Footwork is the foundation of badminton. My coach always told me don’t be lazy: footwork, fitness and timing are so important. If you can’t reach the shuttle early, you have fewer shots to play against your opponent and you’ll likely end up picking shuttles off the ground. There’s no question about it, good footwork is an asset to any player at any level.
First a disclaimer: I have to confess I’m a lazy player and my footwork is as delightful as watching a dancing hippo. So let’s dispel the notion that I’m any kind of authority before we begin.
The benefits of good footwork
One of the most evident differences between a pro and a novice is in having efficient footwork. There are specific patterns of footwork and movement to optimally execute a shot, depending on the placement of shuttle, your physiology, physical condition and strategic choice. It’s not just about shuffling your feet or twirling and leaping about like a gazelle. Efficient footwork actually conserves energy.
Watch top men’s singles players like Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan – they’re supremely efficient in movement. They’re able to move in any direction with:
They practice shadow footwork drills so that they can get to the shuttle early without wasting time by taking unnecessary steps, to maintain balance and prepare for the next shot.
Sound footwork can also reduce the risk of injuries attributable to a lack of balance, by properly aligning your knees and ankle in the direction of momentum and facilitating lateral movement.
Fitness and footwork are natural complements. Women’s singles is illustrative because it’s a bit slower than men’s. Smaller players like Nozomi Okuhara or Akane Yamaguchi are still extremely quick. They can fight taller opponents like Wang Yihan with a combination of endurance and speed. Yamaguchi’s style is characterised by agile jumps and punch clears. Okuhara’s athleticism is reflected by the sequence and timing of her wide strides and her extraordinary flexibility.
Don’t forget to bend the knees. I remember a wonderful drill which forced us to bend the knees and stay on the toes when waiting at base position. For this drill we had to bounce at the base position with knees bent at 90 degrees before moving to take a shot…”right foot forward, knees bent!”. It was really tiring but an easy phrase to remember.
Always aim to prepare for the next shot from a ‘ready’ position. If you stand there admiring your shot, valuable time is lost. So, so important to prepare early for the next shot. Your opponent will try to place the shuttle away from you and they’ll succeed if nobody’s home.
During the learning phase, there’s a strong desire to improve instantly but it’s important to be patient and stick at it. My coach always lamented that his players forgot their footwork in a game setting. Somehow it got lost during the game. Badminton footwork takes at least a few years to become competent and the only way to achieve fluid footwork is practice.