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March 8, 2023

This International Women’s Day, we are shining a light on the influential female coaches who play a significant role in encouraging young girls to take up badminton across the country.

We caught up with two of England’s most promising young players, Annie Lado and Gauri Shidhaye, to discuss how their first coaches, Kat Hurrell and Sarah Sankey, went on to shape their journeys both on and off the court…

Annie Lado: “I started playing badminton when I was six, at Westgate Performance Centre in Winchester.

“I didn’t have a main coach back then but soon Kat Hurrell started coaching a few of us, including me and my sister. I have vivid memories of being on the fifth court at Westgate, with netball going on behind us, just learning a lot from Kat and spending a lot of time with her.

“She seemed very grown up but fun at the same time. Looking back, she was only 23 when she started coaching me but she seemed so old to me!”

Gauri Shidhaye: “I was probably 10 or 11 when I met Sarah. Initially, she coached me twice a week but before long, I moved to Milton Keynes for school and I was coached by her throughout the week.

“As a character, she is all about the tough love! She is no softie but at times that is exactly what I have needed.

“She understood everything, knew when I needed a timeout and when I needed a kick up the backside. She just got me and that is what has worked for me all these years.”

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As Annie’s playing journey developed, so did Kat’s in the coaching sphere. Before long, the pair were both based in Milton Keynes, Kat having taken up a role in the National Pathway which she continues to occupy.

AL: “She helped my transition up here, which was very convenient as she was almost moving with me.

“Kat was my go-to and she still is for a lot of things. I trust her decisions and her opinions, and I would go to her for personal and badminton-related issues. She is a very strong female lead in my world.”

Gauri echoes the sentiment when it comes to her rapport with Sarah, a five-time Commonwealth Games medallist who took home two golds from Auckland in 1990 and another from Kuala Lumpur eight years later.

GS: “Sarah is close to me and my family and she has been there for us through a lot of difficult times.

“There is no-one I trust more as a coach or a personal female influence. I go to her for most of my personal issues and for really valuable advice.

“If it wasn’t for her, things might be very different. She has been so important in my journey, she always has my best interests at heart and I’ve always trusted her instincts and her advice with everything badminton related.”

AL: “The coaching industry is quite heavily male-dominated, so it’s good for younger people to see that influence and strength come from a female leader.

“Being coached by Kat helped me in the sense of being easier for her to understand me – whenever I had a temper tantrum she understood! I trusted her and became closer to her, maybe because she was a female.

“And outside of coaching, it’s important to have older players helping the younger players see that route up and think ‘I can become a sportsperson’. It doesn’t seem viable until you see these role models like our coaches.”

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GS: “100 per cent. I just wish more people could have met Sarah at the same stage of their journey as I did. I’ve seen so many girls enjoy her training.

“It helps build that trust with players and parents if there is a female lead. Young girls can see ‘that can be me, this is a place for me and I can be myself and be comfortable here’, which is so important.”

Both Gauri and Annie are in the early days of their full-time playing careers but are already beginning to give back to the next generation, inspired by the work of those who shaped their paths.

GS: “I’m currently getting involved with some coaching work with Sarah back at the academy I grew up in a couple of times a week.

“If that’s a career I go down in the future, I’ll take so much from what she has taught me and hopefully continue her legacy.”

AL: “I’m trying to get into that side of things and I’m sure Kat’s style will reflect heavily in how I coach.

“Kat is a massive role model. From the start, it has felt like she always knows the answers and it feels like she knows everything about badminton. She is very inspiring in that way.”

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