National Volunteer Week: John Williams

John Williams’ impact on and off the pitch for more than half a century won him an English badminton award earlier this year and he has no intention of slowing down yet.

Having discovered the sport through his local youth club as a teenager, Williams is still playing at the age of 80 and has been instrumental in keeping two clubs in sometimes choppy waters over the years.

Lightwater Juniors and the Newcomers club, both based at the Lightwater Leisure Center in Surrey, are indebted to Williams’ service and the man himself has found being so involved in the sport to be a hugely rewarding experience.

“I started helping out as a coach when our two kids decided to try their hand at the game and it all grew from there,” he said during National Volunteer Week.

“I did my first coaching skill in 1986 and have been involved with Lightwater ever since.

“Once in a while you come across kids that you’ve coached who have moved on to adult clubs and it gives you quite the buzz.

“Sometimes they would beat you and even though you felt a bit put off by that, you also felt impressed that they were good enough to beat you at ‘adult’ badminton!

“Currently we have around 60 children coming on a Sunday morning over two sessions, which bodes well for the future.”

Turnout may be extremely high at the moment, but that hasn’t always been the case for Williams’ clubs.

At one point the newcomers were down to just four regulars, but Williams continued to rally the troops through his notorious and humorous weekly emails and gradually the club began to rebuild.

They now field a league team and have around 15 members, while Williams acts as match secretary for newcomers and Lightwater juniors.

“There was a risk that the club [Newcomers] would have folded, so it’s very gratifying to see the numbers we’re seeing now,” he said.

“It has been cyclical, sometimes boom or bust, but the current administration has worked very hard to get people involved and we now have very high numbers, as well as a waiting list.

“I still play too. I had some heart issues, but I just received medical clearance to return to play, having played competitively until I was 70 in the local league.

Williams, along with the other winners, received his English badminton award at this year’s YONEX All England Open, a day that is among his fondest memories in the sport.

“The award came as a surprise,” said Williams, who also volunteers at a National Trust centre.

“My wife and one of the directors of Lightwater Juniors prepared the application without my knowledge, so when I received the email I was stunned.

“We made it a family day for the semi-finals. I was invited to meet the CEO of Badminton England [then Pete Fitzboydon] in the VIP lounge, which was very nice, and he said some very nice things that I hope I accepted with good grace! It was a nice day.

“Having the whole family there was great, and some of the junior club coaches came over which made it even more special.”

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