I really, really like badminton. I like ‘thwang’ noise that the shuttlecock makes when it hits the racquet. I like that many badminton players still wear old-fashioned looking white shorts. I like the fact that it features in Disney’s Robin Hood (Ooo the Robin Hood fox – he’s my number one Disney hero of all time – but that’s another blog entirely). Most of all, I like badminton because it is the sport behind one of my Greatest Ever Sporting Moments.
I was 14 at the time. By that stage, I had embraced being classified as ‘rubbish at PE’. Like many people, I found that the invisible forces at school had put me into the ‘rubbish at PE’ camp rather than the ‘good at PE’ camp. It’s taken me many years to realise that this categorisation is not strictly true; I’m actually not bad at some sports. Anyway, aged 14, I happily accepted being ‘rubbish at PE’. One day – can’t remember which, but it was an afternoon – my friend & I were braced for being typically inept at the new sport being introduced to us: badminton. We had a new PE teacher, the kind who actually like to encourage pupils regardless of whether they were deemed good at sport or not (she also never made us do anything that she wasn’t prepared to have a go at herself – a quality I found very admirable. This meant we never did hurdles with her; instead we leaped our way over garden canes balanced on very small cones). My friend & I started out poorly, as usual. But with a bit of perserverance on our part, and a lot of cajooling on the teacher’s part, we improved. Before we went to get changed, the teacher said she was really impressed with the two girls who had started out unable to hit the shuttlecock but had progressed to playing a game by the end of the lesson. My friend & I looked around to see who she meant; she had to actually tell us that it was us that she was referring to.
It seems a bit sad to admit, but even now – 14 years later – that moment fills me with pride. I can remember it so clearly – that sense of achievement which is so much greater when it comes from doing something we don’t think we’re very good at, rather than something we find easy.
My memory of that day came flooding back to me this evening as I returned to the same sports centre. I’ve been back a number of times since but today was the first time since my schooldays that I’d played badminton there. I wondered where the years had gone: my school badminton partner is now married with a child; the women I was playing with tonight are also married or cohabiting; I’m probably older than the teacher was then & I certainly wouldn’t fit in my maroon gym knickers and netball skirt anymore. All those years have flown by, yet that feeling of pride still returned as clearly as the day I first experienced it. I guess sometimes we all need reminding that we have skills and talents that aren’t always obvious or that we don’t even know we possess. It feels good.