This Coaching Week, we wanted to take the time to highlight just how important the coaches in our community from grassroots all the way up to elite are to keeping our sport going. Motivating players and developing them to the best they can be is just the start of the great work these coaches do and it’s appreciated at the very top level.

Today we catch up with u15 County player Annie Zhu, and her first coach Sheila Boyes. Why not share your stories with us on social media of your first coach?

Player: Annie Zhu

Yorkshire County Badminton Player and 2020 Young Volunteer of the Year

How did you get into badminton?

I was a small child, so my parents encouraged me to do all kinds of sports: dancing, swimming, and playing badminton. While playing with my parents, a coach invited me to join the local junior badminton club.

Who was your first coach?

My parents taught me how to play initially. I then attended sessions at Thornaby Junior Badminton Club delivered by Sheila, and eventually progressed to the local performance centre where Pete Higman became my coach.

What made you continue with badminton over other sports?

I had originally been swimming and playing badminton for 3-4 years and swimming gradually became very time demanding due to the addition of early morning sessions. I became too tired to remain competitive in both sports and made the decision to drop swimming to focus on badminton. I enjoyed playing badminton more and was a better badminton player than swimmer!

What impact did your grassroots coach have on your badminton career?

Sheila taught me how to hold the racket and hit the shuttle, encouraging me a lot, and praising my efforts. She made badminton fun and enjoyable for me and made me want to continue and get better. She gave me a passion for the sport which goes beyond playing – I now give my time back at the Thornaby Junior Club session, acting as a role model and helping the less experienced players to improve and develop. I attended Badminton England’s Young Leaders Academy and have helped at numerous local school events, and this year was delighted to be awarded the Yonex Young Volunteer of the Year Award!! So starting out with Sheila has enabled me to achieve a lot both as a player and volunteer.

What do you remember most about your first experiences of badminton?

It was incredibly difficult to hit the flying shuttle, and I enjoyed going to the weekly sessions to see friends I had made at the sessions.

What makes a great grassroots coach?

A grassroots coach should have basic badminton skills, for instance, knowing how to hold the racket properly and how to generate power. However, they should be patient, give lots of encouragement and praise all effort and improvement. They should also be friendly and helpful.

Coach: Sheila Boyes

  • Level 2 Coach, currently working towards level 3
  • Does a lot of work in Primary Schools and from here feeds players through to her own junior club, Thornaby Pavilion, or other local clubs depending on the catchment area of the school (for example has different clubs for Darlington Schools). Once in the club system when they are ready to take the next step juniors are signposted to the local academy (or signposted straight there if they are outstanding).

*Post Covid-19 the junior academy has been unable to recommence – the academy coach is still pursuing 1-2-1s and for the immediate future Sheila plans to feed her most talented players on to him until the possibility of a more formal organisational structure, for the players to progress through to, resumes

How did you get into coaching?

I have always been interested in the coaching side. When my children were young, I took them to a local badminton session, where I then got involved as a volunteer and from here things progressed to me then taking my coaching badges. I enjoy increasing my knowledge and believe this adds to my coaching.

What motivates you as a coach?

I get a real buzz from seeing people enjoying the sport and getting better. I have always been involved in sport myself and eventually badminton became my main sport – I love passing on my knowledge to help my participants improve and I think sport is a great tool to help people to develop. I coach in some difficult schools and get a lot out of seeing the improvement in these children, even if they learn just one small thing each lesson!

How would you describe yourself as a coach?

I would describe myself as a grassroots coach that has good knowledge to help players who want to go further. I am currently doing my level 3 to increase my knowledge so I can help all my players in the best possible way, and I enjoy learning and developing myself as a coach. I would say my coaching style is firm but fair – I am happy to have a bit of silliness but like to set the boundaries and ensure learning takes place.

What makes a good grassroots coach?

  • Being passionate about what you do
  • Having good motivational skills – this involves being able to deal with everyone as an individual and identify what works for each person
  • Creating a positive learning environment – allowing players to progress as they want to.
  • Helping to develop the whole person
  • Having the ability to cater for individual needs but being able to make this work within a group

How do you ensure your sessions are fun, whilst still encouraging learning and development?

With my primary age children, we play lots of fun games that promote learning the fundamentals with the correct technique. This ensures we are putting strong foundations down. I also ensure in my sessions that I change things up quite a lot to keep things fresh. I give positive feedback to promote a positive learning environment and encourage players involvement by giving them choices.

The group dynamics are important, and I find setting the tone for the session helps create the right atmosphere from the onset. I am currently running a women and girls session and I’ve worked hard to make this as social as possible, as learning happens more naturally in an environment where everyone feels comfortable. 

What attributes do you see in more talented players that you believe can progress further within the sport?

As a coach I think the most important attribute in a player is their ability to listen. When I am putting forward my players for the next level, I always highlight this to the player when I tell them I am recommending them. I am also looking for children with good fundamentals – for example, their feet are already doing things they should be doing perhaps because they have good experience from a variety of sports. I also tend to notice the children who I feel have a bit of resilience, which you can spot through game play amongst other things.

At what point do you signpost players on to further fulfil their potential with another coach?

The local clubs work very well collectively with the local academy. We do not drip through players to the academy as this makes it much harder for the coach but instead set up 3-4 trial days a year so that we can put forward players. It also means all successful players can then go to the academy as a group which makes it less daunting for them. I put forward all my players that show the attributes highlighted above. Unless a player is outstanding, I always feel they should come through the club system first as this provides them with the opportunity to develop and learn all the key fundamentals and basic technique. We are very flexible with trials so if I had 3-4 players showing potential, I could arrange a trial date. I also always communicate with my players and if they show the right skills will talk to them and tell them to keep doing the right things and they will be put forward for the next trial.


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