John Williams’ impact on and off the court over more than half a century saw him earn an English Badminton Award earlier this year and he has no plans to slow down yet.
Having discovered the sport through his local youth club as a teenager, Williams is still playing at the age of 80 and has been integral in keeping two clubs going through occasionally choppy waters over the years.
Lightwater Juniors and the Newcomers club, both based at Lightwater Leisure Centre in Surrey, are indebted to Williams’ service and the man himself has found being so involved in the sport a hugely rewarding experience.
“I started helping out with coaching when our two children decided to give the game a go and it’s all grown from that,” he said, speaking during National Volunteers’ Week.
“I did my first coaching proficiency in 1986 and I’ve been involved with Lightwater since then.
“Occasionally you come up against kids you’ve coached who have moved on to adult clubs and you get quite a buzz from that.
“Sometimes they beat you and while you felt somewhat disheartened at that, you also felt impressed they’d come on well enough to beat you ‘at grown-up’ badminton!
“Currently, we have around 60 kids coming along on a Sunday morning over two sessions, which bodes well for the future.”
The turnout may be hearteningly strong at the moment but that has not always been the case for Williams’ clubs.
At one stage, Newcomers were down to four regulars but Williams continued to rally the troops through his notorious and humorous weekly emails and gradually the club began to rebuild.
They now field a league team and have around 15 members, while Williams acts as match secretary for both Newcomers and Lightwater Juniors.
“There was a risk the club [Newcomers] would have folded, so it’s very rewarding to see the numbers we see now,” he said.
“It has been cyclical, sometimes boom or bust, but the current administration has worked really hard to involve people and we’re now at really strong numbers, as well as a waiting list.
“I’m still playing, too. I’ve had a couple of heart problems but I’ve just been given medical approval to go back to playing, having played competitively well into my 70s in the local league.”
Williams, along with the other winners, was presented with his English Badminton Award at this year’s YONEX All England Open, a day which ranks as up there with his finest memories within the sport.
“The award was quite a surprise,” said Williams, who also volunteers at a National Trust centre.
“My wife and one of the administrators of Lightwater Juniors put together the application without my knowledge, so when I got the email I was gobsmacked.
“We made a family day of it for the semi-finals. I was invited to meet the CEO of Badminton England [then Pete Fitzboydon] in the VIP lounge, which was very pleasant, and he said some very nice things which I hope I accepted with good grace! It was a great day.
“Having all the family there was brilliant, and some of the coaches from the junior club turned up, which made it all the more special.”