Finding myself through badminton

How playing badminton helped me connect with my culture


Lillian Wang

Badminton helped me connect with my cultural roots in a predominately white community.

Alex Zhang

The sharp swish of a birdie hurtling through the air. My feet pounding against the court as I rush to cover my partner. The comforting feeling of my racket’s rubber grip pressing back against my palm. These are my favorite memories of playing badminton and the excitement I felt while playing against seasoned competitors and novices are what makes the sport so interesting to me.  

I first started playing badminton when I was 8 years old, discovering the sport at a local Bellevue Community Sports Center. I still remember showing up with my dad right as the doors opened to secure the best court. In my eyes, the bin of chipped rackets and worn down birdies was a treasure trove of special items for a sport I was just beginning to fall in love with. For two hours every week, my dad would indulge my burgeoning passion and rally with me, an activity that mostly consisted of me blindly swinging my racket and racing after the birdie up and down the court. In those moments, badminton forged some of my happiest memories and created a special place where nothing else seemed to matter except the four corners of the court around me. 

As I got older, my parents decided I had outgrown weekend matches with my dad and signed me up for badminton classes. At the time, I was still living in Washington, attending a predominantly white school and was part of a very small group of Asian students. So when I first stepped into the badminton gym, I was shocked when I looked around and saw mostly Asian players. For me, this was a defining cultural moment — it shifted badminton from a recreational hobby to a serious sport played at an elite level in Asian countries around the world. Getting the chance to play with people of all ages and find a community helped me embrace a key aspect of my identity.

However, despite showing up to hours of practice each week and training with my coach, every time I answered my classmates’ questions of “what sport do you play?” I would hear snickers and comments like “badminton isn’t a real sport” or “aren’t you just hitting feathers?” Facing constant discouragement resulted in me taking a break to try and pursue “real sports.” After moving to the Bay Area, however, my perspective changed. Going to Kennedy with an established badminton community and one of the most competitive high school badminton leagues in the state revitalized my interest and pushed me to start training again. Moving to an area with so many people who grew up playing badminton and recognize the difficulty of the sport helped me accept a part of myself that I was previously ashamed of. 

Badminton remains a big part of my life, serving as both a source of exercise and a chance to get closer with such an important community. However, the lessons I continue to learn off the court, embracing my own cultural identity and pursuing what I’m passionate about despite not falling into the norm, prove to be even more valuable. Playing badminton has showcased the importance of my culture and connected me to a group even when I felt isolated.