Monday, 16 March 2015

In praise of badminton

One distinct advantage of living (however briefly) in the U.K. is the opportunity to get re-acquainted with badminton.  I have a special relationship with badminton: it is the first sport where I realized that I might actually have some aptitude.  Let me set the stage.

In my senior year of high school, we had a badminton unit in P.E.   I was matched up with someone (whose name has slipped into the mists) and we proceeded to beat the entire class in doubles.  This was a revelation.  Never before had I ever shown such aptitude.  My exposure to sports had been to the usual american sports: baseball, flag football and basketball.  My father favored baseball and I was anxious to please him, but frankly I was terrible.  I was (and continue to be!) afraid of a hard hit ball.  I was typically assigned to right field: the sink hole for the inept.  I remember being more interested in the gophers than the progress of the game.

As discussed in a previous post, I'm all about the ball.  And so basketball was one of my favored sports.  I was, once again, not very good.  But at least I could chase the ball and try and inhibit the other players (in this way, I am drawn to soccer).  There were two lightweight leagues "C" and "D".  According to your age, weight and height, you were allowed to play in one or the other league.  And when you got too old, well, unless you qualified for varsity, you were done.  In 10th grade, I qualified for "D"s.  I only tried out because my history teacher, the infamous Ron Jones (of the "Third Wave") mentioned it in class.  And in the subsequent year, I qualified for "C"s.  I should note that there were two strings and leftovers.  And I was in the leftovers.

But badminton was different.  I could sense that this was a sport I could really play.  First, it doesn't require strength.  Second, it's about strategy (like tennis).  Third, it favors a kind of twitchy fast reaction kind of body.  And fourth, being small and lightweight is not a problem, and perhaps even preferred.

And so, by the time I went off to college, I had bought my own racquet.  I took a few classes in college but both the other players and coaches didn't really take it as seriously as I did.  Had there been a team, I would have tried to make it.  But there wasn't, so I let it go.  I also learned about squash as an undergrad and I liked that too.  But I think squash doesn't have as much finesse as badminton.  Badminton is all about guile and changing speed.  Both sports emphasize precision and that is always my emphasis.

So, I didn't play badminton again until I was teaching at Rutgers.  I ventured to the other campus to play but realized it took a good 3 hours out of the middle of my day.  Not a good plan.  So, again it languished.

And now, here it is, many years later and I have found a badminton club.  When I first started to play, I was extremely rusty.  I couldn't hit the bird very reliably and I certainly couldn't figure out where to put it precisely.  Now, it's all coming back.  I can clear the bird to the end of the court.  And this week, all of a sudden, I could drop the bird over the net.  And, my close net play returned --- just like that.  Backhands have always been a problem (in squash too) but that's starting to come back.

I couldn't even remember how to play singles: I knew it was "long and narrow" but that was it.  And once, I only played singles!  But after a single session it started to come back: the long serves, returning to the tee.  It all started to come back.  And I found that I certainly don't have the stamina that I had.  But not playing more than once a week is also responsible.

But why is squash easier to find in the U.S. than badminton?  The answer is simply courts.  Squash courts are special built.  They have to have the "tin" to signal the out of bounds low shot as well as the regulation court.  But badminton requires a flat court.  And given the choice between basketball and badminton (or even volleyball) which sport ends up on the bottom?  You know the answer.

Badminton has a bad reputation in the U.S. as a backyard sport for wimps.  I, for one, would like to erase that categorization and show how diabolical it can be (not to mention, how difficult it is to play properly).  But I don't hold out much hope.   But I have to say, this trip has reinvigorated my love for this game --- I remember why I felt it was the game for me.

No comments: