Panthers Badminton Club in Leicester are one of many across the country who have had to get creative to keep people on the court and returning to badminton during a challenging couple of years.
Prina Karia, the 2021 community coach of the year, was key to this and believes their popular outdoor sessions were essential in keeping people active and on top of their mental and physical wellbeing last summer.
However, she is now grateful that the club can return to indoor sessions of the nation’s favourite racket sport and the Panthers have gone from strength to strength since Covid restrictions have eased.
The majority of Panthers members are from ethnically diverse backgrounds and Karia has been pivotal to engaging these communities.
Karia said: “Through Covid, people’s physical and mental health deteriorated – there were people suffering from low self-esteem and other mental health problems.
“But as soon as we could offer some consistency and could have larger groups, people started coming back.
“I think they’re finding better coping strategies for their ailments – and I think badminton is incorporated in their lifestyle now.”
Karia’s first-hand experience of stigmas associated with women competing in sports fuelled her determination to make a difference and get as many people playing as possible.
At Panthers, numbers have increased from 20 to between 50-60 people and the club also has a vibrant female section.
She said: “The numbers speak volumes – it took a few weeks to get the numbers back but when people got jabbed I think they felt more confident coming out to play.
“When we moved back we didn’t need to do any advertising because a lot of people were eager to get back on court – once the regulations were a little bit more consistent.
“We’re on the membership structure and people are preferring that because they want to play consistently.”
Members were also rewarded with a training session from former England player turned coach Anthony Clarke, encouraging them to play more as they learnt some new skills from a top player.