So, I played a little badminton last week. Recreational badminton. Not that I’ve ever played competitive badminton, but it was different from what I used to play in my youth, which I would dub, “hardcore recreational badminton,” or perhaps, “power badminton.” It is a sport (activity?) that holds an interesting place in American life. Walk into any sporting goods store, Wal-Mart, Target or whatever during the warm months and you are going to see the famous 3-in-1 set from Sportcraft. I’m fairly sure Sportcraft is only in business to sell incredibly budget equipment for the netted games. Back in the day the sports were badminton, volleyball and that paddle ball game that has no name. Well, I have an update for you. The fine people at Sportcraft have upped the ante to a 5-in-1 set. The box now includes jai-alai (the most bastardized version of a sport I’ve ever seen) and a frisbee. Look out. They’ve also started calling the paddle game…Rally Ball. So, there you go. The point is, badminton is universally known, it’s not going anywhere, and yet no one really understands a thing about the sport. If you happened to catch five minutes of badminton at the Olympics or something, you’d hardly recognize it.
Aside from the aforementioned jai-alai, I don’t think there’s a sport with a bigger disparity in how it is played recreationally and on a serious level. It’s a huge gap, but when I was a little younger I wanted to bridge that gap. I come from a family that plays badminton more than most I would imagine. Some people throw the net up for a picnic, but ours was a fixture in our backyard all summer. Some people are content with the cheap Sportcraft rackets and plastic birdies. We got to the point where we did badminton mail-order for the finest rackets and birdies made with real feathers. Most people have no idea about the rules or the regulations, but I looked up the court measurements and mowed the dimensions into our backyard. For reference, the court is 44 feet long. And, many summers we’d have a tightly mowed, 44-foot patch of grass out back. No more arguing about the calls on the line. This is of course assuming you ever attempted to keep score, which perhaps was unique to our clan.
The reactions we got to our country club fairway worthy badminton court were varied. I think everyone was impressed to a certain extent, but they were also a little taken aback. Intrigued? Horrified? It’s an alarming sign that we had a problem with competitiveness. We signaled to the world that recreation was not good enough, we needed an outcome, and we needed that outcome to be governed by regulated grass height. It is hard to find people who have this level of interest in badminton, and so most of the “games” of my youth were played against my sister. As luck would have it, I’d get the better of the majority of these match-ups, and based solely on that I came to think of myself as a very, very good badminton player. Keep in mind that we didn’t really know the rules (despite our natty court), and played some variation that we made up that included rules like, “you have to hit a fair serve,” and things of that nature.
Every once in a while I would encounter someone else with a passion for badminton, an interest that was a little elevated like mine was. They often had their own slightly modified set of “rules,” and the outcomes were never definitive. Both of us preferred to go back to our separate badminton worlds thinking we were the best. Of course, there were posers as well, people who thought they were good at badminton, but had never seen it on our scale. They didn’t realize there were people out there who played more than twice a year, that actually spent decent money on rackets, and enforced some rudimentary set of rules. When these people got a taste of this style, when they felt the power off the mail-order rackets, the most common reaction was a nervous and embarrassed laugh. I don’t think I have to tell you how satisfying this is, a quiet confirmation of greatness.
Anyway, the point is, to this day if someone asked me if I was good at Badminton, my answer would be a quick and definitive “yes.” I’m absolutely good, may I even say, great? This despite the fact that I don’t actually play badminton at all. I play the Gross family version that we created for our own amusement. If I ever happened across someone who played real badminton, the kind you see in the picture above, I’m sure I would be the one who was doing the nervous laughing. I hope that never happens, though, because I like my delusional badminton career. I’d never want to let it go.