The other night my coach and his wife brought their two-month-old baby to the courts. Chinese culture has something called zuoyue or “sitting the month.” One month after the baby is born the mother and child can’t leave the house. In very traditional households the mother needs to stay in bed and can’t get up, shower, open a window or have a fan or air conditioner blowing (even in the summer).
His wife didn’t stay in bed, but she did stay in her house for a month with the baby. I went to visit them once and while she looked (understandably) tired, her and the baby were healthy and happy. Now that they can leave the house they finally visited the badminton court!
My coaches older son is 7 and he plays badminton everyday. His dad picks him up from school at 4 and brings him back for an hour of training before going back home to eat dinner at 6pm. As Xiao Bing Ayi (Aunt Becky) I end up playing with him often. ( I have now made him cry 3 different times. The kid has a really hard time losing by a big margin, but if I take it easy on him and let him win, my coach yells at me. The last time we played the kid cried through an entire 11-point singles game. But he kept playing through his tears so I admired that. And afterwards he still likes me.)
It’s safe to say this kid has no natural ability or love of the game. In fact, when he arrives at the court he always runs to the pool table and starts playing that. He can play pool (aka hit the balls randomly) for hours but takes 20 minutes of whining and stalling before putting on his badminton shoes. Then another ten minutes of rolling around on the ground and being silly before he comes out to the court to play.
But my coach is diligent and makes his son play/train everyday. Also, my coach is not at all easy on his son, yelling at him in the same way he yells at me. (Not in a mean or cruel way. Just in a way that makes you take it seriously.)
Despite his lack of interest, the kid is slowly improving. He has good form when he focuses and can hit it quite powerfully to the rear court. He also has “natural footwork.” His dad had to teach it to him, but he now does correct footwork without even thinking about it.
And I have to admit I’m jealous. What if I had a dad like that? There’s this other kid, not much older than my coaches son, who is the top kid in Xiamen. This other kid is a student of my coach as well, and for sure this kid is going to be a pro player. He’s not only good, but you can tell he really loves the game. Not because of his parents, or because of his families expectations, but naturally.
Who would I have been like if I had been introduced to badminton as a kid? I mean, of course I played it in the backyard with my family and friends, and I liked it (mostly because there wasn’t running or throwing involved) but I didn’t see it as a real sport.
What if I was introduced to it in a serious way? What if I had a coach show me how to play and what if I had classmates play it at a high level? Would I have gotten into it?
Because my love for badminton is strange and comes from a natural place. Even now I’m not sure why I love it so much, I just know I do. No one influenced me, I had pressure from no one and I was not looking for a sport to play. So part of me feels like if I was really introduced to it as a kid, I could have gone really far. Could I have been a pro player?
But then another part of me remembers “little Becky.” I played many sports as a kid, and I wasn’t terrible at all of them. I was a competent basketball player in middle school and in high school I was the fastest female swimmer in class, promoting the swim coach to ask me repeatedly to be on the team. But I wasn’t interested in sports at all, so I refused the swim coach and stopped basketball young. I was drawn to the arts world and joined a singing group and the theater department in high school. I went to an art college to study film where the only sports team was an ironic touch football team called The Butt Nuggets.
I actively pushed sports away when I was young, but would badminton have been different? Or would it just have been another sport to be avoided? It’s hard to answer that an ultimately not important. After all I love my life, and I love every step it took me to get here. I wouldn’t change a thing.
But the part of me that loves badminton, and the part of me that watches pro games still whispers to me in the back of my head…
“What if….what if….”