We’re recruiting ambassadors from the world of sport and fitness to help spread the word about Hoops Connect. And we’re delighted to announce our partnership with Toby Penty, a 25-year-old badminton star who has won tournaments in Ukraine and Sweden in 2017 alone…
Now then Toby, welcome aboard! Why don’t you start off by telling us how you got into badminton?
Hi guys! My dad’s main sport was badminton, and he had a hand in running a junior club where my elder brother played before me, so I just started to play.
At first I didn’t really enjoy it and for at least six months I didn’t pick up a racket before I started playing again. From then I haven’t put the racket back down since.
Did you play any other sports when you were younger? Why did badminton stand out?
I played a few, football, tennis, a bit of athletics. Football was my best sport until it went from seven-a-side to 11-a-side – with the offside rule coming in my best days were well and truly behind me!
But with badminton, I liked playing a sport where all the decisions were mine and I had to rely on myself. It was becoming increasingly difficult to fit in other sports and my parents wanted me to focus my effort 100% on one sport that I really enjoyed.
It was the sport that came most naturally to me and it was easier to see the improvements I was making.
— Toby Penty (@TobyPenty) October 17, 2017
Makes sense to me! When did you really see it as something you wanted to pursue seriously?
I remember at around 15/16 I wanted to try and play towards the top of the sport and seeing the older players training full-time in my club inspired me even more – seeing them competing in different countries and getting to play the sport I loved every day whilst still enjoying the sport.
Around this time, I was starting to get near the top in England in my age group and my dad always tells me he asked my coach if I had a future in the sport – luckily my coach said yes.
How do you go about reaching that elite level?
Players who are at the top of their age group from as young as nine and 10 are taken to the international junior tournaments, go to national age group training camps and progress through the ranks to senior level.
I was a late bloomer and only started competing for England later on in my junior career after being successful on the national junior circuit.
Once you reached the end of your junior career it’s really a case of how well you transition onto the senior circuit.
Well, you made it! What do your training days consist of, and how does your season play out?
Training usually starts with a two-hour on-court session in the morning which will be match play, technical practice or working on implementing certain tactics. After lunch it’s a slightly shorter session on court followed by a weights session or a cardio session.
For most players the season is from September until around May/June.
However, the structure of a badminton season is now becoming more and more like tennis where there is a much smaller off season as the tournament calendar grows and more countries host tournaments.
Most of my tournaments at the moment are based in Europe with trips occasionally out to America, or to Asia where the sport has a massive following.
If any one of our readers are interested in getting into badminton, why would you say it would a good idea for them?
It can be played by people of all ages, it is a way of meeting new people and socialising with others as well as being a great workout for the body. You can get just as much exercise out of playing badminton as you can do going for a run or playing football.
Is there a strong grassroots set-up in the UK?
We have a really solid structure. And that’s mostly down to how easy it is to play the sport. All you need is a couple of rackets, a shuttle and a net. It’s one of the most participated sports in England and there is always somewhere nearby to go and play.
So it sounds like the sport’s in good health?
Well, we’re actually going through a bit of a tough time at the minute.
UK Sport pulled all our funding this year, so there is less money being put into the elite side of the game with the national squad in Milton Keynes being cut from 24 players to 12.
It also means a very tight budget is being stretched around senior play whilst trying to help bring the next generation of players through. At grassroots there will always be people playing the sport but in an age where there are so many sports to pick from and so many sports we are now so successful at in the UK it is finding a way to keep youngsters playing the sport and taking it seriously.
Internationally the sport is slowly growing – it’s now the second biggest sport in India behind cricket which shows just how far the sport has come.
Finally, any advice for people looking to take up badminton?
Don’t be afraid to give the sport a go. If you don’t pick it up at first keep trying and eventually you will get the hang of it. Even the best in the world at all sports were once beginners.
And remember, as much as badminton is seen sometimes as a garden sport, it’s so much better to play in a leisure centre as once the wind picks up it is almost impossible to hit the shuttle!
Hoops is now available in app stores, so you can use us to find opportunities for any sport or fitness activity you can think of. Simply click here to download the app for Android, and here for iOS – or search for Hoops Connect.
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