If you watch badminton as keenly as I do, a lot of things appear to come and go: the ‘hottest’ players, styles of play, shoe styles, hair styles, clothing styles, scoring systems…the sport continues to evolve. And if you like to study, as I do, the changes in players over time they’ve become faster and more attacking. As much as the game’s changed, one thing has stayed the same: the pros from Planet Badminton are superb athletes equal to demigods compared to mere mortals on Planet Earth. Their athleticism, speed and quality set them apart from ordinary recreational players.
National players in Australia are at a level that’s beyond most social players’ dreams. And the leap from national level to the international level is almost as high as Mt Everest. Few ever become successful pros. So, with a small chance of ever playing that well, what can we learn from the pros? Well, let’s see.
We have to be honest with ourselves. We’re never going to match the physical conditioning of the pros. That takes years of dedication, hard-work and training. It would take divine intervention to reach that level overnight, but good footwork can be learned. A good coach is invaluable here, and we can improve aspects of it by watching the footwork of elite players.
Most of my study is around female pros because women play at a somewhat mortal speed. Also, I’m a woman and I look to them for examples to emulate. The other day I watched a professional player from Indonesia practice singles against a tall British guy. He was taller, had a more powerful attack and a longer reach. His footwork let him down. She was able to outmanoeuvre him without smashing. It was simply speed, touch and great placement. Throughout the game the coach was aware, focused and anticipated his shots. Even under the most pressure, she managed to retrieve the shots with a high level of control. Amazing.
Switching offensive and defensive play
You’ll find that even the most powerful guys on the international tour don’t smash all the time. Lee Yong Dae has incredible variety. Watch him in the men’s doubles finals of the Korea Open 2016, and see how often he hits a neutral shot, jumping high near the baseline, slowing his swing, and slicing the shuttle into his opponent’s court. By slowing down this way, he keeps himself on balance and cuts down on unforced errors. When defending, he faces his opponent and blocks the shuttle towards the gaps or lifts the shuttle high over the front court player.
When Lee Yong Dae retired in 2016 he held the second highest number of world titles for any player in badminton history. Whether you’re a singles or a doubles player, knowing when to play offensive and defensive, and how those two instincts connect in a rally is one of the hardest parts of the game. When Lee Yong Dae gained his chance, he seized it. Understanding there’s an off switch is the first step towards controlling the pace.
Watch the mature games of Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng. When they defeated Carsten Mogensen and Mathias Boe at the 2012 London Summer olympics, one of the reasons was Cai’s quick reflexes at the net, Fu’s mix of heavy smashes and drop shots and clever rotational strategy. Both were skillful in defence which turned the rallies in their favour. Fu’s heavy attacks typically set up Cai at the net to finish off the rally.
Watch Lee Chong Wei turn his shoulders and get his racquet back. You won’t see a cleaner or quicker backswing. No matter how fast the shuttle flies towards him, he’s ready. Here are some things to watch. When he performs a scissor jump he gets both feet off the ground, with his right hip moving forward fractionally ahead of the shoulders turning. This body rotation allows him to effectively transfer power from the lower body into the upper body. He lands with a wide base too.
While the pros may come from Planet Badminton, they’re still human and injuries inevitably happen. There are various ways to deal with injuries for recreational players. What’s appropriate for the pros may not be appropriate for everyone. But conventional wisdom suggests avoiding extremes and taking the middle path.
In summary, anyone can enjoy badminton and there is always room for improvement on Planet Earth. No matter what your level, it’s important to stay grounded and keep things in perspective. A good coach and practice partner can help, as well as drawing inspiration from Planet Badminton.