BADMINTON: The life of a Hastings pro
By Ben Cornwell
David Fletcher has played badminton for most of his life – first in school PE, later overseas when he was in the army. Returning to Hastings, he decided to focus on full time coaching. He started in schools across the town, then around 15 years ago created the Hastings Junior Badminton Club.
Children flocked in. Some of their parents asked about the possibility of a mums and dads club. David preferred to create a Friday session for both adults and juniors.
So, on a Friday, the club splits its four courts into age groups: primary, secondary, and two courts for college students and adults. But club players – usually around 20 in number overall – are not compelled to stick to this arrangement. David encourages the adults to play the odd game against the juniors, believing this is key to helping the younger players develop and improve as they need to challenge themselves against higher quality opponents.
CREDIT: David Fletcher
Saturday sessions, specifically for juniors, attract between ten and 20 players. David tries to cater the sessions for everybody so that those wanting to play for fun and the social aspect can enjoy it just as much as those looking to do it competitively. “It has got to be one of the most sociable sports”, he says. “That’s not just something I have found since my time running the club in Hastings. You can walk into a badminton club anywhere and be made to feel welcome, and that’s what I like about it. It’s not difficult for someone with basic hand-eye coordination to pick up a racket and play.”
Pre-Covid, the club fielded several different teams in the Hastings & District Badminton League, which covers Rye, Bexhill and a 20 mile radius around – two men’s, a women’s and a mixed. After months of lockdowns and social distancing restrictions it has been difficult for clubs around the country to continue to pull in the same numbers, and the Hastings Junior Club has suffered with the rest. David felt accordingly that for the 2021/22 season it was best to enter just one men’s team, but he is hoping to resume the full range of teams from September to fulfil an undoubted demand for competitive matches.
Many of his former proteges across 23 years of coaching have gone on to play at county or national level. Over the last decade, his coaching has led him to Uganda and provided him with the opportunity to coach their national team. He initially went over there with the head teacher of Silverdale school but he then decided to make a further trip on his own so that he could continue to encourage more people in Uganda to get involved in the sport.
Back in Hastings, David says that he is not only planning the club’s future but also his own – he envisages that in a few years he will pass the running of the junior club onto somebody else. But he feels that still he has a couple of years left before he hangs his racket up for good. And in July he looks forward to being with the Ugandan national team at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham – a great experience for him.
Improving my game
At the end of my discussion with David, I asked him for some tips on how a new player (like myself) could improve. He told me that he would pass on advice that was given to him several decades ago by former British Olympic coach Paul Whetnall, which massively helped him change his game. “When the shuttlecock is coming toward you, only focus on the white cork. It may initially feel a bit strange to play like this, but once you get used to it, you will cut out a lot of errors and mishits.”
Perhaps I should have kept that information to myself rather than sharing it in this piece for my regular opponent to read.
The modern-day version of badminton can be traced back to the 19th century when British army officers in India developed a game called Poona, inspired by the children’s pastime Battledore and Shuttlecock. The fast-paced sport was similar to the game we know today except there was no net or court, the aim was simply to prevent the shuttlecock from hitting the ground. The name itself comes from the Duke of Beaufort’s Badminton House in Gloucestershire, where it’s claimed that the modern version was first played in England.
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