Badminton Blues by Gail Emms MBE


– I think that, when
you’re a sports person, you’re so much involved in a sports bubble and it’s been your dream for so long that you just get carried
away with the momentum. You are doing something that
everyone thinks is so lucky, you are so lucky doing
something you’ll love, oh you’re so lucky doing sport, and you just go along
with it and you think, well yeah I’m really good at something and yeah I am really lucky that
I can do this as profession. I think it’s only when I
got to the top of my game that suddenly you have that realization that oh my goodness, suddenly
that whole pressure is on you and suddenly people would
come up to me and, you know, make sure you win or you
know the whole funding is relying on you and then
you’re sorta thinking, well, hang on a sec,
this was fun, you know, I used to think that, you know,
again, that lucky privilege and honor to be able to go and represent my country and do something, that was, you know, you
could see yourself achieving and then, suddenly, it wasn’t fun anymore. I had no problems on the
court, on the badminton court, I was fine, but trying
to deal with everything off the badminton court,
looking back, now I realize that I was probably not in a very good place. After myself and Nathan
won the silver medal in the Olympics, you know, we
were, there were so many doors opened up to us and we were
enjoying ourselves so much and it was fantastic and
then suddenly people started looking at you in a very
different light, it’s like, you are going to be this and
you’re the next this person, the next so and so. I remember being in the sports,
on the training environment, and badminton’s not an
exciting training environment. You’re in a green sports all,
you’re in there from about eight o’clock in the
morning till probably about five or six o’clock in the
evening every single day and I remember doing a training session and it just wasn’t going
well and I’m very optimistic, normally a very optimistic person, and I just remember sitting
down, just thinking, why am I doing this? I have no idea what I’m doing it. I have no passion for it right now, I don’t love what I’m
doing, I used to love being a badminton player and now I just, I was beginning to hate
it, I was beginning to hate that feeling of you’ve got to perform, you’ve got to be somebody all the time, you can’t have a down moment. If I made a mistake,
someone will go oh yeah, you’re supposed to be an
Olympic silver medalist, you’re not supposed to do that and, you know, all those little
comments that are just like getting on top of you and on top of you and so much of you just
wanted to run away. Expectation like, you know,
secretly you love being the best and I think I secretly loved
the fact people watched me and watched what I was
doing but I don’t think, even though that was the case, I don’t think mentally I was
coping with it very well, it was all a show, it was all an act, and I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I struggled because you go
to a sports psychologist, you felt like it was about that sport, so, hi Mr., Mrs. sports psychologist,
I’m having trouble with my serve, you know, let’s
talk us through the mental preparation about serving in a big match. I didn’t feel like I
could go, you know what? I’m really hating absolutely
everything right now. You just didn’t feel like I could do that. You know, my friends are just,
you know, no more friends. My friends from school,
friends from university, they’re just my mates and
they kind of like showing off there, oh yeah, my mates an Olympian and you kinda go, yeah. How can you talk to them
and say well, you know what, I’m really hating it right now. I’m hating traveling the
world, I’m hating doing a job, you know, like sport and, you know, you’re very aware that you have this stance, you know, this standing in society that you are this Olympian,
you’re the inspiration and motivation to people and maybe it’s that sports
persons pride, you know, I am strong, I am not
going to show any weakness. That, for me, was the overriding factor of why I didn’t talk to somebody. I, as a female in sport
as well, you’re very much trained to show very male characteristics, so, you know, I can’t show weakness, I can’t show femininity, I have to be that person
on that court going, yeah, come on then, and
be strong and competitive and aggressive, and so, when
it comes to something like mental health, that athlete’s
competitiveness to, you know, kick it in and I just never, I
saw it as a weakness, really, and I just never allowed
myself to go there. My breaking point, or the darkest points, were after my badminton career. I got through it, I got
through the badminton. Once I decided that
after Beijing Olympics, I was going to stop, and that
was really important for me to make that decision, you
know what, I’m gonna be done. Not physically, ’cause I’m
very physically strong person, but mentally, I knew I was gonna
be done after Beijing 2008, It was going to be going for
that gold medal or nothing. So I made that decision and I
thought, brilliant, you know, again, maybe it’s that arrogance
of an athlete, I thought, I’ll be fine, I’ll have lots
of, you know, work offers off the back of it, I’ll
have a job, you know, I’ve got lots of contacts, and
then after a few months off, okay, what do I do now? I have no money because
the lottery funding stops the services stop, everything
stops, you’re not, you know, the sport world doesn’t
wanna know you anymore, you’re not with them,
you’re a normal person now, and very, very slowly and
gradually, it just got worse and worse and worse and
it slowly grinded down and it makes you feel
pretty worthless, actually, and it makes you question
why you did what you did. So I retired in August and post Christmas I
was not in a good way. I was horrible, I was
going out way too much, I was just, didn’t speak
to my boyfriend at all, we were on the verge of splitting up, we were shouting, arguing,
my friends and family didn’t know what to do with
me, I just kept pushing out, you know, it’ll be fine,
it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine, but it really wasn’t. I wish I had had treatment
in that dark time because it was not good. There was so much emotion going through me and I didn’t know how to process it. How do you process something like that? How do you process from going
from the best in the world to just normal? I’ve been trained to be
superhuman, the best at something, for so long in my life and
now what the hell do you do? How do you put all that energy, how do you put all that
ambition, it has to go somewhere and it just literally was
just like bubbling inside me and then where do I go? I felt like, oh, just call
up a normal counselor. Alright, hi, yeah, I used to
be this really good athlete and you could see their face going. It sounded in my head silly,
it sounded that I shouldn’t have anything to worry
about, I should be happy, I should be ecstatic that
I’ve done what I’ve done and I am but I don’t know how to process what I’m going through. It sounds very dramatic
to say that being pregnant saved my life but I honestly
do not know where I would be if, at that point in
time, I wasn’t pregnant. It suddenly gave me an identity. And suddenly I was wow,
I can be Gail a mom instead of Gail I have no idea but I could start doing mom things and suddenly I became, I had something in common with people, I had something in common with, you know, the neighbor around the
corner who was also pregnant, I had common with, you
know, some of my friends. I could talk, you know, oh yeah, you know, so how many weeks are you? And suddenly I had
something else to focus on and suddenly all that energy
I could put onto a new start. You know, you always think of,
you know, I do lots of work with kids, that we try
and help them choose sport as to keep them on the straight and narrow and you always look at
back at your own life and said, well, if I
haven’t had chose the sport, where would I have been? I felt like that, it
was a massive crossroads and I’m almost scared
to look at where I was and thinking where would I
have ended up because yeah you just try without the help and support hopefully, eventually, I
would have found some help and support somewhere
else, someone save me. I am so passionate about
identity and self-awareness. I think that it’s something that so underrated and underused in society. We go on our track, we go on
our road, and we carry on, and we just carry on, and
carry on, and carry on, and carry on, without
stopping and reflecting and, you know, well
when I have that chance and now I’ve, you know, for
the last 3 years have been very heavy involved in that
process of looking back and looking at the people
who have inspired you, looking at the people
who’ve really encourage you, what qualities that you want
to be, personality traits, behaviors, and all these
things are so important because you start realizing who you are and if you don’t know who you are, how can you expect to be
mentally in a good place? Because you just you don’t know yourself. I’m still learning, I’m still
understanding how I behave, how I act and in so many
different situations but I kind of, I’m good with it. I’m beginning to know who I am, I’m beginning to know who Gail Emms is, rather than Gail Emms
the badminton player. I know what I was like on a
badminton court, I know that, I know what my attributes there were but who am I in a business meeting? Who am I in, you know, out of work? Who am I in a social sense? It’s now beginning to
make sense and I love it. I love talking to sports people
because there’s something, we have something in common
and we just sort of know what we go through, that pressure,
that tense situation, and actually how I miss it, how
I miss that adrenaline rush, how I miss the people, the camaraderie, something very, very unique
but also the same in business, how can you recreate that high
of closing a business deal? How can you go from being
a CEO to retirement? How can you let go of things? All these things are just fascinating and I think I’m a passionate
believer of just anyone just taking stock and
going, you know what? It’s all right, it’s gonna be okay. Even though I love the
understanding and the reflections and the identity process
and all of these things and taking stock, I am mad
person that’s always going at 100 million miles
an hour but that’s okay and I enjoy the roller coaster. My life is always going to be
a roller coaster, I love it, I secretly love that, I
love the highs and lows, and, you know what, when
I’m on the high it’s great and when I’m on the low I
know it will go back up again. I just say to myself,
it’s okay, enjoy the ride, enjoy that roller coaster of life. Sport was like that for me. I was never the Steady Eddy
that was always winning or, you know, always
getting a certain place. I was always like win,
lose, win, lose, win, lose and that’s life as well and it’s okay, it’s okay to be on that roller coaster.

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