Last Updated on August 5, 2023 by Aske
My palms were sweaty and I struggled to change grip fast enough. I found myself at the front court playing drives in badminton, following up on my partner’s smash with quick movements.
In the past, I’ve often been playing the rear court but I have to admit that I enjoyed going toe to toe with my opponent at the net, moving between corners like it was lunge competition.
It reminds me of playing video games like Call of Duty, where the faster you react, the better your chance of winning.
Counterintuitively, this game within the game meant that I had to control the power in my strokes tightly so as not to overdo my shots and hit the net. I had to work on my precision and shot placement both on the court itself, but also whether I played to my opponent’s forehand or backhand.
Instead of hammering power shots, I found myself intercepting shots and catching my opponents off-guard with shots “safer” than a net shot, or attacking clears close to the line.
Even if you aren’t entirely sure what flat drives in badminton are, you’ve probably played this shot many times before without realizing it. It’s the typical flat shot from midcourt to midcourt. You’ll see them in doubles all the time. Often in singles too.
It’s the most generic and easy shot to get started with, which is why it’s often overlooked. The tricky thing with it is that once you send one over the net, you’re likely to get one back as well.
A duel has begun.
Drive duels aren’t as flashy as a jump smash, but they’re effective as they can force your opponent to make mistakes and hit the net when shots are short but come flying fast.
Each shot becomes faster and closer to the net cord until someone causes a fault by hitting the net or breaks the duel by changing shot.
In this article, you and I will look at when to use it as a beginner or intermediate player and a few simple, practical, tweaks you can use in your next game to get the upper hand.
When to use drives in badminton as an intermediate player
While you often won’t win points directly on drives, the best reason to use it is to put your opponents under pressure. Either, they will make a mistake hitting the net, return a poor shot you can kill, or it’ll be a building shot that can lead to a lift your partner can smash in the ground.
Often, you’ll use drive shots just because it’s convenient or you feel under pressure. Instead of covering every possible scenario you could use it in, let’s stick with a few I’ve found useful and are easy to execute.
When to use it in doubles
During the return of serve, I’ve found it effective to play down either side of the mid court with an equal balance of precision and power, as many players are often slow on the first few shots.
It tends to cause enough confusion and hesitation for you to win the point a few times before your opponent catches on.
You might also find drives in badminton effective if you and your partner are attacking and you’re covering the front court. You’ll feel like being the goalkeeper in football (soccer), but if you’re able to anticipate what’ll come next, and have enough time to both intercept the shot while looking for an empty area on the court, I bet you’ll get a kick out of it.
When to use it in singles
I’ve noticed that drive shots in singles are often used as a returning shot if one player plays a soft shot to the midcourt.
They can also be a good shot to play if your opponent is near the net and you feel that they might not be able to make it to the mid or backcourt in time to return the shot properly. That is often the case after a smash where the player is rushing toward the base position or net to follow up on your block.
Two simple ways to improve your drives in badminton this week
If you’re looking to gain an advantage without becoming a pro badminton player, there are a few things you can do.
The biggest difference for me has been increasing the shot power, as even a slightly faster shot can surprise your opponent and cause them to hit a fault.
That doesn’t mean going all in on power, as we quickly hit diminishing returns with precision and control, which tends to be more important. It’s all for nothing if we hit it out of the court, which is almost too easy to do if you like power rackets such as Yonex Astrox 99 or Astrox 100 Game.
I’ve also found that when we get locked into a drive duel, there’s little time to move so if you hit the shuttle upwards, your opponent will likely be ready to jump and kill it easily. Instead, we need to hit it flat.
We can sometimes do that by performing a slight mini jump into the shot to catch the shuttle while it’s higher up in its trajectory as it makes it harder for your opponent to return.
To get more specific, I’ve noticed two tweaks that made my drives more effective.
1. Use the backhand more than you think
In most cases when it comes to drives in badminton, you’ll need to use the backhand more than the forehand unless it’s a shot that comes far out to the forehand side.
It’ll be easier to add power through a finger push with the thumb when using the backhand as you have so little reaction time. You’re also unlikely to have time to switch grip effectively if you get caught in a fast drive duel. That especially, if your technique, like mine, isn’t amazing.
You’re often better off using little or no swing as you simply won’t have the time to pull your arm back and produce one. Instead, we have to rely on snappy wrist or forearm movement along with the finger to generate quick power. The upside to this is that it’s easier to be ready for the next shot if one comes back.
2. Keep your racket up but avoid hitting upwards
Keeping the racket high is so simple, it’s often overlooked. It’s powerful when your opponent is in a good position to return it, as you’ll still have a fair chance of sending a lucky shot back even if you don’t react like you intended.
Being in a slightly lower stance similar to when you are blocking a smash can help you remember it in the heat of the battle as it gives the feeling of having more time to react. That and being on your toes can help you get into position faster if the shot isn’t directly on your racket and you have to move out to get it.
It’s tempting to search for a quick point by attempting to play the perfect shot and ending the rally. If you haven’t practiced it, it’s usually better to play it slightly safer and ensure the shuttle crosses the net as there’s a chance your opponent will cause a fault and offer you the point anyway.
Ending drive duels effectively
I stumbled upon this clip during my research for this article and knew that I had to talk about ending drive duels effectively.
The riskier way to end a drive duel is going for the slightly tighter shot near the net as it might hit the net cord and cause a fault.
A shot to the backcourt tends to break the rhythm, which is often effective in singles games. It can be tricky to do in doubles as you might not have time for a big swing when the shuttles fly fast.
I’ve found that if your finger push technique isn’t great, it’s easy to hit the area where the midcourt merges with the backcourt. In doubles, that isn’t far enough and often invites a dangerous cross-drop or a smash if your opponent is quick.
On the other hand, a softer shot at the net can work well if you play with the best smashing rackets. You’ll often just need to touch the shuttle in order for it to bounce off and back over the net, as opposed to using arm- or forehand to generate extra power.
Another option is hitting the sides like on the return of serve, but in my experience, it’s more effective to send it down the middle during the rally to cause confusion when your opponents are standing side-by-side. If it doesn’t win you the point directly when both players hesitate, it might lead to an awkward lift that your partner can smash on.
Ideas to improving your badminton drives without extra drill training
I wanted to leave you with one of my favorite things about drives in badminton: this shot is easy to practice even if you don’t do regular training drills.
When you’re warming up and just hitting back and forth casually, drive shots are great to start off with to get your reactions ready for the game. They are fast, quick and don’t require a big swing that your shoulder isn’t ready for.
Heck, it’s even one of the few shots that you can train with wall drills by putting up a small piece of tape on a wall to show where the net cord would be.
If you’re nervous about leaving marks on your wall at home, I’ve seen these HECS balls that resemble shuttles in terms of how they fly during wall drills but without causing damage to your walls.
Full disclosure, though, I haven’t been able to get my hands on them yet, so I can’t confirm this.
- Drives in badminton aren’t as flashy as other shots but are highly effective in getting your opponent to cause a fault or set you up to earn a lift that you can smash
- We don’t need to be a pro player on the World Tour to take advantage of drives. With just a few tweaks, you can make it an effective part of your game
- Using the backhand on most shots while using the finger push to add power is an effective way to execute the shot as you often won’t have time to switch grips between shots during a drive duel