Overcoming Barriers (Colin Leslie & Andy Davies): Scottish Disability Sport Week

By Grania Shankley

When participating in any sport there are many barriers to overcome, challenges to face and situations that can put people out of their comfort zones. Talking about and understanding these barriers is important so that everyone can feel included, seen and heard and participate with confidence.

We caught up with Scottish badminton players Colin Leslie who is a double amputee (playing in SL3 half court singles), and Andrew Davies who plays short stature SH6. They both competed at the recent UK ParaBadminton Championships 2023 at Tollcross International Swimming Centre and asked them about barriers to better understand and highlight challenges they have faced when getting involved and playing badminton.

Colin told us about his personal experience of suffering an injury at work which ultimately led to him to getting back involved in badminton: “I used to play at a really young age to then have an accident at work to think my life is over to then be told that there was a local club for me to play badminton… it actually sort of changed my life forever when I thought I would never do sport again”.

He added: “Another hurdle was actually putting myself out there because when I was close to 20 stone because I haven’t done any sport for over 10 years, I went to Lothian Disability Badminton club with a coach called Lyndon Williams. He made me feel welcome which was another barrier that I was facing, would they accept me the way I was because I never had my legs? and they took me in open heartedly, and within the hour I was entered into two competitions. I never knew this would happen to the point that I’d seen the bigger picture”.

When speaking about barriers he’s directly experienced Andy Davies told us: “I would say just sometimes the barriers are when you’re playing a person with dwarfism, para and able-bodied people is much different game tactics that you need to use and you need to change your game quite a lot and it’s quite hard to get used to”.

Reflecting on when he first entered a tournament, Andy said: “I think confidence was a big part, especially in my first tournament to know that I could be competing, and it’s more fair rather than always feel like I’m physically below everyone else”.

When we asked Andy about gaining confidence and overcoming it as a barrier, he said: “I think it is more just me realising that I can compete and sometimes I don’t have confidence like playing Jack (Shephard – England) who’s top five in the world, it is a bit like… I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself when I maybe should have more but I think it’s just keeping on playing. The people in my club are really nice and there’s no one that ever makes you feel like you shouldn’t have enough confidence, so it’s always a help.”

Colin is a currently a player and coach at Lothian Disability Badminton club and speaks about how he uses his experience to inspire the next generation of players: “I have been coaching now for over 10 years, and I’m trying to get that over to the younger kids and anybody that wants to come along… If I wore a pair of trousers you wouldn’t know I was disabled, but I try to show my legs off all the time so they can look at me and they can say oh he’s disabled but look how good he can play”.

He added: “If you speak to half the guys in the hall today, they have all got the same experience as in, will we be accepted? and when we do get accepted what are the barriers that we’ve got? And it’s down to word-of-mouth, it’s down to local clubs, but it doesn’t just stop there”.

When reflecting on his success of playing for Scotland and winning World and European Championships, Colin said: “Although I’m disabled, there is no age limit, there’s no category out there that won’t accept you in the disability side, and it’s opened my eyes to actually see what is actually out there. I’ve seen it from the able-bodied side, how we treat everybody, and then from there to being actually disabled, actually getting to play at the highest level against the top players in the world, who could compete against able-bodied is a total eye-opener”.

To conclude the interviews, we asked both players about advice they would give to coaches, players and others who are thinking about getting involved in badminton at club level or entering a tournament.

Andy told us: “I would say just treat them like they would anyone else, make sure they feel included and just treat them like they would an able-bodied bodied person. Don’t try and act differently. And just play badminton”.

Colin’s advice to players, clubs and coaches is that “If players can come in and they’re made welcome, and they like it, then the club is doing something really really well or the coaches are really good. 95% of players come into Lothian Disability Badminton club every single week, smiling wanting to go and play – we also have the option for coaching or one-to-one if they want it”.

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