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We have another guest post, this time by Aske from Beast Badminton. In this post, Aske will guide you through some tips for what to focus your time on to rapidly improve your badminton skills and a mental trick to help you stay focused and less frustrated. Enjoy!

Badminton Skills: The Trick Shot You Should Not Learn

Every once in a while something magical happens. One such example is this, where Viktor Axelsen pulls off a beautiful trick shot using his badminton skills.

These trick shots are the holy grail to many of us. The only thing that’s better than how they look is the feeling we get when we pull them off.

We might get intrigued and want to learn one of these tricks ourselves but as it turns out, they tend to be more of a moral booster than the reason we win matches.

Looking at professional matches, it’s reasonable to expect that, at most, each player wins just one point using a trick shot per set in the entire match — that’s just four points in total. If we imagine a non-professional singles match ends with you winning two sets of 21-15, 21-15, that’s a total of 72 points in the match (21+15+21+15).

The four points from trick shots comes out to just 5.55% of all the points in the match (4/72*100). Even if we pulled off those 5-6% to perfection, it wouldn’t be the deciding factor in the grand scheme of things.

Not to mention that trick shots tend to take longer than typical strokes to learn as they are harder to practice since we have to artificially create uncommon scenarios in order to practice.

In order to attempt the trick shot Viktor Axelsen just illustrated for us, the shuttle has to fly close to our body on the opposite side of our racket hand. How often has that been happening in your games?

On the other hand, it can make sense to learn trick shots if we are an advanced player looking to squeeze out something extra but I bet that since you are reading this, you are probably looking to move up into that bracket first.

Badminton Thinking EmojiSo the question is: which badminton skills tend to be the deciding factor? And which ones should we learn if not trick shots?

The Counterintuitive and Fundamental Badminton Skills That Will Win You More Games

There are many ways to break down the fundamental badminton skills that will help win you points and matches. Since we can’t learn everything at once, breaking it down by level is a good place to start.

Here’s an overview illustrated as an iceberg of badminton skills. It shows the counterintuitive nature where we tend to focus most on the skills beginners learn such as the correct strokes, body moment, and timing to hit the shuttle. That is represented as the top of the iceberg — the bit that’s above the water.

The Iceberg of Badminton Skills
The Iceberg of Badminton Skills

Underneath the surface is all the underlying skills that are less tangible and easy to see. Mindset is a good example of a counterintuitive badminton skill as being in the wrong frame of mind can mess up an easy shot we’ve nailed hundreds of times before.

The tricky part to applying the skills in practice is that while there are critical skills to learn at all levels, each player’s path, strengths, and weaknesses are different. That makes it ineffective for us to use a one-size-fits-all plan, even if first learning the strokes and footwork followed by mindset techniques later makes sense to most of us as a general direction.

Instead, in order to figure out which skills are the deciding factor for us specifically, let’s examine our own strengths and weaknesses in order to find the missing skill gaps. If you aren’t ready to hire a coach to figure it out, there are three other options that I’ve found useful:

  1. Record yourself playing a match, watch and take note of a) which type of shot most often loses you the point and b) which shot you use the most that you don’t feel is good enough. Then work on those
  2. Another alternative is to practice what you think is fun since that’s what gets us on the court more and especially for new players, that’s what makes the difference in leveling up our skills
  3. Ask more advanced players at your local club what they think you can improve

You could also attempt to email a video of your gameplay to more advanced players online offering to give feedback but there’s usually no response guarantee, so I like to think of that as a bonus option.

For the sake of the example, let’s imagine that we recorded ourselves playing and observed that there’s room to improve our service.

CRAZY Badminton Saves Part 1
CRAZY Badminton Saves Part 1

Learn Badminton Skills Rapidly: Make Smaller Circles

Josh Waitzkin used to dominate high-level chess as a child and had a movie made based on his life. After that, he decided to master Taiji Push Hands and became a world champion in that sport as well. Needless to say, he knows a thing or two about learning new skills and performing at a high level.

In his book, The Art of Learning, he recommends a more effective learning approach compared to the standard way of practicing, which tends to be balanced with practice of all the different serves at the same time without diving too deep and drilling one to the bone.

He found that breaking down the skills into smaller sub-skills, such as different service types, body rotation, or positioning on court for each serve, is more effective as each becomes its own skill and they all together make up the bigger serve skill.

To break down the service example into smaller circles, let’s first look at three different ways to serve.

The Low Serve

This is probably the most common variation of the backhand serve. We might decide that we’d like to be able to consistently hit low serves to send the shuttle flying just above the net as shown here.

The Flick Serve

The flick serve is a more technical variation of the backhand serve. We might look like we’re setting up for a low serve and instead, surprise the opponent by flicking our wrist at the shuttle – sending it into a higher arch towards the back of the service box.

This example is from Kevin Sanjaya, who’s a master of this technique.

The Drive Serve

Here we’re setting up in the same way we would a low service, but instead of flicking the shuttle into a high arch, we drive it towards the back at a lower arch. The main difference between a low serve and a drive serve is speed and power.

To practice the serves, we can break them down into each of these three serve techniques and then break each of those down even further. For example, by practicing bringing power into the drive serve via the wrist as well as where to place the shuttle on the court. An example of a breakdown looks like this:

Making Smaller Circles
Making Smaller Circles

Meaning that we’ll break all the badminton skills down into footwork, strokes, etc. And then break down, say, strokes, into smashes, serves, clears, etc. followed by breaking the serves down into the service types, positioning on court, wrist power, etc. for each individual type of serve before practicing each of those systematically.

Forgiving Ourselves: The Ultimate Secret to Improving Fast?

The book The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey, while sounding like a tennis book, also has great ideas for badminton.

One is that we can think about our brain in two parts. I like the analogy Brian Johnson uses comparing the first brain to a post-it note and the other to a supercomputer.

The challenge is that the post-it note brain is the one that carries our ego, so it’s hard to switch off and let the supercomputer play badminton, even though it performs better.

The book points out that we tend to get frustrated, not because we don’t know what to do but because we can’t figure out why we can’t do what we already know.

In other words: we already know what to do but we can’t figure out why we can’t apply our knowledge like we want to. Ironically, the harder we try, the worse it gets.

As Timothy Gallwey points out (chapter 3, p. 16), the solution is to stop judging ourselves, which is easy to say and incredibly hard to do as we have to undo habits that have been reinforced for years.

A practical approach is to say “hit” when you hit the shuttle to quiet the egoistic post-it note mind and change focus back to the game as recommended in the book (chapter 7, p. 85). Consider writing it down in the palm of your hand the first few times so you don’t forget it.

Being self-critical can be important for performance. A more productive variation than just getting frustrated with ourselves is to be skeptical of our skills, in general, but avoid being hard on ourselves the very moment we make a mistake since feeling angry isn’t a particularly productive emotion for our improvement.

The other day at the local club, an experienced player pointed out that it doesn’t make sense to fight with ourselves during a match since the real work happens in the training, and that we can’t train, say, twice a week and expect to perform at a professional level when it counts. So we shouldn’t get mad at ourselves for not being up to that standard as our expectations and the training we put in has to match each other.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Finally, let’s continue the example from before where we recorded ourselves and found that our service skills could improve.

Imagine we practice the drive serve using badminton drills by first practicing only the court positioning for that individual serve, followed by the wrist and body movement before moving on to the flick serve. We tend to be patient and open to mistakes when we first begin learning them, and pretty quickly we start to feel confident. We got this. We stop practicing, move on and use it every now and then in games. It works!

… Until it doesn’t.

Over time, we lose a bit of the skill because we don’t use it too often and don’t practice it anymore either. It’s easy to feel annoyed with ourselves thinking that we already know how to do this but can’t figure out why we can’t apply it like we used to.

That’s when it’s important to focus on something else to avoid the judgment that distracts us from getting in the zone and letting the supercomputer handle things. This is easy to analyze in hindsight but challenging to pull off in the heat of the moment on the court.

Takeaways

  • There isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan for badminton skills to learn for all players even though there are general patterns that tend to be the same
  • If we record ourselves playing, we can get more personalized feedback and put together our own custom program of skills we’d like to learn based on our specific strengths and weaknesses
  • One of the biggest wins for many badminton players is not getting upset with ourselves when we don’t perform something we think we should be able to — it’s highly unproductive for our learning and there are more effective ways to approach it

Aske writes about badminton on his blog. Check out these 3 badminton tips to win more points next.


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