It was a scorching hot day at the court. I found myself at the frontcourt performing a badminton lift in an attempt to get out of trouble during this particularly difficult rally.
It bought my partner a moment to return to a side-by-side position from the far corner as we prepared for the attack that was about to come.
Our opponent was quick to send a powerful smash in the direction of my partner’s hip. As he was recovering back to base, he had no chance of moving his body out of the way to place the racket on the shuttle and whip it back over the net.
That’s a classic example of how the lift in badminton is used and exploited.
In this article, I’ll dive into the often overlooked reason why you might be struggling with defense and what common mistakes to avoid. I’m breaking it down specifically with doubles games and low-intermediate players in mind.
The badminton lift is one of the most convenient skills to practice, so I’ll also look at a few ideas you can steal in the name of improving your defense.
Badminton lifts: the overlooked reason you’re struggling with defense
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about lifts.
The most common lift in badminton is like a gentle lob from the front court near the net, aimed over the opponent and towards their backline.
This is the classic high lift. It’s great for buying yourself some time to regroup, but it also gives your opponent plenty of time to prepare their counterattack.
Another alternative is the flatter lift to give your opponent less time to react. However, especially taller players may intercept your shot and catch you off guard.
The goal of lifts in badminton is two-fold.
Firstly, lifts help reset the rally, giving you and your partner a chance to regain balance and composure.
Second, depending on your strategy, they can move the attacker out of position, testing their footwork and stroke technique, and making it more challenging for them to execute their attack.
But in certain situations, a lift may be the only possible shot when you’re close to the net.
Check out these clips of me performing a lift. What do you notice?
I notice how difficult it is to defend an attack so close to the net. The attacker can place the shuttle almost across the entire court and it’s hard to anticipate where it’ll go. Reacting to a powerful shot that close is also challenging.
It’s the dream scenario for any attacking opponent.
At first, I thought I needed to work on my defense-blocking skills to stop losing rallies whenever my opponent launched a solid attack. I later realized that the mistake was often made before the attack even began, during the lift leading up to it.
If you take a closer look at the same clip, you’ll notice that most of the badminton lifts only reach the midcourt before getting punished!
When you find yourself struggling to defend drop shots and smashes, this could be the underlying reason. There’s a fair chance you’ve been making it too easy for your opponents to attack.
Recognizing this critical distinction is essential if you want to improve your skills. Otherwise, you’ll waste your limited energy practicing the wrong thing. Defending a smash from the midcourt or even closer is nearly impossible, so the most effective approach is to prevent it from happening altogether.
Sure, you might win a few points on net lifts that the opponent thought were going out, but those aren’t the most exciting or satisfying moments.
Lifts may not make for flashy rallies or make you look cool, but there’s a lot at stake if you mess them up.
During my research for this article, I noticed several lifting mistakes happening over and over again. Let’s look at those next so you can avoid them in your own game.
Common mistake #1: lifting too much
One common mistake I’ve noticed is players relying too heavily on them.
When we start playing badminton or frequently play with less experienced opponents, it’s easy to develop a habit of lifting the shuttle often to keep the rallies going.
This becomes a self-destructive habit when we face more skilled opponents who are actively seeking opportunities to punish us. It results in offering our opponents more attacking chances than necessary and exposing our defense.
The good news is that for many of us, it’s just an old habit that needs tweaking rather than an entirely new concept to learn from scratch.
This can lead to two outcomes: either you engage in a net duel where your opponent returns a net shot, or you earn the lift, giving your partner in the rear court an opportunity to attack.
If you’re able to wait for a moment before playing your shot to observe how your opponent moves on the court, you might find that they are moving backward, expecting a lift. This is when you can catch them off guard with a net shot.
These are the two options available to you when you’re late to a net shot.
If you can reach the shuttle earlier in its trajectory, when it’s above the net, there’s no need to default to a lift just because it’s a habit. Instead, a simple push shot or flat drive can work wonders in turning the tables and putting pressure back on your opponents.
By alternating between net lifts and other shots, you keep your game fresh and your opponents guessing, preventing them from easily preparing their attacks.
One common situation where lifts are frequently used is when returning a low serve. Many players who serve low are so accustomed to it that they get caught off guard when faced with a net shot return to the corner.
If you can successfully execute this shot, you might earn a few surprise points.
Common mistake #2: lifting near the opponent
Another common mistake when it comes to lifting is sending the shuttle back near the opponent.
That makes it easy to get into a favorable attacking position, especially for those of your opponents who haven’t practiced footwork recovery, as they’ll be waiting to see your shot before reacting.
Despite this not being a lift, notice how I make it more and more difficult for me and my partner by sending the shuttle right back to our opponents.
When you find yourself needing to play another net lift back to where your opponent is placed due to being off balance yourself, you might find that varying the height of your lift can be effective. That way, you might avoid getting an overhead shot back as they are forced to step forward to reach the shuttle.
If you know they hit the net on their smash regularly, you might even keep your lift relatively flat while hoping that they’ll misjudge the angle and cause a fault again.
Common mistake #3: letting your opponent back in the game
Another common mistake when it comes to the badminton lift is returning the shuttle back to your opponent after you’ve caught them off guard.
By doing so, you’re offering them an opportunity to regain control and get back into the game, instead of capitalizing on the advantage you’ve worked hard to earn. Recognizing that there’s a chance to increase the pressure and finish the rally in your favor is key.
Instead of lifting the shuttle back, consider a more aggressive shot to exploit the weakness in your opponent’s positioning.
Common mistake #4: not recovering
Often we play a lift shot when we’re under pressure. While some players don’t recover at all, which leaves a huge open space to exploit, those that do might be off balance or not recover fast enough, especially if the lift was poor.
That often makes it highly effective to attack the player who just lifted. If your opponent recognizes this, you become an easy target.
If you “over-recover” and move too far back in anticipation of a smash, you’ll open yourself up to a deadly drop shot.
I’ve found it useful to remember that when you’re lifting, your opponent will likely play their attacking shot back to you if they are attempting to finish off the rally.
Ideas to practice the lift in badminton (without doing lift-only drills)
Executing good lifts in badminton can be challenging, as the goal is to place the shot close to the backline without crossing it.
It gets tricky because each court and venue differs due to factors like drift (wind). The drift can unexpectedly push the shuttle over the backline, turning a well-intended lift into a poor one.
The pro players include net lift shots in their preparation routine when they arrive at any tournament. This helps them get used to the specific conditions of the venue. Even if we play at the same venue every week, the conditions can vary from one day to another.
As a recreational player, I have found it useful to incorporate lifts as part of the warm-up before each session. This helps us find our rhythm before the games begin, particularly if we don’t play every day. By doing so, we avoid wasting valuable game rallies to fine-tune our reactions and touch for that particular day.
If you’re using a half-court, I prefer switching between hitting to the corner and the middle. If you have access to a full court, you might hit one corner, then the middle, then the other corner, before eventually transitioning to hitting exclusively to the two corners.
In practice drills, many players tend to focus on attacking shots like smashes or clears, which naturally require lifts to initiate and occasionally during the drill as well.
However, it’s during drills for drop shots and frontcourt footwork, such as lunges, where we have an even better opportunity to hone our lift skills. Lifts serve as a suitable defensive counterpart in these drills.
- Lifting in badminton is often the hidden reason why your defense gets destroyed – we can look at hitting good lifts as making the attack more difficult for your opponents
- Common mistakes include lifting too often, instead of balancing it with other shots and playing lifts back to opponents that are ready to punish them along with not offering them opponents attempting to recover