Seven life skills from a badminton racquet

When we were dating, I accompanied Forest to the badminton gym and watched him play with his friends.  At first, it was fun to simply watch my true love smile, sweat and come to life….until I became a restless spectator.  The problem was that Forest and his friends have played for years.  I didn’t even know how to hold my racquet.   

I gave it a try but was soon overwhelmed with memories of being surrounded by teens and kids, feeling invisible and terrible as they sailed around me expertly pumping the volleyball, kicking the soccer ball etc…

Forest is many wonderful things but he didn’t have the time, skills or patience to teach me and he knew it 😉 so he encouraged me to take lessons. 

Several months later…. 

Same gym, same people, except this time I am alive on the court!

Ten private lessons taught me a lot about badminton and a lot about life. 

1. Start easy. Taste success

I didn’t learn back hand or the smash on my first lesson.  First priority- racquet meets birdie.   “If you experience success, you can handle the challenges” my coach said.  He didn’t leave me lingering in success for long, he challenged me! But only after tasting some sweet victory. 

There are a lot of things that I want to learn:  piano, Chinese, Chinese cooking, art, Spanish…  Sometimes I just jump in the deep end and sink or swim.  Badminton has taught me a more gentle way.

2. Don’t be afraid of flying objects

Easily said… my instinct when speeding objects fly at my head is to panic,  freeze, duck, or flap my arms… not very good for accuracy.  And then weirdly my fear got greater because of defeat. 

What saved me was when I got hit in the face a couple of times with the birdie and it didn’t hurt! 

No pain, no problem!

Welcome the birdie as a friend not a foe.

I am also afraid of people which may come as a surprise.  When requests, emotions and disagreements, misunderstandings come flying at me I panic, freeze, flap my arms and hope that Forest or social media will make the fear go away.

I am learning to be truly honest with myself and others. That takes courage. 

Welcome conflicts as friends not foes.

3.  Expect the unexpected. 

During lessons my coach would tell me what kind of shot to do: underhand (close to net) Overhand (back up!).  Not so during games.   A good player will mix up their moves to keep their opponent guessing.  And if the opponent does guess and moves too soon they’re in trouble.  For example, one time Forest smashed the birdie to the back and sent me running back there to return it. Then he lightly tapped it just over the net and sent me running again.  The next smash I guessed his move and ran forward giving him just enough time to smash it again over my head and out of reach.  

The answer? Always go back to center, keep your eyes on the birdie and be ready to move anywhere.  

Expect the unexpected is one of my mom’s favourite mottos.  Her life has gone anything but according to plan and guesses ever since she was a little girl. I will let her share those stories.  What I admire about Mom is that she always goes back to her center, which is Christ, and gets ready for the next adventure. 

4.  Don’t give up! 

Right now I am at beautiful Como Lake in Coquitlam. (I have been getting all of my inspiration in nature lately)

I walked by a guy teaching a young girl how to play baseball in the little field. 

“I’m going to pitch and just whack the ball wherever you want” he said.

“You know I’m going to miss, right?” She retorted. 

I carried on my walk but seconds later I heard a loud cheer, “well done!!” 

Moments later I saw the little girl dancing down the trail. 

I’m so glad she didn’t give up.  I could totally relate to her.  It’s scary to hope for success, it’s easier to expect defeat.  That is how I felt about all sports. “I’m musical instead.” I would say or “I don’t do sports.”

I ruled sports out of my life until I saw Forest come alive on the court and wanted what he had.

Some of my badminton lessons were painful. My coach went easy in the beginning and then pushed hard always keeping a little ahead of me. 

It wasn’t until lesson 7 that my hits were far more than my misses.  And it felt wonderful.  

In teacher lingo this is called the ‘zone of proximal development’.  Teachers have to make a task difficult enough so that the student will keep trying and growing. 

Don’t give up.  It’s okay to miss sometimes. Even professionals miss.  But keep moving. Go for every birdie.

5.  Keep your style.

One benefit of not knowing anything about badminton is that I didn’t learn any bad habits.  I could start from scratch with a coach who held the title of Canada’s top badminton player in men’s singles. 

One of the first things he said was,  “you will play differently from your husband because you are a woman. That is good. Embrace that.”  I am also tall and left handed and the list of unique traits goes on….

“Remember what you learned” were his parting words.  Others have different styles and habits.  I have to play in a way that works for me to be successful.

6.  Don’t be too nice

Aim the birdy away from your opponent, smash the racquet like you’re angry…. that does not come naturally to me. 

 Being “nice and gentle” comes very naturally.   I remember one time, as a home support worker, drying a lady’s back after a shower and being very gentle. “Rub harder!” She yelled. “Stop being so gentle!” She wanted vigour.  Other ladies that I cared for were like little birds whose tissue paper skin could break any second.  They needed gentleness.  Being gentle is comfortable.  Most people like that.  Don’t rock the boat!  Stay safe.  Be peaceable and agree with everyone.

Check out this story about the doctor that saved thousands of children from leukaemia.  He rocked a lot of boats.  He upset people.  He invoked very painful treatments but he saved a lot of lives and found a cure for a devastating disease.

In badminton I had to transition between gentle and aggressive constantly.  “Control your power” was said often during lessons. 

Powerful and aggressive felt new and exciting and it was hard then to transition back to gentle.  Success in sports and in life depends a lot on that self control. 

“Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.”

Proverbs 16:32. 

I used to think that verse meant never be aggressive, never be powerful or passionate.  Suck it up, smile and be quiet.

I would be a very weak badminton player if that was true.  The key word is “control” 

Use my power with wisdom for it is very precious.

7.  Relax!

My best badminton lesson was right after a three week holiday in China.  I didn’t practice except for playing with Forest one time in the back yard.  I wasn’t thinking about getting better at playing or stressing out.  I was rested and relaxed…. but a little worried that a long break had dampened my skills.  On the contrary! My first lesson back was victorious!

The challenges and skills had been ingrained and my hands worked on their own.  Muscle memory.  The same as when you can play a piano piece without even thinking about it.  Or overthinking it.

Control your power, energy and tension.  One time I broke a guitar string because I tuned it too tight.  I used to be afraid of relaxing because I thought that meant laziness.  A loose guitar string with a flat pitch doesn’t sound very good.  

What I found in badminton though was a combination of rest and focus.  Focus, play hard, shake it off.  If you miss don’t stress.  Learning the right skills helps me relax and taking some pressure off helps too. 

My coach often said “slow down”.  Sometimes I tried to use choppy speed to substitute for skill.  That didn’t work.  Clear head, smooth strokes.  One of the lessons felt like a dance class.  I learned how to move in a rhythm. 

Before I play a point game with Forest we warm up.  We don’t attach any rewards other than the joy of playing.  We smile and kiss win or lose. (TMI!)  

In teaching school we had a lot of discussion about intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards.  There is a place for both but as I learned from Daniel Pink in his book Drive, too much external pressure and reward can be pretty demotivating and lead to quite the opposite of their desired effects.

Check out this review on goodreads.

Don’t get me wrong.. I’m all for a little competition.  I told Forest I wanted to learn badminton so I could kick his butt (I’m getting close!)  But friendly rivalry is different from intense pressure and anxiety. 

Everyone’s threshold capacity of pressure is different.  Respect yours, take a deep breath  and enjoy! 😊.  

Forest and I are great team now

If you want to play with us let me know!

If you want an excellent badminton coach contact Mark Chang at Stage 18 badminton in Richmond.

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