how to get better at badminton

How to get better at badminton (even if you have a full-time job)

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Three months ago, I began looking into how to get better at badminton and the results have been better than I expected.

Other players have commented on my improvements, which I find to be a great benchmark that it actually made a difference. Especially, considering how little time I’ve been able to invest after work.

I haven’t been doing much extra on-court training besides two weekly sessions playing social games but I do make sure to get my sweat on almost every day at the gym and add in some badminton-related exercises where possible.

The key has been working on items that I often use in matches. My improvements have been mostly around footwork but the increased speed means that I have more time (and mental space) to think between shots, indirectly leading to better shot placement. 

The direct benefits I’ve seen are moving faster around the court and being able to reach more shots before they hit the ground. That has especially helped me hit more aggressive overhead shots instead of having to use my backhand simply because I’m earlier to the shuttle. The difference means staying on the attack instead of giving it up to stay in the rally on rear court shots, for example.

That may be a smash which often leads to a block to the front court, which I’m also able to return by building on the momentum from the previous movement. I often find that it’s faster for me to reach both shots in doubles as the partner will be moving from a standstill (even though it might be their shot to get). 

It feels like floating on air when you get stuck in a doubles rally, the opponents only making you work at the back, yet you’re getting faster for every shot that comes. It sounds totally backward but it feels amazing.

Viktor Axelsen has pointed out how important it is to take responsibility for one’s own training. If you’re also wondering how to be good at badminton, the first step is choosing the right goal to work on.

It’s easy to work on several goals simultaneously when we’re in school, with no responsibilities and plenty of time to practice. It’s another world entirely juggling a career and family at the same time. In this article, we’ll look at how to get better at badminton if those are your constraints but you’re still hooked on improving.

The secret to rapid improvements: be selective with where you spend your time

The first place to start is to figure out what exactly ‘better’ means to you so you’ll know if things are working when you’re in the thick of it.

We can break it down into good and bad goals:

  • Bad goal: improve at badminton
  • Good goal: reach 80% of the front court shots during a game against an opponent at the same level as you within three months

Did you notice how specific the second goal is? 

After a game, you’ll naturally have a sense of whether you were in the right ballpark or totally off. If you’re feeling extra geeky, you’ll also be able to record games and count the number of front court shots you reach in order to measure how close you are to your goal.

That is handy because you can measure your progress, after, say, a month, and tweak things if you’re making no progress at all.

You’ll also be able to reverse engineer your way to success by roughly figuring out how many hours a week you need to set aside for training and which exercises you benefit the most from doing.

If we continue the example from above, you might figure out that you benefit from adding the split step into your movements and improving the recovery of your front court lunge.

If you’ve picked a goal but aren’t sure exactly how to improve upon it, I’ve found that asking better players for advice is a good place to start. Other good alternatives are taking an online class or using some of the free material available on Youtube.

But be careful with the latter. We tend to love video classes and books because they feel as if we are making progress when in reality, it’s only the hard work of repetition that helps us. It’ll be easy to skip ahead when we’ve performed the item successfully once or twice. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve mastered it to the point that it’s automatic, which is crucial as we’ll have no time to think about it during an intense game.

How to get better at badminton: the obvious choice will waste your time

Now that we have a sense of how to set ourselves up for success, let’s look at where best to spend our limited time.

There are many ways to break this down and most do it based on the general skill levels in badminton. Since this article is intended for adult players somewhere around the upper beginner or intermediate level, you and I can dive in right away.

I’ve found that breaking it down even further and into these four areas has been helpful for me:

  1. Strokes (shots)
  2. Footwork
  3. Stamina
  4. Adapting to the opponent in real-time

1. Strokes (shots): the bare necessity

Strokes are the most obvious area so let’s cover that first. Being able to perform all the standard shots with some degree of confidence is critical for your game.

In fact, you’ll probably agree that we can hardly call it playing badminton without being able to perform some basic shots. That means being able to get the shuttle roughly where you want it to go but it isn’t necessary to play tight shots like the pros.

If you’re unable to do that and feel it’s weighing you down, then it’s probably the weak link in your game. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry too much about it and instead consider the other items on this list.

Improving your shots is the most challenging to train as we need a feeder and a court in order to do shot drills, which is necessary to make meaningful progress fast. Many players focus on this area and get stuck as it can be tricky to get the help you need without it costing an arm and a leg.

The one exception is the serve as you’ll need a court but you don’t need to sync schedules with anyone else in order to practice it.

2. Footwork: play faster!

The next area is footwork and as I’ve been working on this area myself, I’ve come to notice firsthand just how important it is. When both you and your opponents know how to return most shots, being able to play faster and with higher intensity becomes powerful. 

The tricky part about it is that it can be hard to recognize good footwork as it looks so smooth and natural when it’s done well.

With good footwork, we can compensate for a bad backhand by being fast enough to position ourselves to hit an aggressive overhead shot instead and we’ll be able to get most shots coming at us, even if our returning shot isn’t amazing.

This gives us a powerful psychological advantage during the game. Imagine the surprise on the opponent’s face as you’re nailing the deep lunge at the frontcourt while being ready for their attacking clear at the rear court right after.

The best part about footwork is that it’s straightforward to train. We can break it down into two levels:

  1. Basic footwork
  2. Advanced footwork

Basic footwork covers being able to use the lunge, chasse, split step, and all of the components correctly. It isn’t enough to simply “know” them intellectually, we also need the habit of performing them correctly in games. For example, split stepping consistently throughout the match or lunging at the front corner rather than running around. In general, we can define this as covering the entire court reasonably well.

Advanced footwork breaks down each component of the court along with common game scenarios into smaller steps, and drills them to perfection. For example, the right footwork to smash from the back and follow up with a net shot when the opponent blocks during a singles match.

Although using a court is preferred, we can certainly get away with practicing the basic footwork at home without anyone else present. This is a huge advantage as it becomes easily accessible and many of us at the intermediate level will still benefit greatly from implementing areas of the basic footwork into our game. There’s no reason to dismiss it just because it’s basic.

I am living proof: even after two years of training with a coach, working on a few of these items improved my game meaningfully in just three months.

The advanced footwork can be trickier to work on without a court as we are refining things and the size of the court can be helpful for that. However, there’s often a focus on recovery and combining certain basic components in order to make a sequence faster and more effective, and some portions of that are still possible to train at home, although it is more effective to train on a court with a feeder and a shuttle in play.

3. Stamina: do you lose because you’re too tired?

The next item fits well with footwork but is separate from the technical movement around the court.

Within this item, we both have traditional stamina, such as how much energy we have throughout a game, and building the right muscle through strength training in order to make our footwork faster and more explosive.

The positive side is that it’s easy to train at home or at the gym. The challenge is that some players tend to train too much rather than working on specific badminton items, such as technical footwork movement or training non-badminton-specific muscles at the gym. 

It’s great to be fit but while the hard work continues every time we go to the gym, it tends to have diminishing returns on the badminton court as technical skill often supersedes stamina. 

Just take a look at this guy. I bet he can beat many players that are more fit than him.

4. Adapting to the opponent in real-time: outsmarting your opponent

An important part of adapting to the opponent in real-time is reading the game. Here’s a simple example in doubles: 

Imagine you’ve played a drop shot from the back and are anticipating either a net shot return to your partner or a lift to you.

Instead of placing yourself exactly in the middle of the rear court, move a few steps towards the side of your backhand (to a right handed player that would be your left side) so as to be better placed to convert it into an overhead shot. 

Even if your opponent plays the lift to your forehand, you’ll have plenty of time to reach it due to the length of your arm and your ability to extend it out from your body.

Adapting to how the opponent plays becomes increasingly important, the better players you face. That means mentally noting items during the game, such as:

  • Which shots your opponents use the most
  • How challenging those are for you to return
  • How the opponent reacts to your shots
  • How tired they are as the match progresses
  • How well they read and adapt to your playing style in real-time

That is a lot to process during a match and fortunately, we don’t have to learn everything at once. The problem with this item is that being able to read all this stuff doesn’t make a difference if we don’t do something with it as the game progresses.

In my experience, we benefit more from working on other items before this one in order to see meaningful progress once we do get to it. 

We can learn a lot by playing with more skilled players and note which kind of shots they use to beat us, to get ideas for our own game. Another option is watching games online, taking notice of which shot sequences are often played, and adopting those in our own game.

How to be good at badminton: ignore common advice and work on what’s most relevant for you

If you are a total beginner, there is no doubt that learning to hit the shuttle with confidence is critical. You don’t need the perfect smash but being able to clear, lift and drop without thinking about it is an important ingredient to have fun.

If you feel confident with that, the most obvious choice (practicing shots) might not be the best use of your time as it requires access to a court and feeder at a time that fits with your other commitments in life.

Instead, footwork can make a big difference to your game along with positioning and rotation if you play doubles.

Takeaways on how to get better at badminton

  • How to be good at badminton: picking the right goal to work on is crucial if you want to improve rapidly (and is often overlooked)
  • There are four key areas to work on for players around the intermediate level and they aren’t made equally: some are more difficult to train if you also have a career and family to balance
  • We tend to focus most on improving how to perform shots and overlook the three other items even though they might be more useful for us as they are easier (and more affordable) to train
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