Richard Morris is excited to build on para-badminton’s momentous Paralympic debut and believes the profile of the sport will continue to rise in the coming years.
The GB para-badminton head coach oversaw a memorable Games for the British squad in Tokyo, with Dan Bethell and Krysten Coombs bringing back silver and bronze medals, Martin Rooke reaching the quarter-finals and Jack Shephard beating eventual silver medallist Chu Man Kai.
Now Morris hopes the next generation will be suitably inspired by what they have seen over the summer, with this week’s para-badminton festivals across the country offering an immediate chance for people to get involved.
“It’s only going to go one way,” he said. “We’ve had so many messages so far, both of support and from people wanting to play the sport.
“People are taking notice of para-badminton now and that’s what we need. Without that knowledge, people might not suggest it as something to play.
“I’d like to think people will see someone with cerebal palsy and use Dan as an example, and say ‘look, this is our boy and look how well he plays’.
“That will only drive the participation and I’m really happy it will go that way.”
Morris has already seen the sport change inexorably since he began his para-badminton coaching journey a decade ago and has accompanied the four ParalympicsGB history-makers on every step of their journey to Tokyo.
Seeing Bethell and Coombs stand on the podium was therefore understandably emotional for Morris, who is justifiably proud of how the quartet dealt with the added hype and prestige of the Paralympics in their maiden outing on the big stage.
“A lot of people told me before going to the Games that it’s like another tournament and if I see those people now I’ll be telling them it’s definitely not!” he said.
“As a team, we did really well. They all managed their nerves really well and I’m super proud and pleased for all of us.
“A lot of people see the good stories but people weren’t there when we had no funding and had to really graft, getting up at 5am to train as we all had jobs and other work.
“To see all four of the lads out there, knowing full well what they’ve put into it, was definitely a pinch yourself moment.
“Deep down, I wanted two medals and I knew we had a chance of finals.
“Jack and Krysten getting drawn against each other wasn’t ideal but Krysten threw the kitchen sink at it and played so well throughout.
“[Dan] Bethell was brilliant and then gave the no.1 seed a run for his money in the final, while Rookey’s class has developed so much and he’s done extremely well to keep up with the younger guys. For him to reach a quarter-final is great – I’d have given my left kidney for that!
“All the people involved in this team – the physio, nutritionist, coaches and players – can say they were part of something special, which has been built from nothing to winning two Paralympic medals.”
Following a well-earned break towards the end of the year for Morris and the squad, the focus will switch to Paris 2024 as the British set-up look to capitalise on the Tokyo momentum.
A development programme, established in April, is set to improve opportunities and depth for those looking to challenge the elite performers and Morris is excited by the potential in the talent coming through the ranks.
“A big focus of mine between now and Christmas will be to push this pathway to make sure it looks like what we want it to look like,” he said.
“Para-badminton will just keep growing and the pathway will grow with it, we just have to be ready and have the infrastructure ready for people to join it.
“Isaak Dalglish is one who will look to challenge for selection in Paris while Robert Donald and Jack Wilson, two SU5 players, are quite close and they will drive each other forward.
“They’ll start to climb the rankings over the next year or two if they keep putting the training in – I’m looking forward to seeing how that blossoms.
“We have a ‘young Dan Bethell’ in Logan Welsh – he is literally what Danny was like 10 years ago, they both laugh about it!
“Isaac Mason, a Milton Keynes-based short stature player, is really putting his head down and has a lot of attributes.
“In the women’s game, Emma Stoner, a Surrey-based SL4, is a young ex-tennis player who is looking good in the SL3 category.
“The future is bright and I can’t wait to spend a bit more time with those players.”