Delwyn Cooper – the woman behind our future badminton champions

By:

Delwyn Cooper has cracked the code, discovered what many have only dreamed of – she’s found the secret to living a long, healthy life.

It’s no elixir, vaccine, magic water or cure: it’s a life-long love of badminton.

“Well I think that’s the secret!” she says with a laugh. “I think any sport is beneficial for you and as you get older, it’s more important to keep going. Use it or lose it they say!

“But with badminton, it really is a sport for life – and not just in the physical aspect. The great thing is I am playing Masters now against people I played as a junior. I have made great friends along the way.”

This year Delwyn will not only celebrate her 47th birthday, but also a milestone 36 years involved in badminton for New Zealand, as both athlete and mentor, and the BayTrust CoachForce Development Officer has no plans to slow down now.

“My Mum and Dad are both huge badminton players – Mum will be 77 this year, her balance is excellent, and she is getting stronger as she gets older.

“It’s funny, since I was 17, I have played in either of the two top badminton divisions, the Wisden and Slazenger Cups, and last year I was the oldest person there at 46. I don’t think I played anyone over 20 years old!”

Fast growing sport

While it’s not as glamourous as our national game, there’s no denying badminton’s popularity as it continues to be one of the fastest growing sports in New Zealand. It’s currently one of the top five most participated sports in the country, according to a recent study by Gemba Group.

Since she was introduced to the sport at age 11, there’s been only a three-year period during her OE when Delwyn didn’t pick up the racquet.

“My family were all heavily involved in badminton. I used to play doubles with my siblings and since joining the Masters ranks at 35 years old I have played the Masters Nationals every year. I travelled with my dad until two years ago when he had a defibrillator put in his chest and swapped badminton for tennis.

“I feel really lucky that I have found something I can do with my family throughout my life.”

Playing in U16, U18 and development squads in her youth, Delwyn was never confident in her abilities – “people I played with went off to the Commonwealth Games” – but she impressed those around her.

 

At just 20 years old she turned her attention to coaching, and although coaches can start much younger now, it was rare to see someone of her age take up a leadership role at that time.

She has continued along this leadership path, becoming President at the Wellington Badminton Association before moving to the Bay of Plenty and taking on the President’s role here five years ago.

Training the coaches

In recent years Delwyn has turned her attention to BayTrust CoachForce, a regional programme delivered by Sport Bay of Plenty to increase the number and quality of coaches in the Bay of Plenty through workshops and ongoing professional development. She considers herself lucky to have turned her passion into a career, and to directly impact the future of the sport in the region.

“There are 25 badminton associations across NZ and not everyone has a CoachForce development officer – but we see real growth in the areas that do. Last year we delivered coaching sessions to more than 6000 students in nearly 50 clubs and schools in the BOP region alone.

“I have been working with 14 to 17 year olds, who volunteer their time to junior clubs, and it’s really awesome to see our coaches in training and the students they are working with to really grow their love of the sport.”

Coaching aside, she still plays as often as her hectic schedule will allow, and her most recent personal achievement was bringing home two gold medals at the World Masters Games in the 45+ Open Grade Teams and Singles.

The ever-humble Delwyn doesn’t consider gold medals, trophies or high-profile roles her greatest achievement – it’s the impact she has on the next generation.

“I feel like I am putting so much back into a sport I have got so much out of through coaching. You see the kids’ faces light up when they get it or they do something well. That’s more of a buzz than a win or a medal.”

But there is one prize she would like to have to her name: orchestrating a dedicated badminton hall in Tauranga.

“I have been working on this for six years now. It’s really hard to grow a sport further when you are competing for space along so many other sports in multipurpose facilities.

“I’m persistent and passionate, and I won’t stop fighting.”