I was incredibly fortunate and played badminton professionally. I travelled the world, competed in major tournaments and won a few medals doing so. If I had told my teachers at 16 years old that I was going to be a professional sportswoman, they would have laughed at me. Now, that option is taken seriously.
I love sport. I love the competitiveness and I love the lessons it teaches us. I have learnt about teamwork, self-discipline, communication, co-operation and being gracious in defeat. These are characteristics and attributes that, as a parent, I would love to teach my two boys Harry and Oliver.
I am still active now, even though I retired from international sport 6 years ago, as I want to be a positive role model to my sons. I encourage them to swim, to do gymnastics and football, as well as rugby and tennis. I want them to enjoy sport and both have relished being in a sporting environment. They are strong boys and love running about, but the questions do arise about being future Olympians / sportsmen, and the truth is that I would love them to compete in sport as a career, but thankfully there’s still a long time before they have to make those decisions!
If Harry and Oliver decided as young adults that sport was for them, I would be there for them every step of the way. I would emphasise that to be the best you can be is the most rewarding thing, and whether that is number 1 in the world, or number 1346th, then you should be proud. I would ask them to put 100% into every training session and every match, as I learnt that you let yourself, teammates and coaches down if you put anything less in. But the biggest thing I would ask them to do and encourage above all? Well, that would be to have fun and to enjoy themselves! I still love going onto a badminton court, 32 years after I played badminton for the first time at 4 years old.
“I still love going onto a badminton court, 32 years after I played badminton for the first time at 4 years old.”
My mum and I used to play down at our local badminton club and I used to love playing against her. I wanted to try and get a point off her but she never let me! So I used to practice and I joined the junior club, just so I could get better. Then I got that point, then 2 points and so on.
It took me 8 years, but I finally beat her!! I was 12 and it was the happiest day of my life! My mum cried. I have asked my mum since about her beating me all the time and why she did that, and my mum said that she never intentionally set out to do that, it was just that she saw this determination and competitiveness in me so it was “dangling a carrot” and that just made me want to get better.
Badminton as a sport has changed dramatically. Now, the sport is dominated by the Far East nations: China, Korea, Malaysia, Japan and Indonesia. The top European countries are Denmark, Germany and Russia with GB up there just about! It is a different culture playing a minority sport in the UK and then seeing it as a national sport, and players are heroes when you visit Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. It can be demoralising knowing that you struggle with money, sponsorship, identity and appreciation, and, sometimes, top level coaching and sparring. I remember going to China when I was 17 years old and seeing the “conveyor belt” of players that were in the badminton system. 100 million people in China play the sport, compared to around 2 million in the UK. When I was competing in the Far East, it felt like I was taking on the whole of Asia sometimes!
The odds are seriously against a European Olympic badminton champion in the foreseeable future. With the sheer numbers, coaching, facilities, money and stardom available in Asian countries, it will be a very hard task indeed, and will make players ask the question ‘Is this worth it?’ over and over again. But hey, I am a little blonde girl from a small town called Bedford, who learnt in a tin hut against her mum, and I was 3 points from winning an Olympic gold medal… so maybe it is worth it.