Last Updated on June 15, 2023 by Aske
Having been out of the badminton world for more than fifteen years, I was curious to figure out how long it would take me to get back up to speed. I had learned the basic badminton skills that would put me at an intermediate level as a teenager, but I was rusty to put it mildly.
I’d mistime half my shots and my backhand was virtually non-existent. Even my serve sucked. The only thing I was confident in was warming up.
After playing a few times per week for six months, I slowly regained some confidence and ironed out the worst of my habits. That’s not to say that I became amazing in any area… just not totally horrible.
About six months later things started to change. Other regular players commented on my improvements, asking if I had been training on the side. I was flattered but confused at the same time, as I hadn’t been working with a coach nor done any training drills.
The only thing I did was play better players, take notes, look at tutorials online, and work on one item at a time.
That being said, I haven’t turned into some crazy badminton god as you’ll see in a minute. I’m an intermediate player who loves the game and doesn’t mind experimenting. If you play enough, you’re bound to pick up a few things here and there.
In this case study, I’ll discuss the things I worked on to improve my game and which of the items I found to make the biggest difference.
This will be most helpful for you if you’re an advanced beginner or low intermediate player as you may have similar habits on court.
Let’s start by looking at before and after examples of my game.
Case study: improving my basic badminton skills
I won’t bore you with the trivialities of a full match analysis with bad angles and the horrible camera abilities my girlfriend always complains about. Instead, I’ve handpicked certain mistakes I’ve noticed making again and again in doubles games to give you a sense of my skill level in before and after sections.
It isn’t as good as the high-quality footage we have of the pro tournaments but it’s the best I can offer and I bet you’ll find it useful nonetheless.
The tricky part is always performing the basic badminton skills with consistently high quality, which is not possible to show through just a few clips. To add to that, there are loads of variables that have an impact such as the skill level of the opponents, having a good or bad day, which partner I play with, and even the drift.
With that in mind, let’s look at my earlier game.
Examples of my game before improving
In these rallies, you’ll notice that my legs are stiff. My knees aren’t bent and I’m not at a low gravity point when the rally starts. I’m also hanging in the front relaxing like a monkey instead of having my racket up, ready to defend a quick drive or block.
When my partner hits a clear shot, I stay at the front of the court, instead of rotating to stand side by side, making it difficult to defend and my block lands out of the court. By not rotating, I’m also making my partner unsure of where to position himself since he has to react to me as I can’t see him.
In this next example, you’ll notice that I’m offering two easy kills to my opponent in a row and it’s pure luck that they don’t punish me harder.
In the next clip, you’ll see how I’m running around getting the shuttle while continuously feeding the opponent. That means they have all the time in the world to put me and my partner under more pressure.
It’s hilarious to watch in hindsight. They are examples of basic badminton skills that make doubles games much harder than it has to be.
Examples of my game after improving
Looking at the clips, I’m anticipating the opponents better and playing more creative shots, like moving them around the court, rather than only going for an all-out smash.
Rotation is getting better too, even though there’s still room for improvement. What’s interesting is that you can see the poor quality of many of my shots but because I or my partner are well positioned, it still produces a winner.
The basic badminton skills I worked on without a coach
I’ve been able to prioritize two on court sessions of two hours on weekends and about thirty minutes at the gym on weekdays, with one day off.
During the on court sessions I’ve been playing casual games until just recently when I turned one session into practicing drills. The weekdays have been used at the gym training stamina, with one leg day, and one day for non-badminton-related muscle training.
I wanted to show you what helped me the most despite not working with a coach, but as I began noting things down, the list just grew longer and longer. To avoid turning this into a generic listicle, I decided to stick with the four basic badminton skills I found to have the most impact on my games as a low intermediate player.
If you’re curious, the items that came close but didn’t make the cut were:
- Stamina and eating well before playing
- Having a go-to attacking weapon
- Having go-to tactical combinations
- Improving defense
- Positioning on court
It’s not that they aren’t important–they are on the shortlist after all. It’s just that they weren’t the biggest winners. They still make a meaningful difference.
The 4 things that had the biggest impact on my basic badminton skills
If you value your time and want to see rapid improvements, these big levers are the items I’d look at first if you’re somewhere around the high beginner and low intermediate level and play doubles games.
1. Doubles rotation
In doubles, rotation is everything. It’s the thing that turns two singles players into a team. While it doesn’t look like rotating effectively can win rallies outright, it can help you not lose them and set you up for a winner.
I dismissed it at first, not realizing how big of a difference it makes. For example, not knowing who should get a return of serve at the net, after a short low serve, makes it easy for your opponents to gain several points until you figure it out (hint: it’s the one serving).
Another common example is defending a smash. It’s easier to defend in the area in front of you by stepping forward than it is to react to a shot that can come at high speed on either side of you as we saw in my clip earlier.
If you’re at the front court you have little time to react, while at the rear court it’s easy to have your field of view blocked by your partner in front.
There are many scenarios, that when predefined who should react, go from ultra difficult to becoming easy. Looking back at my games doubles rotation is by far the thing that causes the most lost points.
Even something as simple as moving side by side when your partner hits a lift or clear makes a world of difference.
The issue with doubles rotation is that it’s hard to practice deliberately as you’ll need at least a partner and a coach to train with.
Building the habit during casual games yourself is hard too. You constantly have to remind yourself of the things that trigger the rotation and remember what to do in the heat of the battle. Anything that makes you think slows you down until it becomes intuitive.
To kick start changing my own habit, I played with a partner who was good at it and helped me by yelling “split” every time we had to rotate to defense, standing side by side. After a few matches, I had a foundation that I could build upon myself but the tricky part is sustaining it if you only play on weekends as habits require repetition to be formed.
2. Patience and building up the winner
When we first begin playing badminton, shots like the jump smash are loads of fun and we want to do it all the time because it feels amazing to hit a winner. The better opponents we play, the better they become at defending and the less effective smashing becomes.
I’ve found that developing patience is crucial to breaking through the plateau when we get stuck. Building up the winner by putting your opponents under pressure or creating an open space too big for them to cover is arguably more powerful than any single shot as we become less predictable.
When we become impatient, we make unforced errors and give away free points. So do our opponents. At some point, it becomes a mind game of who becomes impatient first. Take notice of how many unforced errors are made by you and your opponents next time you play, and I bet you’ll be surprised.
Simply playing it slightly safer and expecting rallies to last longer will convert a bunch of points for you and your partner as you make fewer unforced errors, and your opponents make more.
The surprising twist is that the longer the rally is, the more fun it tends to be when playing social games.
I’ve found patience a foundational skill in badminton. Attempting to prolong the rally without giving the opponent an easy point is an effective way to improve your patience on court. There’s a fine line between making it too easy for the opponent and keeping the rally going.
A key component in this quest is developing anticipation of how your opponents and partner will react to your shot, and what you’re best off doing next.
For example, if you perform a smash down the line knowing that your opponent is likely to send a net shot back, you’ll often be better off covering it if your partner is out of position as you’ll know before anyone else.
In my experience, developing patience and anticipation requires creative gameplay. To my surprise, an effective way of doing that is by restricting yourself from using shots like smash that often win the point outright. It can be difficult to resist temptation, so one way to force it upon yourself is switching to a racket with less raw power.
As I was testing the even balanced racket Arcsaber 11 Play, I found my power smash less effective. It forced me to improve my defense and tactical shot combinations in order to win rallies while attacking.
3. The serve and return of serve
When I first began playing badminton again, I only felt that I could perform a classic high serve, which usually isn’t effective in doubles games. I wasn’t even good at it so I often gave the opponent a smash and a chance to gain a point right away.
I made my life difficult and I was basically better off not having to serve at all. I felt anxious every time it was my turn.
Practicing a short low serve made a world of difference in getting off to a good start with confidence. A few of the regular players gave me tips and within thirty minutes I had gotten confident that I could execute it reasonably well.
This one thing might have been the fastest of the badminton skills for me to improve if we also consider how often I use it and how many problems a poor serve creates.
Beyond the serve, many rallies in doubles games finish within the first few shots. Learning a few unusual returns of serve probably earns me three to five points in every set, either directly on the shot or due to a poor follow-up we can kill with ease. In a tight match, this is easily the difference between winning and losing.
4. Finding the right racket
I’ve always felt that getting the right badminton gear to play better was a lame pitch from brands wanting to sell you more stuff.
Lately, I’ve changed my mind. The more rackets I’ve tested, the more I feel a difference in my own game. I notice it as when I play with the best racket for me, other players often compliment me on my game and improvements after.
It has been most visible during smash blocks where the right racket gives the shuttle that extra bit allowing it to crawl over the net rather than coming up short. I could adjust my technique to other rackets but it’s faster to find a racket that suits my style with the limited time I have on court.
I know this sounds like a sales pitch from a gear brand but I estimate that this gives me five points (or that I don’t lose five points) per set in defense alone.
In my experience, it’s less about finding the perfect racket and more about the perfect racket type for you.
- As we saw in my example, it’s possible to make noticeable improvements to your game without a coach and designated practice drill sessions
- There are certain levers that make a bigger impact on your game than others and you’ll improve faster by targeting those
- Asking better players for suggestions, recording yourself, taking notes, and watching how-to videos can be an affordable ways to improve your game