A partnership between Special Olympics and the Badminton World Federation aims to bring the sport and its benefits to a new generation of athletes.
The Bowmans are a badminton family. Ever since Meg Bowman started playing her junior year of high school, sports have been an important part of her life. “My sister Katie was a state champion and was inducted into the city of Mesa [Arizona] hall of fame. My second daughter Rachel has been playing Westwood badminton for four years and my mother is the biggest badminton fan I know.”
Despite this, Meg’s daughter Jayne wasn’t initially a fan of the sport. She wasn’t really into sports, but badminton was played at a Special Olympics event that Meg and Jayne attended two years ago. There, Jayne watched and said to her mother, “I want to do this,” which started an important and transformative process.
Special Olympics is taking steps to allow many more people to have experiences similar to what Jayne and Meg did that day two years ago and is working with the Badminton World Federation in hopes of spreading the sport further. Although badminton is a popular sport around the world and is featured in Special Olympics programs worldwide, it is not played as often in the United States. However, there are many reasons why its proponents believe badminton is a good fit for Special Olympics and is poised to attract large numbers of converts.
According to Special Olympics officials I spoke to, badminton is particularly good for athletes on the autism spectrum because it emphasizes attention, eye contact, and long-term focus. It also develops many other skills such as hand-eye coordination and upper body movement. It’s an accessible non-contact sport that requires less equipment and fewer participants than many other sports. You can also play in relatively small spaces, both indoors and outdoors.
So what is being done to spread the sport? Representatives such as John Shearer, Senior Development Manager at Badminton World Federation, are taking a two-pronged approach to promoting the sport. First, they hold badminton events and try to place them in as many places as possible. These are not only tournaments at championship level, but also grassroots badminton promotions in schools and clubs. The goal is to get people trying it for the first time, with the belief that once they try it, they’ll want to keep playing. Second, once people are introduced to the sport, resources such as teaching and coaching materials are made available to help them deepen their relationship with and involvement in the sport.
The goal is less to make it stand out in regions where it’s already possible than to introduce it in new regions and countries and show what the game can offer. An example of how this might work can be found in Arizona, a place where the sport has thrived. There badminton was played in schools and brought to clubs. For executives and coaches, it was simply a matter of finding different ways to introduce the sport to new players and grow it organically from there. It is hoped this is a blueprint for future successes elsewhere.
Of course, not only the number of participants is in the foreground. “Numbers are one part, quality is another part,” says Maggie Brennan, manager of sports development at Special Olympics. So what does quality mean? A good coach to athlete ratio; a high frequency of participation; the impact a sport has on athletes; and the support network that athletes have access to.
As Jon St. Germain, Senior Director of Unified Sports and Sport Partnerships at Special Olympics International, says, “We’re trying to positively change attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities, and the way to do that is to engage people. We believe that by getting more people involved in the movement through Unified Sports, we can achieve attitude change and create more urgency. The style of play is geared towards being competitive, but the main area is that every participant should have a meaningful stake in the outcome… That is the measure of success: meaningful stake.”
However, there are some obstacles to teaching badminton. According to Meg Bowman, “The difficult thing about badminton, and doubles in particular, is that most of these kids have never heard of badminton and if they have, they are not familiar with the rules.” This is where the WBF can help because it has resources and Coaches who can help athletes get used to the sport.
Badminton fits perfectly with the goals of Special Olympics Unified
Badminton is also a natural fit for Special Olympics’ unified approach, which aims to create spaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities compete and participate together, according to Jason Teitler, senior vice president of Special Olympics. Such play promotes inclusion while helping people with intellectual disabilities to become part of a wider community and inviting others into their world as well. Because unified events have a set of rules that are the same for everyone, it offers an opportunity for teammates to learn more about their similarities than their differences, potentially setting the stage for friendships.
Jayne Bowman may have grown up with a badminton birdie in hand, surrounded by lovers of the sport, but it was through her involvement with Unified Sports that she fell in love with the game. Her mother, Meg Bowman, talks about the importance of finding partners who want to play together and work well together, players whose personalities match and who get along. This is typical of the best bonds and describes the one Jayne has with her unified partner Harleigh. Jayne said Harleigh “knew all the rules” and “made me laugh,” inspiring her to dance away throwbacks and pose in a way that “frightens her opponents.”
It was an example of how “partners become lifelong friends,” according to Meg. “As a mother, that was really special to see.” Participating in Unified Sports has transformed Jayne and her family. “Since that day, Jayne’s way of speaking and what she calls herself has changed. She sees herself as a thorough athlete like Rachel and refers to our family as “we” are badminton players.”
At a tournament held by Jayne Bowman, a picture of her was taken with her mother, grandmother, aunt and sister. Looking back on that moment, Meg said to me, “To me, this picture means everything because it reflects what Unified has given us as a mother, as a family and as a coach. Unified is so much bigger than what we’re doing on this pitch. It’s so deep and it’s lifelong.” These are the moments that Special Olympics and the World Badminton Federation hope to create for athletes worldwide in the future.
“Unified Sports brings athletes and partners together. It brings coaches and players together. In my case, and most importantly, it brought our family together in a way we didn’t know could happen.” As Shearer said, “We look at sport as everyone having an opportunity to participate. “ This is a step to give people that chance.
Why We Play is a story about the power of sport to bring us together, overcome obstacles, create positive change and reach out to everyone. Read more here.
https://fansided.com/2022/04/14/badminton-special-olympics/ Special Olympics and BWF spread the benefits of badminton