors lie in joining county or national squads that are beyond Fletcher’s remit. County centres are at Horsham and Haywards Heath; Bromley and Orpington in South London are the nearest courts with dedicated facilities – dark walls and ceilings, markings for badminton alone, and elite peer competition. But kids from Hastings can get there: Adam Lam, once of Silverhill primary school, now aged 18 and playing at top university level, recently reached the quarterfinals of the national championships.

Fletcher is hoping that Anthony Clark’s visit will prove a major fillip to his current crop. “Every kid should have a hero”, he says.

Toby Reed, manager at Helenswood on behalf of Freedom Leisure, adds: “This is a unique opportunity to be coached by and meet an elite athlete….Local community leisure centres such as Helenswood are all about supporting local communities to be more active and the nurturing of young talent, so we are extremely proud that so many youngsters attend clubs here. The Hastings Junior Badminton Club is a fine example of grass roots sports progressing to competition level”. 

• For more details of Hastings Junior Badminton Club, see  www.hastingsjbc.co.uk.
• For late enrolment in sessions with Anthony Clark on 24th March, phone David Fletcher 07538 178570 to check availability. For primary school ages, times are 10.00am-12.00pm; for juniors and adults 12.30pm-2.30pm.
 


We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.