Badminton has soared in popularity in the Cook Islands over the last two years. Particularly as the non-contact sport identified opportunities to capitalise on the COVID-19 lockdowns and guidelines that restricted the country’s prevalent contact sports (rugby and soccer) in early 2020. Shuttle Time (a grassroots badminton initiative) and player development remain at the core of Badminton Cook Islands’ operations and expansion across the country, with most schools including badminton in their extra-curricular activities and participating in an annual nationwide schools’ tournament.
However, in the last two years, adults have taken a significant liking to the game too. The initiation of ‘ladies-only’ sessions, mixed generation tournaments, 10-week social and elite league challenges have been among the many winners seeing different demographics walk onto the court for the first time to take up the notoriously ‘individual’ yet highly sociable and stimulating sport.
Roberta Eraio is one of many adults reaping the benefits, particularly among her team of colleagues. During her 9-5 week, Roberta is an Air New Zealand Customer Service Agent based in Rarotonga. When looking for unique ways to invigorate her fellow colleagues outside of the office, she looked no further than the Badminton Cook Islands 10-week social challenge. Not only has it helped to boost team morale, it also compliments Air New Zealand’s internal commitment to employee health and wellbeing; a factor which is high on many agendas following the global pandemic.
“None of us have played badminton in the past and we liked that it was social and fun. Competing in the social league brought so much humour and laughter among our team, which regularly extended into memorable team bonding moments after our sessions too”
“Our involvement in badminton has benefited us in a variety of ways. It motivated us to commit to a healthy and sociable activity once a week, which is often difficult under normal circumstances as shift workers. We even started strategizing ways to better ourselves in the challenge which aided the improvement of our physical and mental health”
The social leagues came at a good time too. Employees were struggling with the lack of face-to-face contact in a usually high-energy office, as everyone was forced to work from home.
“Badminton enhanced the bonding as we did not see each other as often during the lockdown. Like a driving force it enabled us to stay connected and positive after our lockdown began to ease and even after the two-way bubble opened”
For over 80 days, a ‘bubble’ was in operation between New Zealand and the Cook Islands, meaning Roberta’s team eventually faltered due to the increased demand for tourism. Nonetheless, the team’s initial participation, reviews and popularity infiltrated their Head Office as more team members signed to participate, allowing everyone to stay involved in some form to work around one another’s shifts.
“Now we are well and truly back in action with one to two flights to Rarotonga every day, most team members are back on shift patterns. Luckily, we have a big family at Air NZ, so we were still able to enter another team into the 8-Week Winter Challenge.
“Although we’re still learning to improve our skills, we now have the added joy of sharing the knowledge with our new players and reminiscing on how fun it was during the Summer Challenge. We fully support the efforts of Badminton Cook Islands in our community and especially the opportunity it offers our youth in the Cook Islands”
This is not the first-time badminton has been used to develop skills among teams or individuals. A study at Coventry University found the exceptional benefits of badminton in developing children’s’ fundamental motor skills. Moreover, Steve Griffiths, a senior visiting fellow at the World Academy of Sport, has built a career on assisting professional teams to thrive internally and he empathised the importance of using sport as a vehicle to achieve organisational goals:
“From my experience in leading a high-performance referee team to world cups and also leading departmental teams, we were always more successful when everybody in the team bought into the culture, respected each other’s differences and focussed on agreed objectives”, says Steve.
The increased interest from such corporate teams and older demographics also laid the foundations for the pilot international master’s (over 35’s) tournament ‘Oceania Masters in Paradise’, which will take place in Rarotonga in May 2022. Moreover, the badminton experience is about to become even more available with the inception of AirBadminton.
Over the last year, Badminton Oceania has assisted member associations like the Cook Islands to rollout the ‘new outdoor game’ of AirBadminton. With portables nets, equipment and a more durable shuttlecock, the initiative allows anyone to play badminton outside. The games is well suited for the Cook Islands, where residents in Aitutaki and Rarotonga have started to enjoy the game on stunning beaches and grassy parklands.
Follow the latest updates and development with Badminton Cook Islands on their Facebook page.