Olympian Heather tells Eastbourne students: It's not just about sport

Students at Eastbourne College were able to practise their racquet skills with Olympian and badminton star Heather Olver as part of the school’s ongoing drive to boost wellbeing and girls’ participation in the sport.

Saturday, 18th December 2021, 10:30 am
Heather Olver puts students through their paces at Eastbourne College

Olver, whose career highlights include competing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, ran a special coaching session at the school to share the benefits of badminton on mental and physical health and to inspire more young players.

She said: “Badminton can be a massive boost to mental wellbeing as it’s very social - you can play it as a doubles team and you can play at all levels. There’s a huge social aspect around it.

“There’s also lots of transferable skills, from teamwork and cooperation to communication and problem solving. If you’re playing as a partnership you have to work out ways of solving problems - without winding your partner up.

“Sometimes people think badminton is quite an easy sport and so we’re trying to break that image in these sessions. It’s very physical. I get pupils doing movement exercises and fun games too.”

Olver was born in Eastbourne and developed a love of the sport playing at a club in Heathfield. After being spotted at a young age, she followed her dream to compete at international level, winning bronze at the European Championships in 2010 and silver in the mixed doubles team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The badminton star acknowledged the pressures on young people today and an increasing awareness around mental health in sport, with an emphasis on fun over competition success, as well as the need to drive engagement among teenage girls.

Research published this year by the charity Women in Sport found just 10 per cent of girls aged 13-16 achieve recommended daily levels of physical activity.

Olver said: “If we can get more girls and women into sport through badminton, that’s great.

“It’s a really good option as not everyone wants to play the other team sports.”

Heather’s sessions at Eastbourne College form part of a renewed drive to encourage pupils to take part in physical activity, especially following the coronavirus lockdowns.

Deputy Head of Co-Curricular Anthony Lamb MBE said Heather’s attitude echoes the school’s approach in developing a passion for sport and fitness through fun, and a wide variety of activities.

He said: “Every pupil is expected to participate in some form of exercise or sport activity, and between 90 and 95 per cent of pupils represent the school in regular team fixtures.

“There’s always a cohort of boys and girls who cherish alternatives to the core sports which is why we offer badminton, basketball, dance and yoga – as well as all the water sports pupils can take up here on the coast, from paddle boarding to windsurfing.

“We recognise that girls can become disengaged in sport in their early teenage years, so we’ve also launched our PAW programme: Pilates, Aerobics, Walks – designed to instil this lifelong attitude of wanting to stay healthy and fit.

“Preparing for the future isn’t just about academic results and getting the best university entry - it’s actually preparing your state of mind for the future as well.”

Eastbourne College’s next open morning for Years 9-12 entry will take place on Saturday, February 26.