By Ottawa Sports Pages, For Louis-Riel Rebelles
The enthusiasm is exploding for the newest discipline in Louis-Riel high school’s Sports-Study program, and before she’s done, coach Maude Carrier-Laforte wants to create the Vanessa Gilles of badminton.
Not necessarily to create the next Olympic champion (though with the rising young talent in Canadian badminton, that idea may not be quite so farfetched…) But to replicate the Gilles story: when an athlete focused on one sport upon arriving at Louis-Riel discovers another, receives some high-level instruction from the start, and takes off from there (Gilles was a tennis player before trying soccer in Grade 10, and wound up winning Olympic gold this past summer).
“Vanessa is a great example to show: do we really need to focus on just one sport?” asks Carrier-Laforte, in her second year teaching at Louis-Riel. “Sometimes maybe we can mix the two, and it can help because your skills can transfer into the other sport, and sometimes it can be good to have a little rest so that we’re not always practicing the same sport. It’s good to experience other things.”
Eighteen student-athletes jumped in this year for the debut of the Sports-Study badminton program, most having backgrounds in other sports.
Carrier-Laforte noticed hockey players moved well on the court because they were pushing with their hips to glide. Basketball players kept a low centre of gravity and were quick. Soccer players changed direction with ease. Volleyball players were well-accustomed to the movements for smashes and serves.
“They got better fast,” recounts Carrier-Laforte, whose players practice badminton one school period each day (and receive a phys ed credit). “It’s really good for them. Other than their (general) gym class where they’ve played a bit of badminton, they haven’t really pushed themselves with drills and techniques, racquet grip, contact point, shifting their weight, etc.”
Also within Carrier-Laforte’s enthusiastic class of rookies are a few gymnasts who have made the same transition into badminton as she did at age 11. The Gatineau native spent four years on Team Quebec as a teenager for badminton, placed as high as 6th nationally, and was part of a strong CÉGEP team before starting her studies in human kinetics at the University of Ottawa, where she took up ultimate and won provincial/national titles.
“Badminton is a sport I love and that I want to have more people discover,” underlines Carrier-Laforte, who adores when her students draw inspiration from watching videos of international-level play. “People don’t really know what real badminton’s like – it’s so fast.”
On top of the Sports-Study program, there is a badminton club and team at Louis-Riel (interscholastic competition is in the spring), and opportunities in other racquet sports (fall tennis lit the fire for many of the badminton crop). Down the road, Carrier-Laforte envisions a nighttime community club based at Louis-Riel to allow them to continue pushing farther in the sport.
“The interest is there, and I have students who are very motivated,” Carrier-Laforte signals. “It’s really fun to see students who have the abilities to be excellent badminton players, but who’d never really thought to try it.”