Mesa Dobson’s Erica Randall and Nikki Swanson sing a common tune in the world of Arizona prep badminton.
Both are juniors. Both are new to the sport. And both knew little to nothing about it when they joined.
“I played basketball a bit in fourth through eighth grades, but I was never really good at it,” Randall said. “I joined (badminton) because I knew people, but there was a lot I had to learn, and in a hurry.
“I never imagined it would be as hard as it is.”
Unlike other prep sports, most players enter badminton with little or no playing experience and no knowledge of the basic rules.
In many cases, players have never participated in another team sport.
That’s why Dobson coach Janice Rodrigue said every year for an Arizona team is like “a rebuilding year”.
“You can have kids who come in and they didn’t even know they needed to wear athletic shoes,” Rodrigue said. “It can be quite an experience.
“You have to not only get (new players) in shape but also work with players who at times have never been in a sport before.”
Which leads to a common refrain after the first day of practices.
“I never thought, the first day after practice, I would be so sore.” Swanson said.
With players bringing so little prior knowledge, the onus falls on coaches such as Rodrigue and Phoenix Desert Vista’s Jeremy Williams to teach constantly, whether in practice or in competition.
“You’ve got to love to teach in order to coach badminton,” Williams, a fourth-year coach, said. “You start out with the fundamentals, work hard on hand and eye coordination, and then make it fun enough for the students to stay.
“We’re fortunate in that the average number of years of experience in my program is three to four years.”
Dobson’s Caitlin Morgan and Sophia Charchuk have four years of experience, too.
“Having played all four years, you can see the progression,” said Morgan, the team’s No. 2 player. “I stuck with it because it was different and something I can actually do well. But it takes about a month to feel comfortable.”
Rodrigue said Morgan and Charchuk are important tools when there are so many new players.
“If you start with athletes, you have a base,” Rodrigue said. “Teams that have this seem to do fairly well, and that’s what we’re hoping to have here at Dobson.”
Both Morgan and Charchuk said the biggest obstacle for them is constantly defending their sport.
“I have friends who either say ‘It is not a sport’ or ‘badminton, that’s got to be easy’,” Charchuk said. “Some people get into it thinking they can get an easy P.E. credit, and then they find it is not what they thought it was.
“You actually have to work out. You can even get injured.
“It takes a lot more to play badminton than most people think.”