x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

What's it like... to beat a child at sport

I tell people I play badminton for fun. I also like to win, and I've learned recently that one of the easiest ways to do that is to play against someone at least half your age and size.

I tell people I play badminton for fun. But, although I've never kept track of points or whatever they're called and definitely couldn't explain the badminton scoring system. I also like to win, and I've learned recently that one of the easiest ways to do that is to play against someone at least half your age and size. "I hear you like to play badminton," a 12-year-old boy said to me at a party my parents threw recently back in Canada.

"Correct", I replied. "You wanna play?". "Yeah," he said. "But I should warn you: I'm pretty good." "Perfect!" I exclaimed. "So am I, young man, so am I. To the courts!" We sauntered over to the badly sagging badminton net my parents set up back in the 1980s. The boy and I looked at the crooked and rusted rackets lying on the grass. Because I am the bigger person (literally), I gave the child the racket that was least bent out of shape.

"Here," I said, securing the loose strings with my chewing gum. "This should work." The kid had a mean serve but just couldn't hit it back to me. Every time his racket made contact with the shuttlecock (or whatever it's called), the boy would scream at a fantastically loud pitch, which was clearly part of his strategy because it made me laugh hysterically and just when i was most distracted he would serve again.

On the rare occasions when the kid did hit it back, it only rarely found its way to within the boundaries established by the net. "It was the wind!" he would yell. "If you would actually run you could have hit that one!" But I don't run, as a rule. His energy was fantastic and I honestly believe that with some practice and once he grows into his enormous feet he could one day become the next big thing (first big thing?) in the badminton world.

"OK, this time let's try to hit it back and forth more than three time," I would suggest, to which he would retort with some smart ass comment about how shoddy the rackets were or something else equally irrelevant. "It's not about the quality of the racket," I lied. "Badminton is a state of mind." I enjoyed the pace of the game. It was slow enough that I could play while holding a half-full glass (you see why I don't run?), but just fast enough to impress the 50-somethings with whom my parents socialise.

"Jessica, we had no idea you were so athletic," they said. "She's not athletic; she doesn't even run," he screamed. It's true, I don't run. But I had managed to win in spite of this obvious handicap. The young grasshopper, however, was not fazed by my win, and when his bedtime finally came, he refused to leave me without first issuing a warning. "I'm only going to get better, Jessica. And you're just getting older."

Jessica Hume, 27, is a news reporter for The National