England No.1 women’s singles player Fontaine Chapman was on hand to inspire the next generation of badminton players as The Racket Pack descended on Redbridge this week.
More than 100 pupils from local schools picked up a racket, many for the first time, at Redbridge Leisure Centre in Fairlop, with Chapman passing on tips and advice for budding shuttlers.
The European quarter-finalist also showed off her talents in an exhibition match with players from Redbridge Badminton Performance Centre, before engaging in a Q&A session with the youngsters.
The Racket Pack is Badminton England’s new primary age (5 – 11 years) focused initiative, designed to deliver fun and engaging skill based sessions to ensure a positive first experience of badminton.
And for Chapman, nothing brings her more delight than seeing the stars of the future relishing their time on court.
“The Racket Pack is all about that first initial experience of badminton for younger children, and trying to get them involved,” she said.
“It’s so important to target children at this age to get them involved and enjoying playing sport.
“Whether they think they’re sporty or not sporty, anybody can join in with The Racket Pack. You can find a skill or something that you can do within badminton.
“All the kids have been running around and having a great time – one of the little boys said to me ‘I’ve never done this in my whole life’ and he was so pleased with himself when he made contact with the shuttle.
“I’ve been really impressed by the kids I have seen. There are some that you can tell have that natural hand-eye coordination – they know how to hold the racket and that is great to see.
“There are others who have less of an idea but they’re still giving it a go and you can see that they are really determined.”
Having first played the sport at six years old, Chapman represented England at the age of 12 and is a huge advocate of getting children active from a young age.
And that, she admits, is made all the more possible through initiatives like The Racket Pack.
“My earliest memories are of playing with my granddad, my sister and the rest of my family, just trying to do as many shots as I could,” she said.
“I remember just really enjoying it, and trying to beat my sister all the time!
“I did lots of sports when I was younger but badminton was the one I just fell in love with instantly and I really took to it.
“It’s so important children are getting enjoyment from sport at this early age. It develops a whole range of skills and if they can get that from six-years-old then it’s great.”