19 April 2007

Starting a Juniors’ Badminton Program

By Jeanne Gustafson

This article was previously published in the USAB winter 2002 magazine. It is our hope that our experiences will help you in your endeavors. Badminton is a rewarding and challenging sport that can be played year round. Please feel free to contact us for more information or to share your ideas with us.

Juniors’ badminton programs, coached and played at the local level, provide essential grassroots development to the sport. They don’t come full court without planning, dedication, and local support, however. Eric Lee is now beginning his second year of coaching the “Lincoln Heights Shuttlefreaks,” the juniors’ team he founded at his son’s public elementary school in Spokane, Washington. The team voted on their own name, and their first year can be described as no less than a “Freakin’” success, with 49 regular players throughout the year.

Spokane has long had an active adults club, where children have been welcomed to play, but the interest level Eric’s son Nick had for the sport inspired Eric to set out on a grassroots effort to bring the sport to local kids. He had coached soccer at his son’s school, and he had found some children who he knew would be interested in playing badminton if they could.

The main challenges he faced were finding a facility for practice, garnering the support of a larger institution and, of course, setting up the actual structure of team. Finding young people who want to participate, he discovered, was not a problem. In fact, the program was so popular that this year he has had to limit the numbers of students so he can run a more focused program.

Following are Eric’s basic strategies and tips for starting a local school-based badminton team for kids, and how they worked for him.

Find your energy for the sport, and translate it into action.

It’s no secret–Eric’s energy is contagious, on and off the court. His ability to get others excited is one of his biggest assets, and the first ingredient in any grassroots project is excitement for the sport. There’s no doubt that sincere determination to find the ways to bring badminton to local youths is the crucial feather in the bird that has made Eric’s program work so well. Getting volunteer coaching support from others in the local badminton community has helped to keep Eric from being the lone ranger, although he has definitely taken the responsibility for doing the nuts and bolts work of running the club. He coaches three classes every Friday, organizes the curriculum, and publishes a newsletter for parents of the athletes.

Eric really emphasizes the importance of his volunteer assistants. No badminton coach is an island, but a good team organizer galvanizes others and delegates tasks. People are happy to help, Eric says, and he draws on the skills of the people around him to take on specifics, like nailing down the travel details for a competition or even, say, taking photos of the team to accompany an article. Again, getting to know people, getting to know what talents and time they have to offer, has been vitally important to the endurance of the club.

Get to know local education administrators, and make it easy for them to say yes.

First and foremost, Eric needed a place to hold the classes he planned. His son’s interest had already taken him beyond simply playing to developing coaching skills through the USAB’s badminton certification program, and he wanted to share them with Nick’s school community as well as with the other kids who already played at the adult club. He started by getting to know the principal and teachers at Lincoln Heights Elementary School. When, as a parent, Eric volunteered to coach beginning badminton after school, Principal Mike McGinnis recognized the value of offering an alternative sport for students, one that builds endurance, discipline, and fine motor skills from an early age. With Principal McGinnis leading the rally, the school adopted the program wholeheartedly. In exchange, Eric agreed to enroll students from the school first, then to add students from other schools (other players from the adult badminton club) as space allowed. Thus, the school’s gym facilities were secured for no cost, as an extracurricular service was being offered to the school’s students. The school even provides the rackets and nylon shuttlecocks used in the program, so it will be accessible to all interested students.

For Eric, his own son’s school was the first and most obvious choice of location, but other local schools, including two high schools, expressed an interest in having a badminton program as well. Eric says the person to approach at the elementary level is most often the school principal, while at the junior high and high school level the physical educators become more key to gaining access to the space.

The major advantage of using a school for an umbrella organization is the coverage of students by the school’s liability insurance. Eventually, Eric was assigned a nominally paid school staff position at Lincoln Heights to reinforce the insurance coverage of the activity and to provide subsidies to cover the costs of going to tournaments.

Another possible avenue to pursue for support is the local parks department. Eric approached the Spokane Parks department with a proposal for a weeklong badminton camp, and it was included as a class in the summer parks and recreation schedule which, in Spokane, is mailed to every home that receives a city utility bill. Again, by using an established public umbrella institution, liability insurance for the class was covered and a facility was provided (in this case a local high school). A bonus was the interest of the city’s major newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, which sent a reporter and a photographer out to the camp and published a feature article on the program in the local weekly supplement. This publicity in turn led to calls from parents of kids in other schools.

Build a program with a focus on fun first, then refinement and finally, competition.

Shuttlefreaks in Seattle! Eric’s first students were truly beginners. They had a high curiosity about the sport, and Eric already knew from parenting his own three children that the way to maintain that interest was to make sure the kids were having a good time, no matter what else. Eric used the USAB shuttle program as a model, with modifications for the small gym space he had. Concerned that too much information and instruction would take a lot of the energy out of the class time, Eric this incorporated a lot of games, like “follow the leader” and “dodge the shuttle,” into the classes. In this way, he was able to help his athletes develop their strokes and footwork while keeping the mood energized and fun. After the initial session, Eric divided the group and coached the more advanced players separately to keep them challenged.

The intermediate group continued to work on development of their basic strokes and footwork. In April of 2002, five members of the then-intermediate group, all U12 players, drove to an invitational juniors’ tournament at the Seattle Badminton Club for their first taste of competition. The excitement of the kids was palpable and their enthusiasm huge. It was a great experience for them, and they learned a lot about the endurance needed for competition. Receiving trophies, ribbons and state rankings for their efforts provided a lot of positive reinforcement as well. All five of those players are in Eric’s advanced class this year.

Now, in the second year, the Shuttlefreaks has a big enough base of players with some experience for three smaller classes: beginning, intermediate, and advanced. Each session lasts 6 weeks and has a limit of 6-8 players, allowing beginners a natural break point to cycle in or out of the group. This gives students from the school (3rd through 6th graders are invited to sign up) plenty of opportunity to try out the sport without a huge commitment. It also allows Eric a little breathing room, and the ability to focus on competitive level play for his advanced players. But, ironically, one of Eric’s biggest challenges is the very popularity of the program and how to manage its steady growth. He’s still working on balancing demand with availability, and currently has a waiting list for classes.

The Shuttlefreaks advanced group adds movement to the stroke development equation. They work on drills that intertwine strokes with motion, including a drill in which a pair of players cycle through a full rotation on the doubles court, practicing drops, smashes and clears. Eric also designs drills specifically for the needs of his students. For example, when he noticed that a lot of the kids were having trouble remembering to keep their rackets in ready position as they moved around the court, he devised a game in which they attach a weighted fishing line to their rackets at the racket ready position and then race to pick up birdies without letting their weights touch the floor. They are currently preparing for a trip to the Kelowna Badminton Club Junior Tournament in Kelowna, B.C.

In all three levels of classes, Eric leaves time at the end for the students to play games of badminton, but a lot of the kids seem to like the creative drill games just as well as the actual badminton games. And that is really the beauty of the program. If you start a program, kids will come and play, and that is the true measure of a successful juniors’ program.

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