I played Badminton in high school. Whenever I’m in a situation where a future boy scout leader named Ted makes everyone go around the room and “say something interesting about themselves,” I often say that at one point, I was the #3 ranked Badminton player in New York State. While this is somewhat true, it’s mostly a convenient lie; there were no actual rankings, and I think Suffolk County is the only county in New York State with competitive boys badminton. At one point I think I had the 3rd best record out of all the other #1 singles players, so boom — like Lt. Aldo Raine’s friend who doesn’t even speak Italian, 3rd best.
Playing Badminton was an incredible learning experience, and definitely played a huge part in helping me develop into the person I am today; a guy that is at first cool and sociable, but then completely blows it by getting really excited about the fact that he played high school badminton. That said, here are some things I learned from being all about the shuttlecock:
1. Being Good At Anything Requires A Lot Of Work
When most people hear about badminton, they generally tell you how awesome they are at it, as evidence by their dominant display in high school gym class. Hate to break it to you Slade, but you’re a giant fraud.
Claiming you’re good at badminton is a lot like claiming you’re a good screenwriter; only like 5% of people who say they’re good actually are. You could certainly be naturally talented and in shape, but like the craft of screenwriting and/or “doing lunch,” it’s a lot about paying your dues. It takes quite a bit of time to master the footwork, learn how to react in every different situation, and develop the instinctual muscle memory to get all Dominic Hasek on an opponents smash-barrage. As my dad would say in his sometimes comically thick New York accent, if you wanna be good “you need to put in the ‘owahs.”
2. The Importance Of Mental Jousting
Badminton reminds me a lot of the conversations between Lord Varys and Littlefinger. I always love when these two Game of Thrones characters converse, because you can see the mental jousting at play — a battle of two devious minds perpetually trying to outsmart the other.
Badminton, in a sense, is exactly like this; as much as it’s about skill, it’s about figuring out your opponent and proceeding to break them. Particularly in singles play, there are few sports that are this rooted in strategy; one that’s almost equally cerebral.
3. What Looks Cool Isn’t Always In Your Best Interest
In the beginning of my B-minton days, I was a big fan of making SCTOP10-like dive plays. It felt awesome to make such a cool plays in a sport that seemed to be lacking big highlights, and I figured they’d help get the girl I had a massive crush on to notice me. (Spoiler alert: it did, but it took forever and quite possibly might’ve been out of pity.)
But as spectacular as those plays were, they almost always put me out of position and caused me to lose the point. Eventually, I realized that some of the smarter players would intentionally goad me into making these sorts of highlight-reel plays. It was tough swallowing my pride — particularly tough, since playing high school badminton is such a boon to one’s social reputation — but abstaining from the diving plays made me a much better player.
4. The Comical 80’s Villain Can Be Found In The Most Unlikely Of Places
At the end of the season, the top players participated in “Individual Counties” — A Hunger Games style tournament to determine the greatest Badminton player in the land.
During my senior season, there were 24 players in all. I made it to the quarterfinals, where I was faced up against this Badminton whiz-kid named Herman. In addition to commanding a small posse of aspiring badminton hot-shots, he also donned the most incredible jacket I’ve ever seen in my life; on the back, it had two overlapping badminton rackets and in big text, the words “The Hermanator.”
I ended up losing to the Hermanator. I like to chalk it up to my torn shoulder (see: next point), but he was better than me and I probably would’ve lost anyway. Nonetheless, I friended him on Facebook and although I doubt he knows it, I’ve loosely been following his life ever since.
Eventually, I’d like to write a comedy based around high-school badminton in which a Hermanator-like character plays the misunderstood villain.
5. If You’re Gonna Get Injured, Do It During Yearbook Signing Time
About midway through my senior season, my shoulder started to feel as numb as 2003 Linkin Park. Something was clearly wrong, but I decided not to go to the doctor; this was likely the last time I’d ever get to play badminton, so going to the doctor felt like it’d be the the end of my career.
My play suffered a bit — I lost to two kids that I had beaten earlier in the season, and spent most of the time on the court wincing like a real tough guy who denies that he’s in any pain. At the end of the season I went to the doctor, and learned that I needed surgery on my labrum and upper bicep. It turned out to be incredible timing — I had to sit out of gym class on account of my shoulder so everyone found out, and on the same day everyone found out we received our yearbooks. Signing yearbooks was a big deal, so everyone on the badminton team wrote about how admirable I was for being so tough. Now, I get to be tough forever. Huge.
6. The Power Of Self-Motivation
I found that when it came to the high school sports that people actually took seriously, it was difficult not to, on some level, hate that sport. The intensity and rigor oftentimes took the fun out of the game, as it devolved into this thing that you were supposed to prioritize above all else. You see this with high school football all the time, and it was something I definitely experienced in my career as a high school basketball player. Not that you shouldn’t have that sort of experience, but when you take a step back it’s easy to see how outrageous it all is.
There wasn’t really any of that with badminton. It was a different sort of motivation; you didn’t really want to succeed because “the program,” or because you devoted your life to waking up at 8 am to run defensive slides. You just wanted to work because you wanted to be good at it; because it was fun, it was addicting, and it was something that brought out this weird form of hunger. It’s exciting, it’s memorable, and there’s a lot of jokes you could make that include the word cock. All of life’s important things.