This blog is pretty new, and I don’t do anything to advertise it, but people are slowly beginning to find it. And not just people, but women! Foreign women living in China who also play badminton! (See the comments on various posts to see other women in different parts of China who play.)
How cool is that?! Don’t worry men, it’s also very cool when you comment too (or send me e-mails) but badminton, like most sports, is male dominated. So finding other foreign women who play is like seeing another unicorn, haha.
Anyway, in a recent post Katrin from Shanghai asked me how to find a coach and a group to play with. It’s a good question and one I thought deserves a blog post. While in China there is a well established network for badminton, us foreigners are often outside the network, and figuring out how to get into it, without an insider, it tough.
So here’s my thoughts:
Ask the Courts
If you play at a profit court (not a school or public area), then ask the owner. Coaches need places to have class and usually several coaches have deals worked out with the courts. Sometimes you can have class every week with the same coach, or sometimes, you set the time and whichever coach is free teaches you. You can work it out with them.
But Katrin said she plays at a university, and schools don’t have that type of system worked into it. Coaches go there to practice, but the schools usually have no connection to them. So….
Ask a Chinese friend
This one you’ll need to know a serious player. In my original group with foreigners there were plenty of Chinese players, but the whole group was just for fun, not for training or competitions or anything, so no one was involved in the badminton world. Nobody in that group had connections to coaches or training groups.
Instead, I asked a friend who I knew played badminton, but not with my group. This was a friend who I met in my day-to-day life (not badminton related) and for a long time I didn’t even know he played badminton. But when I started getting into it, he told me, and I found out he played competitions, did regular training and was basically a badminton fanatic like me.
So when I wanted to find a coach, I asked him. In China there are so many coaches available in so many areas, I told him specifically I wanted a coach in my neighborhood. “I know just the guy,” my friend told me. A week later I met my coach.
So find a friend who is plugged into the local badminton scene and ask them. Even if they don’t have a coach personally, they will know of one to recommend and get the contact info for you.
Ask the School
Since Katrin is at a university, I asked her if her school has a PE major. My university does, it has a whole sports college, and badminton is one of the majors. Kids who study badminton almost always are going to become coaches themselves. So they actually study coaching as they themselves are being coached.
(One bit if advice if students are your teachers: they might offer to teach you for free, because they are young and inexperienced and because it’s cool to teach a foreigner. Don’t accept it! If you pay them, even something small like 50 RMB an hour, they will take it more seriously. Insist on paying them for their time, and they will treat you more seriously as a player.)
If the school doesn’t have a badminton major, there must be a badminton team. All uni’s have them, even if they suck. If your playing at the university gym, you’ll probably see some students who are better, and more prepared and serious then the rest. Screw up your courage and go over and talk to them. If they aren’t on the team, they will know someone who is and you’lll eventually get the coaches contact info. (The coach is probably a teacher at the school.)
Finding a Group
Katrin also asked me about finding a group. Groups are harder to break into, and I would suggest finding a coach first and then asking them for help with finding a group. When I originally met my coach we would play at my universities courts (my coach didn’t have his gym yet). There was a group of teachers who played at the same time every week and while my coach forced them to play with me after our training, they were never nice to me. They just seemed so cold, and unwelcoming.
I don’t want to generalize, but in China, it takes a really long time for a lone foreigner to break into a group. You have to be over the top friendly and nice and talkative because the other players, not used to foreigners or foreign friends, will just assume being friends with you is too difficult and annoying and they will avoid you. Even with my own group, who I am getting closer and closer to, this comes up again and again.
(Just this week I yelled at several of my good friends in the group for not telling me about the local competition. “Oh, foreigners want to play?” was their response. They assumed that because I was a foreigner I wasn’t interested. I thought I had made it really clear that I wanted to compete in competitions over the course of the past few months but their assumptions about foreigners overrode anything I had actually said.)
I 100% used my coach to initially force me upon them, and then I was awkward and annoying asking people if they wanted to play with me constantly. (Because no one would ask me in the beginning, so I had to ask first.) I basically pushed myself on them until they got used to me, and honestly, I’m not sure there is any other way. If you are shy and wait for them to ask you, you’ll likely sit there by yourself and never play.
After months of regularly showing up, and chatting in the group chat, everyone’s comfortable and people ask me to play. (Though new people who come to the group avoid me for a few weeks.)
Sometimes someone is really excited to see a foreigner and “practice their English.” While I hate this in daily life, its okay to use those people to start playing and get into the group. Being a foreigner is a disadvantage in the Chinese badminton world, so if you can use it as an advantage, do it.
So that’s my advice. Do any other foreign badminton players in China have different experience or other ideas? Write them in the comments. And Katrin, good luck!