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Taking the shuttle to Transcona

Badminton coaches hope to grow game, develop elite-level players in dedicated nine-court public facility opening next week

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/5/2019 (373 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ryan Giesbrecht and Justin Friesen looked beyond the office partitions at the front, low ceilings overhead and dimly lit cavern at the back to find their "field of dreams" in a converted warehouse deep in Transcona.

A field of badminton courts, to be precise.

Giesbrecht and Friesen will open Prairie Badminton — the province’s only dedicated facility for the popular racket sport, housing nine pro courts and all the accompanying bells and whistles — the first weekend of June in an industrial area in east Winnipeg.

Provincial Coach Justin Friesen (left) and Executive Director Ryan Giesbrecht believe people will come to their new facility dedicated only to badminton. (Photos by Sasha Sefter / Winnipeg Free Press)

Provincial Coach Justin Friesen (left) and Executive Director Ryan Giesbrecht believe people will come to their new facility dedicated only to badminton. (Photos by Sasha Sefter / Winnipeg Free Press)

There’s a fastener business on one side, a drywall supplier a few doors down and a metal manufacturer across the road.

The new kids on the block — their lease began March 1 — hope for some production of their own, turning out national-calibre badminton players while continuing the growth of the game at the grassroots level.

Space for shuttles to fly at Prairie Badminton

Who: Two big names in local badminton, Manitoba Badminton Association executive director Ryan Giesbrecht and provincial head coach Justin Friesen.

Who: Two big names in local badminton, Manitoba Badminton Association executive director Ryan Giesbrecht and provincial head coach Justin Friesen.

What: Launch of Manitoba's only dedicated badminton facility. At 17,290 square feet, it has nine courts, a pro shop and personal-training company (Fitness Revolution) on site.

When: Doors open next Saturday, featuring free play and chance to meet four coaches. Official grand opening Sept. 13-15.

Where: Unit 2, 275 De Baets Street (Transcona)

Why: In its most altruistic form, to grow the game and strengthen Manitoba athletes' standing on the national stage. But it's a private business and the owners see an opportunity.

How to join: Players can choose a yearly membership for $25 and then pay $8 per visit, or pay $600 for unlimited access for a year. Fees are also collected for group and private lessons, court rentals, league registrations, pickleball play and pre-school drop-ins.

Still requiring some finishing touches, the 17,290-square-foot space leased out on De Baets Street by Giesbrecht, the executive director of the Manitoba Badminton Association, and Friesen, provincial team head coach, has the look and feel of a high-performance sports centre.

The co-owners didn't build it, exactly. But they believe people will come.

"We’re really excited to get going," Giesbrecht says. "We both recognize this is a big step in seeing the sport flourish in Manitoba. Obviously, we want it to go really well, and we’re really encouraged with the reception we’ve gotten from people who are interested and others who’ve bought memberships already and are excited for us.

"I work mostly in an office, but my passion is coaching. So, I’m personally really looking forward to the opportunity to be around people and offer more of myself to anyone who wants to learn badminton. Probably more than anything else, we’ve been excited during the buildup to this about the chance to do a lot of coaching."

Prairie Badminton houses nine pro courts and all the accompanying bells and whistles.

Prairie Badminton houses nine pro courts and all the accompanying bells and whistles.

Manitoba has about 3,000 registered players and many more play recreationally but aren’t tied to a specific club. Another 5,000 kids participate in the sport through their schools.

The city has about 25 active badminton clubs, most simply renting out evening time slots in school gymnasiums. Only the largest, housed at the Winnipeg Winter Club, has permanent, dedicated courts.

That means the majority of players practise in gyms with volleyball and basketball lines on the floor, poor lighting and light-coloured walls, making it tough to see the shuttle, also commonly called a birdie.

Many of the province’s elite players play at multiple clubs, a necessity to get the court time and the one-on-one coaching they need.

'This has been a pipe dream for a long time... We were hoping someone would do it here, and then realized no one was going to come help us out'
— Justin Friesen

"Athletes here get to a certain level with the club system but can’t get enough high-level coaching and training to compete and consistently win nationally. That’s been the story for at least the 10 years we’ve been heavily involved," says Giesbrecht.

"We’re perpetually fifth at Canada Games behind Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and Quebec. We have a few players that can break through nationally but not a whole group that can bring us through to a gold. We constantly identify it as coaching, court time and coach support. We’re both into coaching and love supporting athletes, and so that’s the main gap we see."

Giesbrecht and Friesen are both nationally certified coaches. Their staff will also include a pair of coaches with deep roots in the Manitoba badminton community, Dale Kinley and Dan Savard. The facility will be open seven days a week, well into the evenings.

The badminton-specific design includes proper flooring with good shock absorption and badminton-only lines, proper lighting, a nearly 7.5-metre-high ceiling and managed air flow to prevent the shuttle's flight from being affected.

Private and group lessons will be offered but drop-in recreational play will be encouraged. The business will have a pro shop with racket-stringing machines, while a personal-training company, Fitness Revolution, has agreed to set up shop in the warehouse.

"This has been a pipe dream for a long time. We used to run the Wildewood Club before the badminton part closed. We’ve always thought about it, and we’ve seen dedicated centres like these pop up all over Canada," Friesen says. "We were hoping someone would do it here, and then realized no one was going to come help us out.

"We dabbled in the planning, seeing what the costs would be to lease something like this, what the courts cost, what does staffing look like? We continued that over a three-year period, asking questions of other clubs in Canada. We built a rough plan based on what other places were doing, but we’re willing to adapt."

The nets are set up and the courts are ready for action.

The nets are set up and the courts are ready for action.

Many of the city’s top young players have already committed to the new place. Rylan Ramnarace, the captain of Manitoba’s badminton squad at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta., in February, says he’s told Friesen he wants to ramp up his training.

"I’ve known Justin and Ryan for quite some time and I believe in his coaching philosophy and their vision. Justin knows exactly what I need to work on and he’s helped me out a lot, and he knows what I need to do to get better," says the 22-year-old U of M student. "I’ve been waiting for them to open up so I can work with Justin one on one."

Opening a business isn’t the only major life change for Friesen, 32, a kinesiology grad from the University of Winnipeg. He and his wife, Bree Anderson, are expecting their first child this week. Giesbrecht, also 32, who got his kinesiology degree from the University of Manitoba, and his wife, Michelle, have two young sons.

Ultimately, the business partners will leave their jobs with the Manitoba Badminton Association (MBA), but likely not until some time next year.

'There’s a huge uptick in south– and east–Asian populations to Winnipeg, and they are huge into badminton. It’s one of the top sports in those countries, and we see people coming here and searching for places to play, and that’s a big contribution to the growing number of people playing in Manitoba'

— Ryan Giesbrecht

"Now that they find themselves in a new chapter of their lives, their adventure, they have the blessing of the board. The simple fact of the matter is the more clubs in Winnipeg and Manitoba that allows badminton to be played, the better for badminton," says MBA president Barrington Nichols, confirming the two will stay on during "a transition period."

"My boys (twin 22-year-olds, Kyi and Joel) have been there helping and they said it looks incredible, and I can well believe that. So, I’m excited for them, I really am."

Players, coaches and the sport’s officials all agree badminton is experiencing a significant boom in Canada, and Manitoba — with its diverse population — is certainly no exception.

Asia has been the traditional power centre for badminton. But with a growing number of immigrants from countries such as the Philippines, India and China choosing to call Manitoba home, the talent pool here is deepening.

A study five years ago by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship found that among new immigrants surveyed, badminton was the second most popular organized sport behind only soccer, well ahead of hockey, football and baseball.

"There’s a huge uptick in south- and east-Asian populations to Winnipeg, and they are huge into badminton. It’s one of the top sports in those countries, and we see people coming here and searching for places to play, and that’s a big contribution to the growing number of people playing in Manitoba," says Giesbrecht.

Friesent (left) and Giesbrecht are both nationally certified coaches.

Friesent (left) and Giesbrecht are both nationally certified coaches.

Friesen believes people are always looking for fun, affordable ways to stay active, particularly during the dog days of winter.

"Society needs to be more active, and badminton is a good sport for that. It’s not confrontational, you’re across the net from a person, it’s got a nice gamesmanship to it, everyone respects each other and there’s that honour system of calling your own lines," he says. "It’s also a game that, as an individual, you’re always trying to better yourself on a daily basis or over a longer term.

"We want people to have fun and we want to see them improve. That’s what we’re promoting."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

Read full biography

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