Badminton is the world’s fastest racket sport that demands precise hand-eye coordination, strategy, agility, and much more. It is enjoyed by many around the world and has been an Olympic sport since 1992. Here, we will describe the fundamental rules of badminton to get you started on your journey!
This post is meant to be the go to guide for the casual player. It provides the fundamental rules needed to play badminton. Official rules can be found on the Official BWF website.
Start of the Match
A match is started with the toss of a coin in official play. In casual play, a common alternative is to toss the shuttlecock straight up into the air and see which way the base of the shuttlecock is pointing to. The winner of the toss can decide between two choices: to serve/receive first, or to choose which court to start on. The other choice that is remaining is given to the other team. Service for the first rally will always start from the right side of the court. In a doubles match, each team can choose which side each player starts in.
- Team A wins the coin toss and chooses to serve. Team B can then choose which court to begin playing on.
- Team A wins the coin toss and chooses to receive the serve. Team B can then choose which court to begin playing on.
- Team A wins the coin toss and chooses a court to begin on. Team B can then choose to serve or receive the first rally.
After the choice of court or serve/receive is decided, players will engage in a short warm-up before the start of the match. In a doubles match, players will warm-up with their respective doubles partner. Whereas, in a singles match, players will warm-up with their opponent. In official play, the warm-up period is 2 minutes, while in casual play, the warm-up period is not strictly defined. In the spirit of the game, players should not prolong the start of the match by warming up for too long.
Badminton, as of 2018, uses a best of 3 games to 21 points rally scoring system. What this means is that the first player to win 2 games wins the match. Rally scoring means that a team wins a point no matter which team is serving. This is in contrast to other scoring systems where teams can only score when it is their serve.
To win a game, a team must win at least 21 points with at least a 2 point advantage over his/her opponent(s). However, the maximum number of points a team can receive in a game is capped at 30, which means a team would win if the score reaches 30-29.
- Player A has 20 points and Player B has 20 points. Player A wins the next rally and the score is now 21-20. Player A has not won the game since there is no 2 point advantage yet. Play continues.
- Player A has 29 points and Player B has 29 points. Player A wins the next rally and the score is now 30-29. Player A has won the game since 30 is the maximum number of points a team can receive in a game.
After each game, the teams change ends. The team that wins the previous game will start the next game with the serve. If there is a third game due to each team winning one game a piece, the teams change ends when either of the teams reach 11 points for the first time. This is typically the time when players are allowed to get a drink, towel off, and discuss strategy.
- Team A wins the first game of the match. The teams change ends and Team A starts serving in the second game.
- Team B wins the second game of the match. The teams change ends and Team B serves first in the third game.
- In the third game, Team A arrives at 11 points first, with a score of 11-6. The teams change ends at this time and Team A continues serving from 11-6. When Team B reaches 11 points, there is no change of ends and no break. Play continues until the end of the match.
In the case of a doubles match, after the first game has been completed, either of the players from the winning team may choose to serve to start the next game, and either of the players from the receiving team can choose to receive the serve. The decision from each team should be made independent of the other team’s decision.
- Team 1 consisting of Player A and B win the first game against Team 2 consisting of Player C and D. Even if the game was won by Player A serving to Player C, the second game can start with Team 1 deciding that Player B should serve while Team 2 decides that Player D should receive.
A serve is the first shot in a rally. During service, the following rules must be followed:
- The server must contact the shuttlecock below 1.15 meters (3.77 feet). This is a fairly recent rule, introduced in official play as of March 2018
- Serve to the opposite end’s side diagonal to your position. Players must stand in their respective end’s sides
- Part of both feet must be in contact of the court for all players on court until the shuttlecock is struck
- Only the shuttlecock’s base can be struck on the serve
- There is no retry if the serve is missed
- The server and receiver cannot stand on a line during a serve
- There cannot be a delay in the serve once the racket starts moving forward (no double motion)
- Serve from the right side of the court if your score is even. Otherwise, serve from the left side of the court
- The server will continue to serve as long as his/her team has won the point
- In doubles, when the serving team wins a point, that team will rotate sides for the next service while the team that lost the point will not rotate sides
Note: Before March, 2018, there was a rule which stated that the racket head must be pointing in a downward direction during the serve. Currently, this rule is no longer in play due to the addition of the rule where the shuttlecock must be struck below 1.15 meters (3.77 feet) (Service Rule 1). This is an experimental rule and an official decision will be made on December 10, 2018. If the rule is reverted back, then the racket head must be pointing in a downward direction during the serve.
Winning a Point
A rally ends when the shuttlecock hits the ground, a fault is committed (described below), or a let is called. A point is won if:
- The shuttlecock lands in the opponent’s end of the court. If a shuttlecock lands on a line or partially on a line, it is considered in
- The opponent fails to return the shuttlecock over the net
- The opponent hits the shuttlecock and it lands out of bounds
- The opponent commits a fault (described below)
Note: If the shuttlecock touches the net but still passes over the net to the opposing end, it is still considered in play.
A fault is the action of violating any of the badminton rules during play. When a fault is committed by a player, the opposing team immediately receives a point as if they won the rally.
A fault is committed when:
- A player touches the shuttlecock with anything other than a racket. This includes any part of a player’s body (including hair) or clothing
- A player touches the net or its support with his/her body, clothing, or racket
- A player interferes with an opponent below the net (if there is no interference, there is no fault)
- A player carries the shuttlecock with a racket before hitting it over
- A player strikes the shuttlecock before it is over the net
- A team strikes the shuttlecock more than once before it passes over the net. This can happen by a single person striking the shuttlecock twice or, in the case of doubles, when both players on the same team strike the shuttlecock separately before it passes over the net
- The shuttlecock is stuck on the net during a serve. It is considered a fault for the server
- The shuttlecock hits the ceiling or other obstacles (like a basketball hoop in multi-purpose gyms). It is considered a fault for the player who struck the shuttlecock last
- A player deliberately distracts his/her opponents with gestures or language (such as shouting “In!” or “Out!”)
- The receiver’s partner strikes the shuttlecock instead of the receiver during a serve
- A player violates any of the service rules (above)
A let is a rally that is replayed due to an unusual circumstance such as a distraction or interference. No service positions or scores are changed when a let is called.
A let occurs when:
- The shuttlecock was caught on top of the net during a rally
- The shuttlecock was caught on the net after passing over the net
- The receiver was not ready for the serve. The receiver is considered ready if they attempt to return the serve
- Both teams are faulted at the same time
- A shuttlecock cannot be determined to have landed in or out of bounds
- There was any interference from external objects (such as a shuttlecock from another court or a person walking onto the court)
- The shuttlecock base separates from the feathers
You are now equipped to play badminton! This may seem like a lot of rules to memorize but most of it should come naturally once you play a couple of matches. The majority of the rules don’t come into play that often and you can always refer back to this post if needed. Now go and play some badminton – and don’t forget to have fun, respect your opponent, and review the 7 Unspoken Rules of Badminton Etiquette!
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