The shots were raining down on both sides of the backcourt. Despite the casual level, the heat of the battle made it feel like a match on the World Tour.
My partner and I had surprisingly kept up until now.. but losing half a step shot by shot eventually added up, and this time I was forced into my poor badminton backhand.
I wanted to get the shuttle back over the net, betting that our opponents would make an error and keep us in the rally.
I played a backhand clear, attempting to send the shuttle all the way to the backline to buy us some time. The shot didn’t have enough power and ended up as an easy smash opportunity at the midcourt.
The opponent sent it right back in my face.
This weak shot happens far too often during my games, and if you’re a player around the low intermediate level, I bet you’ve experienced it too.
It’s in stark contrast to seeing stars like Lee Zii Jia and Yuta Watanabe dominate badminton backhand shots.
They make it look so natural that the rest of us assume it’s easy.
Those strokes are usually used for their practical effect rather than as a trick shot, and they are a bitch to master.
We have to get someone to feed the shuttles in that unnatural position. Then we have to get used to the stroke itself and learn how to perform it during an intense match rather than in practice where we aren’t under pressure.
As if that wasn’t enough, we also have to practice the anticipation of where to send the shuttle after hitting the stroke so it becomes a winner.
Then there’s the thing that no one ever talks about: keeping it fresh.
If we don’t practice our skills regularly, they’ll eventually get rusty. Especially odd skills like this one that we don’t use naturally during most games.
The situations where it’s relevant just don’t happen that often during a rally.
I’ve already covered many badminton backhand shots like the backhand serve and variations of softer shots like net, drive, and push in their own articles. This is an opportunity to look at the iconic backhand variation of smashes, clears, and drops.
There are plenty of good how-to guides out there, despite these skills being notoriously difficult to learn without a coach correcting your motion in real-time.
Instead of attempting to do the same, I’ll look at how we, recreational doubles players, can manage these tools even if you aren’t able to drill backhand shots with a coach.
Finally, we’ll look at how to exploit the fact that your opponent probably is in the same situation as you.
The best badminton backhand shot to work on first
If you follow discussions on backhand shots, you’ll often see arguments for replacing it with a more aggressive around-the-head shot.
You can generate more power and better see your opponent’s reaction, as opposed to being turned away from them when hitting the shuttle.
The trade-off tends to be that you’ll be further out on the side of the court and in a poorer position for the return. That leads to some players pointing out that using the backhand can save energy as opposed to moving a step further and playing a forehand shot, especially in singles games.
While I’m focusing on doubles games here, that can still leave you confused — so which one is it? And when?
The annoying answer is: it depends on your existing backhand skills.
Casual games tend to be less optimized for performance and rather a combination of fun and winning. In my experience, you’ll be best off using your backhand when you can’t bend any other way to get the shuttle with a safer shot that you feel more confident in.
Meaning, it should be the absolute last resort to avoid losing the point.
It looks cool as a show-off piece when we’re able to perform it effortlessly, but that coolness disappears if we hit the net and lose the point. It’s better to get it back over the net and stay in the rally even if that shot is less cool.
In most cases, the backhand is an overkill and we should be able to get to the shuttle and use a forehand stroke.
Taking even a small step towards your backhand side can make a difference. You’ll leave the illusion that there’s a huge open space to your forehand for your opponent to exploit.
But you’ll expect the shot to come there, so you are ready if they take the bait. You’ll be able to stretch your forehand further to reach that shot than you would with your backhand.
If they hit to your backhand, you need to work less to turn it into an overhead shot as you’re already one step closer to that side of the court.
If your opponent realizes that playing to your backhand shot is an easy point and shows no mercy, they’ll attempt to force this situation over and over again.
If you must use it, I’ve found it critically helpful to have a go-to backhand shot to get out of trouble. One that you’re at least somewhat confident with, instead of three variations that are a gamble every time.
Since the issue with the backhand for most of us is power, a drop tends to work better as you’ll be more likely to force a net shot that your partner can cover, or a lift that you can attack.
Often a cross-drop is an even better solution. It’s trickier because you’ll need slightly more power to send it back over the net, but it doesn’t have to be a perfect shot on the lines. Even just making your opponent move a step or two can get you out of trouble.
In recreational games, many players will hit the shot straight back where it came from. If your opponents are standing side by side, the one who isn’t engaged tends to be less reactive and more inclined to spectate.
A cross drop can take advantage of this, wake them up, and relieve the pressure from you.
If you aren’t fast on court, you might struggle to react to the follow up as it’s harder to see your opponents’ reaction while executing the backhand shot. Quick-thinking opponents will often send the shot back at you, often to the front of the court, hoping that you won’t recover in time.
That makes it predictable and you can either plan your recovery toward your front corner or if your partner realizes this, get ready to cover you.
If you struggle to generate enough power to even get a badminton backhand drop shot over the net
If you struggle to generate enough power to get backhand drop shots over the net, one option is to change your gear. A racket with more head weight or strings with more repulsion can help generate more power. Restringing them at a higher tension can too and it’ll be the best bet for many players.
Changing your racket just for this one shot seems like an overkill.
There are considerable downsides to a more powerful racket, such as slower defense and less control on nimble, soft shots. And you’ll have to tweak every other shot you’ve learned to this new configuration.
Sometimes we get too focused on our own game and forget that our opponent might have challenges as well.
Let’s look at that next.
Exploiting your opponent’s badminton backhand
It’s time to turn the tables.
In this final chapter on coping with a poor badminton backhand as a recreational doubles player, I’d like to share some practical ideas you can use on court.
While your opponents can use your weak backhand to their advantage, you can also use it against them as this is a common challenge for recreational players.
You might target their backhand to see how good they are at generating power. If their backhand is weak too, you can move to the net the next time you play to it in order to cover their only likely choice; a short shot.
Like this example, I’ve handpicked four other practical ideas that are worth keeping in mind during your next session on court.
1. Take note of left handed opponents as the rules are reversed for them
As a left handed player, you wouldn’t believe the number of times an opponent has commented “ohh, he’s left handed!” midway through a game.
Some players often like to exploit a weak backhand, but as a lefty the roles are reversed and they’re playing directly to my forehand which makes it easier to punish them.
If you’re a left handed player, that usually means you’ll have to play a cross body shot (to the opposite side of their body) as opposed to straight back down the line.
If you’re a right handed player, be sure to look for left handed players as you start the game so you don’t make this easy mistake.
2. Push the shuttle to their rear (backhand) corner
As we explored above, hitting to your opponent’s backhand corner means you’re either challenging their backhand or their recovery.
As they get it, even if they perform an around-the-head shot instead of a backhand, they have to recover quite effectively in order to cover the net.
This presents an opportunity for a drop shot as recovery after a shot is among the common challenges for recreational players. Their partner now has to cover the remaining three corners, which is especially tricky in casual games where we often switch partners between games.
3. If you’re playing a pair of left and right handers
If you’re playing against a pair where one is right handed and the other is left handed, and they don’t know each other well, test out an attacking clear down the middle and see what happens.
If the right handed player is on the right hand of the court (when they are standing side by side), that means both of them have their backhand in the middle. They’ll likely prefer that the other player will take the shot unless they are confident in their backhand skills.
I’ve found that especially the right handed players often forget this and assume their partner will hit it, as it’s most common to play with other right handed players.
4. Keep hammering the same side
We casual players have a tendency to play a few hits back and forth to one opponent before engaging their partner who is not under pressure.
Often a better alternative is to keep hammering away at the same player to put them under more and more pressure until they make a mistake.
It has the fun advantage that their partner might become less focused as they are “waiting” to become a part of the game, so when the shuttle finally reaches them they might not react as well as they otherwise would have.
- It’s better to have one badminton backhand shot you’re fairly confident with those three variations that are a gamble every time
- A drop shot tends to be the safest and easiest type of backhand if you struggle to generate power
- Even if your opponent doesn’t have an absolutely horrible backhand, try keeping the pressure on them to win the point