Wtf…why deceptive shots work

Former national Chinese player Zhao Jian Hua is known for his deceptive style of play. Left-handers enjoy the element of surprise.

Badminton is a game of rapid reflexes but it’s not all about power or fitness. Crafty older players can often beat fitter younger guys by a combination of deception and placement. The ability to execute a deceptive shot confers a winning edge by eliciting a weak reply and leaving an opponent stranded. Like any art, perfecting it takes time and dedication.

What is a deceptive shot?

Deceptive play requires skilful racquet technique so that every shot looks identical until the moment the shuttle is hit – your opponents can’t tell clears from drops and smashes, or lifts (cross or straight) from netshots (cross or straight), or drives from pushes. One guy in my club has brilliant deception. He often plays quite unexpected shots and this gives him a winning edge.

A type of deception is the “hold and hit”. It requires the deceiving player to reach the shuttle early and extend the forearm as if retrieving the shots but not make immediate contact with the shuttlecock. The “hold” brings uncertainty in an opponent’s mind about the timing and direction of the shot so they have less reaction time. The eventual “hit” can either be a flick or net (if retrieving the shuttlecock below the net) or a drive or drop (if retrieving the shuttlecock above the net). The hold can be achieved by either (a) a synchronous backward movement of the racket head before hitting the shuttlecock at the last moment; or (b) no or minimal back swing, although this requires a reasonable amount of power.

False actions are another type of deception. The direction you truly aim to hit depends on where your opponents is and where they’re moving. False actions give your opponent less time to prepare and react, especially if they’re running in the opposite direction. The hardest part in my experience is co-ordinating the back swing movement with the shuttlecock travel trajectory, together with court-sense, in order to hit an effective shot.

Can deception be taught?

Yes, it can. The effectiveness of a deception relies on the speed of the deception once the racquet hits the shuttlecock. To execute a successful deception, my coach said, it’s important to use minimal backswing and have a reasonable amount of snap in the elbow, forearm, wrist and fingers. Other pointers included:

Speed is critical because it gives your opponent less time to react. If an opponent reaches the shuttle late, they are more likely to make a weak (read: killable) reply. Do shadow footwork and four corner drills to improve agility and quick responsiveness. Always hold the racket head level high to reach the shuttlecock early – early preparation is key

Accurate placement will wrong foot your opponents so they won’t have enough time to reach the shuttle. Accurate placement out of your opponent’s reach is essential to help achieve effective deception. Be aware of your opponent’s position.

Lots of practice is needed to master deceptive techniques so that it can eventually be applied in a pressure situation. Your opponent will gauge your position and body language to try to predict the next shot. The threat of a powerful smash or drive can momentarily delay your opponent’s reaction but the deception is useless if your opponent is prepared and blocks to the net or sends the shuttle to the opposite corner.


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