Athletes often cite experience playing with each other as an answer to why they’re able to work so well together.
Hockey players, for instance, often make blind passes, made possible by a sixth sense of just knowing where their teammate will be at any given time.
But for Rachel Cameron and Isabelle Bailey, the U16 female doubles badminton team representing Ontario at the North American Indigenous Games, taking time to develop that chemistry was not an option.
“This is our first time playing together,” said Bailey.
“And it’s our first time meeting each other too,” said Cameron.
Like many of the athletes participating in this week’s Games, their first encounter with one another was when they arrived in town a couple of days prior to the beginning of the competition.
Despite having to take a crash-course in working together, success has not eluded the pair.
“It’s surprising how well we go together,” said Cameron. “It’s like we’ve been playing together before.”
After playing well in the group stage, they were one of only six teams to move on to the playoff round.
“We’ve been playing pretty good,” said Bailey. “We have a lot of similarities, so that helps.”
Cameron, a 15-year-old from The Dalles Reserve, hasn’t been in badminton long, but she’s made the adjustment quickly.
“It was during my basketball off-season, and I wanted to do a different sport just so I kept in shape,” said the multi-sport athlete. “It was my first ever time playing badminton this season, and I finished with the most improved award.”
Bailey on the other hand, hailing from Pembroke, Ont., has a bit more experience to her name.
“I always just found badminton really cool, so then I decided in Grade 6 to just try it out and I really liked it,” said the high school student. “I won my tournaments starting in Grade 8 and (I’ve won them) all the way up to now, in Grade 11.”
Arriving in Toronto for the Games last Saturday, Team Ontario got to know each other over a more recreational sport.
“We actually found a ping pong table in our residence, so we went to buy extra paddles and ping pong balls just to play,” said Cameron.
The impact of the bonding experience was felt beyond just those athletes playing together.
“At first everyone was really quiet, I feel like we’ve grown super close, we’re like a family now,” said Makenna Piercey, another member of Ontario’s Badminton Team. “I’ve loved spending time with them.”
For Cameron and Bailey, participating in NAIG this year was a top priority. So much so, that both girls tried out for several different sports to maximize their chances of being selected for the Games.
One of the main draws to be a part of the Games, is to have a chance to celebrate their culture – one that has taught them a very valuable lesson.
“I would say to look for the good in everything and stay positive,” said Cameron. “You have to leave the game behind, and think about all the good things you did, not just the bad.”
Bailey echoed the sentiment of her doubles partner.
“I agree with Rachel, just be positive as much as you can, because if you get mad at yourself, you’ll play worse than you were,” she said.
Craig Perry, the coach of Team Ontario’s badminton squad, knows the value the Games carry and has seen the effect on his players.
“It’s a chance for them, and all of us, to take pride in just being who we are. We have everybody from all over Ontario, you get to come together and be all one,” said Perry. “Getting together and sharing each other’s traditions, cultures, having fun, and meeting new people.
“That’s what it’s all about.”