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Badminton drop-ins: ideas to make uneven match ups fun

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Do you remember the last time you had an amazing rally during badminton drop-ins?

You might not even remember who won and it probably didn’t matter. During these games, we tend to get lost in the intensity of being in the zone and pushing to the limit.

It’s a sign of a great match up.

Many of us are hunting to get the “fix” that these match ups provide. I’ve found apps like Reclub, RacketPal, and Meetup to do a decent job, but they mostly just make sure beginners and advanced players don’t match.

The big issue comes in the murky waters of the intermediate level where there is a huge difference between low-intermediate and upper-intermediate players.

To add to this soup, us recreational players especially tend to struggle with consistency which can take us from, say, an upper intermediate player during a good game, to lower intermediate with loads of easy mistakes in the next.

During social sessions, “clubs” tend to use designated courts for different levels of play to ensure the two sides are reasonably balanced. Some even take it a step further and use different sign-up sheets for different courts with advanced sign-up and have someone looking over the upcoming matches so everyone agrees to play in matches they are in.

No method is perfect, but there is something you can do to improve your match ups. In this article, I’ll explore how, even if you’re stuck with what seems like an unproductive and frustrating game at first.

Let’s start by looking at solutions for when someone jumps into your pre-arranged game, even if you’re not too fond of conflict.

The elephant in the room: politely protecting your match up during a badminton drop-ins session (without pissing other players off)

One of the most frustrating things in social games is when you’ve planned what seems like a great match up, only for another player to jump in and steal one of the spots. This happens so often that it’s worth considering how to best address it.

If your organizer follows a strict match up protocol, there’s probably not a lot you can do but check with them if something can get rearranged. 

On the other hand, if you’re playing somewhere where the match ups are just made up of whoever walks on court, there are three things you can do even if you don’t feel super comfortable with confrontation.

Solution 1 – waiting for the next match

The first option is to skip this match yourself and hope your next one will be better. This seems to be what most of us do and it kinda works, but it’s also kinda annoying.

This often leads to players preparing to take the court for the next game by sitting ready to run in quickly enough so that other players don’t have a chance to join. It kinda works but it’s also kinda stressful to participate in.

Solution 2 – confronting the situation in a friendly manner

Another alternative is to confront the situation, which can feel challenging especially if you’re from a culture that tends to avoid public confrontation.

This skill isn’t something we’re taught in school, so many of us tend to assume that the only way to solve it is to get negative and create a scene. Fortunately, that isn’t the case.

One way to go about it is to politely tell the player jumping in that you don’t mean to be rude but had planned a certain match next and you hope they don’t mind that you play that now. In my experience, people often simply aren’t aware and are fine playing the next one. 

I accidentally jump in as the fifth wheel in games every now and then without realizing it, as many of us do, so when someone tells me in a friendly way I don’t mind waiting as I know it works both ways.

Here’s an example script you can use:

“Hey, I don’t mean to be rude, but the four of us were hoping to match up in the next game. Would you mind if we do that now?”

This can feel more challenging with players you haven’t played with before, so it’s worth being mindful that you’re prioritizing yourself over someone else which doesn’t exactly build trust with (semi-)strangers. If you wanna avoid coming across as egoistic, it’s worth offering other players to go in front of you in the queue every now and then, ideally before you need to ask someone to sit out during your match.

Most players will understand and let you play but if someone insists on playing, you might be better off waiting for the next opportunity.

If you’re uncomfortable with conflict but want to get better at this skill, practicing saying it out loud in the mirror at home helps to get the friendly tone right.

Solution 3 – playing the game

The last option is not to say anything, play the game, and hope you get a better match up in the next game.

This can be worth your time if there are specific things you’d like to work on to improve your game like your serve or lift shots. Playing against less experienced players is a good opportunity to practice as you have more time to refine your technique as opposed to depending on performing it correctly during more challenging matches.

This route happens so often that it’s worth diving deeper into in the next chapter.

Making the best of an uneven match up during badminton drop-ins

If you are just looking for a fun game, it can be difficult to appreciate uneven match ups. On the other hand, if you’re keen on improving your skills this is a great opportunity to practice other aspects of the game than stroke skills.

Next, let’s look at ideas to approach this depending on whether you’re the stronger or weaker player in an uneven match up.

If you’re the stronger player in the match up

badminton drop ins - stronger player illustration

What no one tells you is that the better you get, the harder it gets to satisfy your itch for a good game as the pool of available players gets smaller and you need more of a challenge to get satisfied.

If you find yourself getting stuck having to play the game and generally struggle to get match ups with players good enough to truly challenge you, one approach is to artificially make the game harder on yourself.

Destroying them with your perfect drive serve or smashing if they default to lifting without good defense gets boring for everyone. 

Instead, you could practice things you want to get better at, like taking notice of where other players are on the court when you’re about to play your shot (this will make a HUGE difference to your game if you don’t have a habit of doing it).

Other good alternatives to work on during gameplay are doubles rotation, staying focused without falling asleep when you’re ahead, reading the game, or even new tactical combinations.

Another approach is to look at what your opponents are strongest at and then challenge them there as you’re likely to get the best quality returns. For example, if you find that they are best at the net, enter net duels with them. To make it even more challenging for yourself, attempt to make it obvious that you’ll play the net to give them an advantage and see if you can still win the net duel.

I’ve also found that it can be fun to prolong the rallies by only playing defensively with, say, lots of clears and lifts to challenge my stamina throughout longer rallies. Other options could be getting used to finding the open space and getting out of a tight situation under pressure by returning the pressure.

On the other hand, if you as the more experienced player want to raise the level of your doubles partner, consider high-fiving them or complimenting them when they make even a remotely good shot to boost their confidence. And consider reading the next section to get a sense of how they might feel playing with you.

Next, let’s look at what you can do if you feel that you’re the weaker player in the game.

If you’re the weaker player in the match up

Some players suggest that being up against better players helps us improve.

While it’s true, it’s also a tough sell to other players during badminton drop-ins if you struggle to hit the shuttle over the net as that requires training drills to nail the basic stroke skills. It takes forever to practice during games.

If your footwork and stroke skills are just fine (without necessarily being amazing), using games to improve your skills and get more good match ups can be a useful approach provided you are actively learning rather than aren’t using it as an excuse. That could for example be planning to focus on one particular thing during your game, like not lifting back to the same corner on two consecutive lifts.

Being the weaker player can be particularly challenging and a daunting task mentally as we feel intimidated and don’t want to let our partner down.

Sometimes it’s our confidence and mindset that mess up what would otherwise be a decent game. Similar to how lunging to the corners of the court is a footwork habit, feeling this way is a mindset habit that we can change.

If you feel that way, one of the best things you can practice is staying calm and ignoring feeling like you’re letting your partner down or making the game boring for everyone. Playing freely without concerns tends to be the quickest way to improve your skills if that’s often weighing you down.

I’ve found focusing on the task at hand and playing safer shots without taking too many risks to be among the most effective ways to go about it. Easy mistakes tend to be the way we lose the most points, which in this type of match up can lead to feeling embarrassed and playing even worse. 

With patience, your window of opportunity will always come and they might even begin making simple mistakes if they struggle to stay focused.

Takeaways for future badminton drop-ins

  • Explaining that you had a match up planned in a friendly manner tends to make most people okay with sitting the game out as long as they see that it works both ways
  • Practicing how to tell them in front of the mirror at home is effective and something we often forget
  • As a stronger player during an uneven match up in badminton drop-ins, it’s a good opportunity to practice your skills besides footwork and strokes
  • As a weaker player during an uneven match up, be mindful of your mind and focus on patience and playing it safe to avoid easy mistakes that’ll make you feel even worse
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