I HAVE never so much as held a badminton racquet in my hand, so it was with some trepidation that I agreed to take on no less an opponent than Olympic silver medallist Gail Emms for my first attempt.
The opportunity arose as Gail, who finished runner-up with partner Nathan Robertson in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, was at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena encouraging local pupils to play the game.
Gail, who retired from the sport after finishing fifth in the mixed doubles at last year’s Beijing Olympics, was at the NIA to kick-start her role as an athlete mentor for Sky Sports Living for Sport, ahead of the All England Open Badminton Championships which run till Sunday.
The initiative aims to offer teachers in every secondary school in the UK a free online tool to use sport to motivate and inspire pupils aged between 11 and 16 who are at risk of opting out of school life.
Gail, 31, joins a team of famous mentors led by former sprint star Darren Campbell, who will visit schools across the country to provide help and advice to young people involved with the scheme, supported by the department for Children, Schools and Families.
Gail demonstrated her aptitude for coaching as, in ten minutes she turned a hopeless player – me – who could not put racquet to shuttlecock, to someone who could at least participate in a not too competitive rally.
She said: “It’s all about interacting with the children and helping to motivate them in life by mentoring. It’s an absolutely fantastic initiative and I was honoured to be invited.”
The initiative, which will involve a sports coach from gymnastics and sailing to swimming and hockey, aims to get 2,000 schools and 30,000 young people registered with Sky Sports Living for Sport by 2012.
Schools already signed up in the area include Baverstock in Druids Heath, Smiths Wood in Chelmsley Wood, Ellowes Hall in Dudley, and Redhill in Stourbridge.