A smashing talent

2014-03-18 00:00

BEING the youngest in her family, Kirsti Leaf was introduced to badminton through watching her older sister play. The sport appealed to her, it was “something different” and since Grade 5 she has been playing the game seriously and competitively.

“I played at Brighton Beach Senior Primary School and really got into the game. I was encouraged that the sport was played at junior school and this has definitely helped me as I have progressed through the age groups,” said Kirsti.

Showing an interest in the game, Kirsti’s first racquet was a hand-down, her sister’s, but it didn’t take long for her to prove her worth and take ownership of her own, brand-new shuttlecock smasher.

“After six months, I had done enough to convince my folks I was serious about badminton and could get my own racquet,” said Kirsti. “I played in the A and B league at Brighton and the highlight of my primary school days was being named Player of the Year in my final year.”

Although Kirsti plays soccer as well, badminton is her main focus and in the three years she has been playing, has uncovered a talent for the game worth nurturing.

“I have recently played for the KZN U15 side at a provincial tournament in Durban, winning the doubles and finishing runner-up in the singles in my age group,” she said. “One of my short-term goals is to start playing at club level, but I will need to plan carefully and fit it into my busy schedule as a weekly boarder at St Mary’s.”

Kirsti’s dream is to represent South Africa in badminton at the Olympic Games and she has already realised the hard yards and sacrifice needed to follow that path.

“We practise as a squad on Saturday and Sunday, doing two-hour sessions. Sometimes we do night sessions at UKZN and we work on stretching and mobility, the two key elements of the game,” she said. “Sacrifice pays in the end and in any sport, there is no easy ride to the top, not matter how talented or gifted a player may be.”

Kirsti is currently hard at work preparing for an inter-provincial tournament and the SA Champs in Pretoria, from March 30 to April 5. She played last year but feels she is better prepared this time around.

“It was new ground for me last year, the first time I had played at such a high level of competition,” she said. “I was shocked by what I was up against and of course, being nervous did not help. This time, I have an idea of what to expect and am more experienced and relaxed about what lies ahead.”

Kirsti’s ambition is to achieve a SA top 10 ranking in her age group in singles in Pretoria, something not beyond her as she is currently ranked third in her age group (U15A) in KZN.

To assist her in keeping subtle on court, Kirsti enjoys dancing and four times a week does lessons in ballet, modern and hip-hop at school.

“It definitely helps and keeps the muscles stretched. Wrist exercises are also important and before big matches, I obviously can’t each much but suck on plenty of energy sweets.”

There are some exciting times ahead for Kirsti, who is quietly carving her own path toward realising her dream. Her highlights to date are being selected for the KZN U15 side, getting her colours for badminton at school and her Player of the Year trophy.

Name: Kirsti Leaf

Age: 13

School: St Mary’s DSG

Grade: 8

Sport: Badminton

Achievements: KZN U15B 2013; KZN U15A 2014; 2012/13 - selected for Durban South team; played SA Champs 2013

Kirsti at a Glance

Supports Liverpool as she was born into a Liverpool home

Watches rugby and soccer

Has played electric and acoustic guitar for four years and is mainly self-taught

Loves music and is a huge Justin Bieber fan

Also enjoys Coldplay, Eric Clapton, Maroon 5, Eagle Eye Cherry

Never goes anywhere without earphones

Into photography and videography

Analyses movies

Is arty and spends time doing designs on computer

Huge movie fan

Enjoys drama, debating and public speaking at school

Huge bookworm, the bigger the book the better

Can cook - bacon pancakes is a speciality

Favourite food is sushi

Loves the beach - grew up at Treasure Beach (Bluff)

Family and friends are important

Favourite subjects are English and Music


Use your odds to your advantage. Never give up and find a way to make things work for you.

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