We have a very special post for you today as this is a guest post by Justin Ma, a top U.S. badminton player who is training to compete in the 2024 Olympics. He has played badminton since he was 10 years old, trained with and played against other top badminton players, and won many national and international tournaments. He certainly knows a thing or two about badminton – so pay attention! He even has his own website, BadmintonJustin, where he documents his badminton journey and anything else related to badminton. Without further ado, let’s get into the post!
In this post, I’ll go over some key singles strategies for beginner, intermediate, and advanced players. We’ll look at general exercises to focus on during training, different ways your mindset and game style should evolve as you improve, and share some professional tips to help you play your best game at each level.
For beginner players, we are talking about players who have already learned or plan to learn the Fundamental Rules of Badminton and have taken some interest in playing the singles event. At this stage, we do not expect you to know anything more about the sport or have any other additional experience – just ready with an interest to learn and improve.
As we are completely new to badminton, there are various skills that we should practice and learn before we could consider ourselves an “Intermediate” level player. Let’s take a look at the basics and see what we can do to begin improving our level.
One of the most important things that a beginner should learn is the different types of shots in badminton. As a new player, it is essential to learn the basic shots of badminton: clear, drive, drop, lift, and smash. Take a closer look at the above article to learn more about the details of each shot.
As a beginner, we want to make sure that we learn the following:
- Clears are high and to the back of your opponent’s court
- Drive shots are flat and low across the net, but don’t require that much power
- Drop shots are placed from your back court to your opponent’s front court
- Lift shots are hit from your front court to your opponent’s back court
- Smash shots apply some sort of pressure to your opponent from your back court
As long as we are able to hit these general shots to the rough areas described for each shot above, we can call this a success!
The other essential technique that a new player must learn is footwork. Footwork is how you efficiently move your feet to get to the shots that you want to hit. Remember, we won’t be able to hit the shots if we aren’t standing in front of them. Below is a great tutorial video on how to perform footwork to move to the four corners of the badminton court.
Try to work these into your badminton practices and ensure that you are moving to the shot with the proper footwork before hitting it. It may be hard at first to remember to use the correct footwork while also remembering to hit the correct shot, but with practice, it will start to come instinctively and naturally.
Game Style & Mindset
However, in terms of mindset there is one extremely important thing to remember: never give up. I tell all new players that “Over and in, and you will win”. This advice means exactly how it sounds – hit the bird over the net and in the court, and you will win the point. This is extremely important to keep in mind as you are just learning the sport; if you continue to reinforce this mindset to yourself, you will paint yourself as someone who does not give up and you will learn much quicker.
To play your best game at the beginner level, hit your shots to where your opponent is not standing. This means, if your opponent is standing in the back of the court, hit to the front of the court. If they are standing on the left, hit to the right. This will help you win many more points as, just like you might feel, it is hard as a beginner to find the right way to move to the shot and hit it as well.
As an intermediate player, we can expect that you have already learned the basic shots and footwork of badminton. The intermediate level is an extremely large bracket, ranging from newly graduated beginners to players who can play high quality matches but are not yet at the advanced or professional level – the distinction of advanced players is made in the next section. At this stage, there is still a lot to work on and practice, so let’s jump right into it.
Consistency of Shots
Consistency in badminton refers to how often you are able to hit the shot over the net and in the court to the place that you want. For example, being able to hit a drop shot 9 out of 10 times to the front and only 1 shot into the net. As we progress in badminton, this is important because we do not want to give our opponents free points without them having to earn it through a rally.
Improving consistency correlates with how often you practice – the more times you repeat a shot, the more likely you will be able to consistently hit it where you intend. Clears and drives should be easier to improve your consistency, whereas shots like drops and smashes are much harder since the margin of error is much smaller. One drill I do often to work on my consistency is the transition drill: this is a great drill to train all around consistency for your backcourt drop, drive, and smash shots as well as your front court net shots.
As an intermediate level player, we also want to improve our shot quality. Let’s take a look at our five basic shots again, and see how each one can be improved on:
- Clear shots are high and to the back of the opponent’s court, but can also be hit with a lower and faster shot (punch clears). Clears have variety in speed of shot and height.
- Drive shots have more speed and power behind the shots. They hug extremely closely to the top of the net, and are not much higher than the net.
- Drop shots have angle and speed when crossing the net at the opponent’s front court. They are also not hit too hard into the front of the opponent’s court.
- Lift shots, similar to clears, also have shot variety. Some lifts can be extremely high and slow versus the lower and faster version of the lifts.
- Smash shots become your finishing shots. They are hit with higher speed and precision, and you begin winning rallies off of them.
Again, as I mentioned above the intermediate level is a very broad spectrum. Before becoming an advanced player, we want to make sure we can do all of these shots to a certain level of quality. Just like consistency, this has to be done with repetition.
The final thing for intermediate players to practice is their footwork speed. This means how fast you are able to reach the shot while still doing the footwork properly. If you are able to move to the birdie quicker, the shot will be hit back to the opponent quicker as well. This means that the opponent is forced to keep up with your speed or lose the rally.
To improve your speed, you must practice your footwork with goals to speed up, through exercises such as shuttle runs. This can be done by timing yourself through footwork repetitions aiming to improve your time each time, or by doing cross-training and conditioning through plyometric exercises (bunny hops, jumping lunges) and sprints. Below is a good example of how to do the shuttle run exercise – be sure to aim to do it much faster and speed up each time you decide to do the exercise!
Game Style & Mindset
At the intermediate level, we want to begin defining our own personal game style. We want to know if we are generally an offensive player or a defensive player. An offensive player aims to control the front court and finish rallies with a smash or killing shot. A defensive player is more comfortable with clears and lifts, and wins rallies through their opponents mistakes or playing long rallies. Try and find out what your strengths and weaknesses are and tailor your game to getting to your strengths more and avoiding your weaknesses.
For example, if my smash was extremely strong but I am not able to return any of my opponent’s smashes, I would call myself a general offensive player. I would try to avoid hitting clears and lifts, and would instead try to hit drops and smashes only. By avoiding clears and lifts, we limit the chances our opponent can hit smashes.
In terms of mindset, we want to begin thinking of our opponent’s tendencies. Similar to game style, try to determine what your opponent prefers to hit and use these tendencies to anticipate their shots. If your opponent is a defensive player, you know that when you lift or drop, there is a higher chance your opponent clears the lift back or lifts your drop shot. You do not need to be as worried for a counterattack from them.
By beginning to look through your opponent’s game style, you will be able to find weaknesses in their game and start finding ways to earn your points quickly. Keep in mind though, that your opponent may adjust their game plan based on what you are doing during the game as well.
My professional tip for intermediate players is to attack the serves, especially for short serves which are commonly played in singles. Many players tend to wait for serves to drop down to them before hitting it, giving the opponent time to recover from their serves. Instead, try to step into each serve and catch the shot early – surprising your opponent, and hopefully winning many easy points. Coach Ahlawat gives a great explanation on how to do these different serve returns here:
The advanced or professional level is the final category of players, ranging from regional competitors to international champions. These are players that have mastered the shots and footwork in badminton, defined their general game style, and are looking for small refinements to their game to reach their next level. These players compete or have competed consistently and competitively.
At the advanced level, everything comes down to the details physically and mentally. Most players at this level already have an extremely high level of physical endurance and shot quality, so the small differences between players will make one better than the other in a match.
Shot Quality and Consistency
All players, even advanced players, can make simple mistakes. Again, players at the advanced level, or any level, should always be improving their shot quality and consistency. All shots can always be improved and there is no limit to how consistent one person can play. Quality and consistency is something that all players should be focused on.
How strong are you? How long will you be able to last? If you are able to make it past the first round, can you play at this level all the way to the finals? Physical endurance is something that advanced players need to focus on. They need to be able to perform at their peak, not only throughout a match, but also throughout an entire tournament.
My tip for tournaments is to understand that you want to finish the matches as fast as possible, so invest the necessary energy you need to win comfortably. If you are too relaxed and take the match too easy, there are chances that you may give up a game, hurting your endurance in the long run of the tournament.
The top players are able to play at a much higher speed than others. They can move quicker to the shots and also hit the shots at a much higher pace than players of other skill levels. Their smashes are sudden, unexpected, and quick, and their lifts and clears already force you to be out of position. Speed is an extremely important element to all advanced players’ games, as badminton is a sport that relies on speed and quicknesses.
Game Style & Mindset
Our game style at the advanced level is varied and adaptable. Advanced players should still have a preference for being offensive or defensive, but they should be able to play both styles comfortably and adapt to how the opponent is playing. At this level, players should be able to adjust their game style from offensive to defensive in the middle of a match and even in the middle of a rally. Players should constantly be thinking, adapting, thinking, and adapting just to find a solution to win the rally.
For mindset, players need to be mentally strong. There cannot be any distractions while you are on the court – focus is key. The game of singles is a mentally taxing battle. Are you able to stay focused and ready to make the killing shots on the court? Can you use your mental strength to push yourself to keep fighting even when you are exhausted? Players must find ways to stay mentally sound throughout the course of the game, since it is you alone on the court battling for your life against your opponent.
To play your best game at the advanced level, you must employ a change of pace. As I touched on briefly above, this is the act of changing your speed and game style in the middle of a rally. Most advanced level players are able to continue a rally for as long as they want until their body’s physical limitation gives out. However, to win rallies before then, players must look for sudden, short opportunities to give a burst of speed and change the pace. One example is when an opponent hits a punch clear to you, rather than hitting a punch or high clear back, explode to the shot and hit a sudden smash instead. This will surprise the opponent and give you a chance to win the rally, just by injecting a sudden speed into the rally.
You can find examples of players doing it all around the professional level. This video is a prime example of how you can integrate it into your game:
About the Author
I am Justin Ma, a semi-professional US badminton player and founder of BadmintonJustin, currently aiming for the 2024 Olympics. I started playing badminton at the age of 10 after my brother started playing in high school, and began playing competitively at age 11. Through my career, I have won many national and Pan American singles titles and various other local and regional tournaments.
My all-time idols are both Lin Dan and Lee Chong Wei – it is amazing to see two players battle it out over and over during each of their meetings.
My biggest tip for beginners is to never forget how much fun you had when you just started playing. When you start training and competing seriously, it is easy to focus on results and growth rather than the fact that you are doing what you love. Thanks again to BadmintonBites for the opportunity to write a guest post on their site!