When it comes to tactics for badminton, everyone is talking about the latest spin serve and trick shot, but the secret to dominating your games this weekend is something far more powerful and difficult to master…
It’s your racket.
It’s the only thing that tou… I can’t even do this.
I’m kidding, of course.
It’s your mind.
In the midst of tangible things like strokes, stamina, and footwork we tend to forget that our mind is doing all the work deciding which shots are out, which grip and shot to perform to block the smash and a million other things. All in real-time while our body is running around keeping up with the game.
Badminton matches often get intense to the point that if we have to think about what to do, we’ve already lost. It has to be intuitive.
Notice how many points are lost in a row in these pro matches.
Chou Tien-Chen was ahead 4-3 in the third set and increased his lead to 10-4 over the course of a few minutes.
In this example from Indonesia Open, Viktor Axelsen won four points in a row against Lee Zii Jia (followed by four points in a row going the other way).
That doesn’t happen because the players are lacking technical badminton skills, otherwise, they wouldn’t get there in the first place. Rather, it’s our mind messing with us. It’s like a switch that can almost make us forget our skills if we let it.
If that happens at the best level, I bet that happens to all of us in weekend matches every now and then but we might not even take notice without a big shiny scoreboard… and it’s the fewest of us who record our matches and analyze them.
In this article, we’ll look at different tactics for badminton, specifically if you want to improve beyond yet another stroke combo.
Tactics for badminton
In fact, let’s start with losing points streaks.
1. Viktor Axelsen’s badminton tactic to avoid a losing points streak
I can’t think of another sport where pro players lose that many points that fast. It’s not that it doesn’t happen elsewhere but just how often it happens in badminton.
In preparation for this article, I wanted to figure out what the top players do about this — they or their coach must surely be aware of the problem. Unfortunately, it’s rarely talked about in the media and it was difficult to find any meaningful comments about it.
To my good fortune, I discovered that the current number one player in men’s singles, Viktor Axelsen, did speak about it in a Danish interview he did for a magazine called Dossier.
By virtue of being a native, I know the language well, but even so, this translation might not be entirely perfect so here’s a link to the text interview. Feel free to translate it via Google Translate if something seems odd.
Viktor Axelsen’s method:
“It’s a method I often use because it breaks the match down into a much more manageable interval and takes away the tension from the big result.
Two out of three.
There is a lot in it. It is both an acceptance of the previous mistake, because it is not necessary to win every ball, and an abstraction from the mistake, because it puts the focus on the next important duel.”
Making our own version might be more powerful for us but I figure that if it’s good enough for Viktor Axelsen, it’ll probably work for us too as a starting point.
2. Tire out the opponent
Singles matches are often a game of stamina, especially if the general technical level between the two players is similar. The most common tactic in singles matches is to pressure the opponent by moving them around on the court and tiring them out.
The most a player can move in a single shot is diagonally such as from the far rear left corner to the front right corner (or vice versa), so it makes sense to switch between those shots if this is your tactic.
Another way to tire out the opponent is to avoid giving them a break with long clears as it gives them extra time to regroup. Instead, play quick and fast-paced shots which tend to work particularly well against players who aren’t that fast and prefer a slower-paced game. Alternatively, we can also play the clears slightly flatter to keep the pace of the game up.
Besides the tactics on how to tire out the opponent, it also matters when we choose to do it. If we attempt to tire out the competition right away during the first set, the opponent is likely to have plenty of energy to throw around compared to if we pursue this badminton tactic towards the middle of the second set or at the end of the game.
In fact, I’ve found it fun during weekend sessions to play slow and save my energy during the first half of the session, while everyone else is hammering at full pace because the tables turn fast as we reach the end of the session.
3. Handling an intimidating opponent
An opponent can seem intimidating even before we begin the match, and sometimes it’s to the point where we play worse because of it.
Fortunately, when this happens it’s the mind telling us a story rather than our skills actually getting worse by the moment. That means we can snap out of it if we know how.
I noticed this happening in Anders Antonsen’s recent loss in the semi-final of Japan Open. Kenta Nishimoto was unseeded but (I’m guessing that) because Antonsen was returning from an injury, his lack of recent tournament games might have been critical enough for Nishimoto to claim the win.
It is hard to pull off without practicing that habit in advance. A good place to start is to remind ourselves that we just have beat them in this game, not based on how good we’ve seen them play before (sometimes they might feel intimidated by us too but we are too focused on ourselves to notice).
Another approach is to imagine that this person just had a traumatic experience, having problems at work or in another way imagine something that makes us feel empathy for that person, as it helps remind us that they are just as human as we are.
4. Strategies for badminton: win points with patience
Sometimes, it doesn’t require as much as we think in order to win. Since players tend to make mistakes and unforced errors, on occasion, we can get away with simply staying in the game by playing it safer than we’d normally do and wait for them to make mistakes.
This goes hand in hand with attempting the badminton tactic of tiring the opponent out. I first noticed this being pointed out by Greg and Jenny in their video about being patient and not trying to close the rally too early to ensure you shoot for the kill when you are in a good position, rather than just a position.
Basically, it’s all about being more patient than the opponent by building the rally until the winning opportunity presents itself.
We usually won’t know the habits of our opponent before we enter the court but if we take notice of where they seem to be weak or which type of strokes tend to be their worst ones, we can take advantage of that by forcing them to make those shots. In general, the shots players tend to be worse at are often around the head or backhand clears.
5. How to relax before a game even if you’re nervous
I’m sure you know the benefit of being relaxed while playing, but it can be difficult to relax if our mind is running wild.
There are few truly quick wins that don’t require practicing in advance. This is one of those.
If you feel nervous right before a game, sit down with your phone and earphones, and watch a video clip of something that makes you laugh. For me, that’s The Office or Tom Segura doing stand-up comedy. Smiling and laughing tend to put us in a more relaxed headspace.
6. Badminton strategy for singles: condition the opponent and then catch them off guard
There are many ways to catch the opponent off guard. One is to lull them to bed by playing to the same side over and over again, and then suddenly switch it up by hitting the other side to surprise them.
7. Limit the opponent’s smash angles
Do you know that feeling of standing at the center of the court after lifting, awaiting the smash like a deer in headlights, not knowing where it’s gonna come?
And sometimes the opponent is good at hiding which side they’ll play. It can be easier to predict if we lift to one of the sides rather than the middle of the court as the shot down the line is the most predictable and the cross-court smash gives us slightly more time to react.
That means we can place ourselves slightly to one side of the center and be in a favorable position to block the smash. I’ve found that the best way to defend against it is to not think and let the body react since there won’t be time anyway.
8. Tactics in badminton singles: bring your focus back using the freak hand
It can be difficult to remember these ideas during an intense rally with shuttles being machine-gunned faster than we can blink.
I’ve found that focusing on using the non-racket hand for balance can be a good way to practice awareness during a rally. It can also be used as a way to avoid focusing too much on the movements and strokes and let the body do it naturally. For many of us, the body already knows what to do but we mess it up by thinking about it.
Notice what Axelsen’s non-racket hand is doing while they are playing (instead of hanging to the side like a dead limb).
Tactics don’t matter much if we don’t do anything with them on the court. Which one are you the most excited to try out this weekend?
- Not all tactics are created equal. If there’s one particular problem that causes you to lose a lot more points than others, it’s worth prioritizing
- Most players tend to look for tactics in badminton particularly related to the strokes of the game, so if we go one step further we can gain an advantage
- Many of these strategies for badminton won’t make a difference if you’ve just picked up a racket for the first time but if you’ve been playing for a while and are looking for wins that are different from the typical stuff, these badminton tactics help
Leave a Reply