Avgi Nicolaou – ‘First it’s fun, then it’s a community’

4 min. reading
Published on 06/05/23

Avgi Nicolaou is an award-winning coach who came to the UK from a region called middle earth – and perhaps nowhere has there been such an unusually itinerant teacher.

A sense of mystery veiled Avgi’s origins when she began to change women’s lives by organising and teaching badminton, for she had fewer qualifications than any coach has ever had.

She had neither played nor taught the game, yet now attempted to do both – in a language in which she was not a native speaker, and in a city, Bath, which was similarly foreign to her.

But the mysterious visitor had hidden assets. Although her legend-rich origins in Cyprus were of course Hobbit-free, she embodied two of their fictional qualities: she was a skilled listener and a good observer, which made her a multi-cultured personality even within the very traditional Romano-Georgian splendour of her new domicile.

Giving up her first sporting love

Perhaps crucially, because she came from the Mediterranean whose sea connects 22 countries, she was able to think in different languages. Avgi’s life had been uprooted after her partner moved to work in a university in Bath. But it required great unselfishness. Avgi had to give up her first sporting love, ten-pin bowling, at which she had competed internationally, winning many prizes. Some of these had to be relinquished, left for recycling as educational awards for children in Nicosia.

Her only immediately accessible social activity was at a local leisure centre, and it was here that Avgi adopted her new sport of badminton. She found it far from easy. But though she couldn’t win tournaments at this elegantly difficult game, she earned other prizes. They came in the form of other people’s happiness. She enhanced lives by connecting people with each other and with themselves. The catalyst for this was her personality. Avgi was passionate and encouraging, and embraced new people. She was also naturally competitive, and certainly capable of joining male-dominated clubs – but she had other aims.

“I wanted a women’s badminton club,” she emphasises. “I wanted to empower women to play in a friendly and supportive environment. I wanted to get women from the house and into leisure, and get them to love the sport. I wanted to give them the opportunity to join a club with a feeling of confidence, and perhaps find their competitive side with me.” It was with such compelling emotions that Avgi founded her club. Its start was auspicious. Offered financial support by Badminton England if she could enrol 12 women within 12 weeks, she achieved 42 in less than a month !

‘We don’t all want to be competitive’

She did it by making friendship the prime philosophy, along with music, conversation, and inclusivity. Before long, the governing body gave her not only funding but a volunteer recognition award as well. Learning how to control the parabolas, tumbles, and rocket hurtles of a shuttlecock had been harder for Avgi than she expected. But by playing and coaching at different clubs, she improved.

“And after a while I realised I loved it,” she says, sounding slightly surprised. “What I’d been needing was the technical part. And after three years my coach said: ‘You’ve got it!’"

“I asked if I could become more involved, and she said: ‘Why not?’ She gave me a green light!” And so Avgi accelerated.

Her progress brought revelations. “We women are very special in a way – very sensitive creatures. We need a special other to encourage and understand us. We don’t all want to be competitive. We want to get out, to be friendly, have some exercise and go home. Some of us enjoy sport differently – as a community club, a leisure club, and for all women, sending a message to others who can’t take part. It is: come and visit us, and then you will see. Firstly, it’s fun, then it’s a community. This is not a competitive club. And that is how my own journey in badminton started.”

No surprise that Babolat took an interest in Avgi Nicolaou, both the badminton coach and the humanitarian. Her vision and character has made her a woman for all cultures, for all seasons, for all of life’s games.

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