Credit: Jian Sean Tan

How badminton has helped me deal with the realities of life

By Natasha Coyle

Sports editor Natasha discusses how playing badminton has helped her navigate the ups and downs of life.

I have a great belief that sport teaches you a lot about yourself as an individual but also about the ups and downs of life. My sport, badminton, has been a key component in my understanding and acceptance that some things in life turn out how you want them to whilst others don’t. Badminton has simultaneously been a hobby, a job, a voluntary position, and is integral to my perspective of the world.

I was always pushed to participate in a sport. My family insisted that sport is very important and teaches you life skills. Obviously, between the ages of 6–15, sport was just a way for me to burn off steam and stop me from watching too much Hannah Montana or spending too much time on my phone. I tried a range of sports from football, to taekwondo, to netball. I finally found my one true love: badminton. However, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve been able to reflect upon how much playing badminton has taught me about the realities of life.

I distinctly remember playing singles in an under-17 tournament. My opponent was much better than I and we both knew it. She executed cross-court drops excellently, and at this point in my badminton career, I did not possess the same skill as my opponent. I gave up. And my mum, who taxied me to all my different hobbies, sacrificing so much of her time for me, watched as I gave up. I got a strong telling-off and did in fact cry. Those tears were one of a teenager who threw a strop and lost in single digits. I’m not proud of myself either when I look back at it.

That particular moment stands out for me because I was actually disappointed in myself. I am competitive and I want to win – the attitude I displayed on court at that tournament was not one I want to repeat. I also cried because I disappointed my mum. She gave me no sympathy and told me she would not take me to training sessions if I played with my head down and bottom lip out. Upon reflection, I needed to hear those tough words. That moment taught me that I don’t win, I don’t succeed, if I give up, cry, and sulk.

From that moment, I knew I had to change.

I worked harder at training but still enjoyed the sessions as a time to socialise with friends. And then things really started to click into place in my late-teens. I started going to the gym, getting stronger, faster, more agile. I was rewarded with compliments from my coach: “six months ago, you couldn’t do that Tash and now look at you”. I was putting in the work and I was seeing progress and outcomes.

Although my match record was never a clean sweep of wins—nor is it ever for anyone who plays sport—I was winning more games, taking points off better players, and being able to hold my own in long rallies. I am a doubles player but when I’m asked to play singles by a coach or a captain, it’s often for a team and I don’t want to let them down. I’ve played some of the best women in the country in BUCS league and cup matches and got double digits against many of these players who represent their countries. I’m a sound player, but I’ll never be that good. But what should I take away from my performances against some of the strongest badminton players in the UK? Well, I didn’t give up, and I never will again. Yes, I didn’t win, but I was proud of my performance.

Another distinct moment that stands out for me during my career as a player is a doubles match I played as a junior in the inter-counties under-18 tournament at the University of Nottingham. This match was the decider as to whether Derbyshire (my county) went on to the higher positions or the lower positions in the tournament. It was a tight three-setter. I gave it my all, as did my partner. But we didn’t win. It meant, overall, my county lost on points, and we went into the lower half of the tournament. I came off, crouched, and cried. I felt that I’d let my team down. But I hadn’t. My friends, my coaches, and my mum had all seen how much I had poured into that match, how much it meant to me. But I didn’t let them down, not this time because I hadn’t given up. That moment taught me that no matter how hard I may try, how passionate I am about something, I won’t always win.

Since then, I’ve experienced the joys of winning both as an individual and contributing to a team, and the lows of losing. Losing is a deflating feeling. But that’s why sport is amazing: sport is unscripted drama. Some of my matches have been thrillers. Some of them have been flops. Yet, I would not change it for the world. You will never always get what you want – badminton has taught me that. Badminton has also taught me that, although life can be bad, it’s all about perspective.

I’m known as someone who is a slow-starter and can often find themselves chasing the game. I’ve had my fair share of comebacks and that meant I won the match. How? Perspective. I don’t win with a negative attitude; I win when I know I’ve done the hard work in training and that the match isn’t over until it’s over. Okay, I’ve won some matches because another player is having a bad day, or someone was more nervous than I was during play. What does it all come down to, though? Perspective.

Badminton, and sport generally, is incredibly rewarding, just like life. Sport is a microcosm for life but is a fun and healthy excuse to not think about the actual realities of adulthood. Badminton has allowed me to move from Exeter to Glasgow and immediately have an amazing group of friends – even before I’d moved to Scotland, I’d been invited to a badminton house party. How did I manage that? Well, tournaments are also a time for networking. I just went and said hi to Glasgow badminton’s 2021/22 captain at the 2022 BUCS Nationals tournament in Sheffield. I said that I was intending to move to Glasgow University to undertake postgraduate study. Immediately, I had made connections with someone who lived in a totally different country to me through the sport that we were both passionate about.

Badminton has also taught me that the world is incredibly small – once you know a few badminton players, you know absolutely everybody. And I like that. It makes me feel safe, connected, and welcomed. I also love sports socials. There’s nothing better than winning a BUCS match and celebrating with your team. The comradery is incomparable to anything else.

Badminton has helped me manifest that I certainly won’t have things going my way if I give up. Badminton has also helped me manifest and practice having a positive worldview and sharing that with others, but it has also taught me that positivity doesn’t always mean that you win, it just enables for greater reflection and decreased risk of sulking. Badminton has taught me how to simultaneously enjoy movement, be competitive, forget about my stresses when I’m on the court, and how to make friends wherever I go.

Without this sport, I would not be the person I am today, and would not be as greatly equipped to tackle the realities of what the world might throw at me. 


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