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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 our Relationship Manager & Cambridgeshire Country 1st Team Player, Campbell Wilson and coach Sandra Dennis. Why not share your stories with us on social media of your first coach?

Player: Campbell Wilson

Badminton England Relationship Manager & Cambridgeshire County 1st Team Player

How did you get into badminton?

I started playing badminton when a local volunteer badminton coach set up an after-school club at my primary school.

Who was your first coach?

My first coach was Sandra Dennis. She still coaches in the area (St Neots Juniors, St Ives Juniors, junior county) and is very passionate about developing local badminton.

What made you continue with badminton over other sports?

I enjoyed badminton more than other sports. It’s technically difficult but rewarding and requires a lot of skill and tactics. I also had a highly passionate and enthusiastic coach after progressing to junior county and a great circle of friends from the group.

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

Sandra taught me the basics and then referred me onto the junior county training sessions when she saw that I had potential to develop further. If it wasn’t for her efforts (especially considering she was a volunteer!), I likely wouldn’t be playing badminton at all.

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

I remember that the sessions were always fun, and Sandra did a great job of getting up to 20 kids on one badminton court. Several kids from our school went on to the junior county set up and I think that reflects her efforts.

What makes a good grassroots coach?

Someone who:

  • Can teach the basics in a clear and concise way
  • Brings a positive energy to sessions
  • Communicates clearly
  • Genuinely has the interest of players at heart and is focused on player development
  • Provides constructive feedback
  • Recognises when a player can benefit further from another coach at a higher level

Coach: Sandra Dennis

Sandra is a voluntary coach in Cambridgeshire, starting her coaching journey working with several schools and now doing her main coaching in junior clubs. Some years back now, she was pivotal to the regeneration of badminton in Cambridgeshire engaging a large number of children in the game and duelling up as a coach and team manager to take a team to the ICT for the first time in 20 years!  

How did you get into coaching?

My love of badminton started at school when I managed to book on to 3-4 lunchtime sessions. Unfortunately, after attending these sessions badminton was taken off the curriculum, so I did not get back into badminton until I was 28! My friend invited me to her club and having played tennis I was a bit of a natural and continued from there, joining a club myself. Then when I was in my early 30’s I noticed there was very little opportunity for children to learn to play and as well as this a local junior club was folding.  Through my love of the sport I decided to get involved in coaching and from there things just snowballed really! I did everything off my own back as there was no one to mentor me at the time. I went into several schools to deliver sessions – through the school’s initiative all the schools played each other in a badminton competition, and this added to their desire to have a coach in to run sessions/after school clubs.

What motivates you as a coach?

I enjoy engaging with people from all walks of life. I love seeing the children enjoying themselves and getting better. There is nothing more rewarding than putting together a programme and seeing everyone’s achievements however big or small they are.

How would you describe yourself as a coach?

I consider my skills to be most suited to the beginner/improvers level and really like to create a positive environment and praise effort as well as achievement. I believe in every activity there is always something you can find that each player is doing well. I like to think I am fair, treating all the players equally and ensuring each player gets the opportunity to work with me at some stage during the session. I also like to be organised making sure activities are planned so that the session changes things up regularly to retain their attention. Several of the players I have coached have returned to help me out which I hope is a positive reflection on my style of coaching and how I run my groups.

What makes a good grassroots coach?

I always remember my first coach saying, ‘The louder the children are, the more fun they are having and the more they learn.’ I also think the following attributes are key;

  • Good levels of patience – juniors progress at different levels and it takes some juniors longer to pick new skills up
  • Awareness of when things need to be changed to keep everyone engaged – being able to progress or digress practices when required
  • Good communication skills
  • Being prepared to get involved

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

I like to stick with small groups so none of the players are standing around for long and I keep them engaged as much as possible so if they aren’t hitting, they are picking up or waiting to go on next. We also put the skills in to fun game-based practices such as ‘Round the World’ and ‘One knee, Two knees, Out’. We also have different practices taking place on each court to suit the players ability levels.

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

I think you can tell from very early on the players that will be able to progress further within the sport. They usually have some natural talent whether that be in terms of how they move around the court, their coordination, or the way they can think about what they are doing. They often also express a keenness and want to improve even if they do not get it straight away.

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

The club structure allows us to cater for a variety of standards with players progressing on to different sessions as their ability level improves. Our St Neots Club caters for the beginners and they just do one hour and then when they are ready, they progress to Ramsey Junior Badminton Club which caters for the more experienced players in a two-hour session. From Ramsey’s we look to signpost players into senior clubs to help them take the next step. All the players are moved through the pathway according to their ability level.   

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