Today, we start to examine the thinking side of your game and to explore the various strategies to consider as you size up your opponent.
Working on your speed, agility, endurance and other physical skills is essential for executing your game strategies effectively, but the approach you take to winning the game determines how well you use those physical abilities to your best advantage. In Badminton, as in every sport, winning is not just about what you can do on the playing field, it’s also about developing an awareness of what your opponent can throw at you and, more importantly, how you handle it.
That all-important awareness and strategic thinking, however, does not come by just sitting down and writing a strategy, as some team sports would build a playbook for example. It comes with practice and experience. Don’t let this intimidate you, though, as there are some good basic strategies that you can adopt, even as a beginner.
Let’s have a look at some interesting strategies that you experiment with to outclass your opponents.
- Variety: Avoid being predictable. Keep changing your style, shots and shuttle placement to keep the other player guessing about your next move. Any time you can add to your opponent’s overall reaction time will buy you an advantage in terms of restricting their ability to respond at full capacity.
- Hit the corners: Badminton is a game of speed, which demands a lot of movement to get to the shuttle in time. Getting your opponent to travel across the court more than you do, therefore, gives you an advantage both physically and mentally. If you send a shot to the centre, for example, make sure the next one goes to a corner because that gives your adversary less chance of being able to reach the shuttle and steal your point on the return.
- Always come back to the centre: Badminton is not kind to slow players. Just as you are formulating your game strategy on the fly, so is your opponent, so you have to think and move quickly. Since the other player can make themselves just as unpredictable as you, a good strategy is to keep yourself in the centre of the court. Whenever you hit a shot, make it a point to always come back quickly to the centre. Only then, you will have the best chance of reacting well to the next shot, wherever that goes, corner or back.
- Understanding your opponent’s footwork: While hands generate the power, footwork can be a game changer. Interestingly, you can understand your counterpart’s next move by observing the signals given off by their footwork. Basically, you need to predict whether they are going for an attacking or a defensive shot. If the player is near the net, it’s probable that they are going in for an attack. However, if the player is in defense mode, they will tend to position themselves slightly back on the court. Hence, challenge your opponent according to these basic psychological strategies.
- Control the pace: This technique is very common. However, it can still be hugely effective, even for advanced players. Its power lies in changing the variation and speed of your game. Imagine you and your opponent arte in an intense game, exchanging power shots with equal force. That’s a good time to take charge by switching the pace of the rally. As you receive a shot, although you might have a good chance of hitting a strong smash, throw in the occasional drop shot. Your opponent, who might be anticipating more of the same, will then be less equipped to quickly adapt to the change. Meanwhile, while you are already planning in advance how to take full advantage of the weaker return.
- The Weak Spot: Seek out any weak spots in your opponent’s game. A common weakness for many players is their backhand. You can exploit this by putting the shuttle onto their backhand more frequently than is comfortable for them. While the player might be able to make a shot, it will break their momentum, producing a weaker return that will give you the upper hand.
- Triangle Strategy: By thinking in triangles, you can make your opponent continually move to three different positions on the court. Forcing them to follow a triangular shape will eventually disrupt their footwork and impact their ability to return your shot with equal power.
- Breaking the opponent’s attack: There will be times in the game when you will be on the defensive, with your opponent’s shot coming at you with much more power. In this situation, you are not in a good position to respond with the same intensity. Instead, you need to create time for yourself to adapt and respond in a way that disrupts your opponent’s rhythm. For example, hitting a soft shot in the crossway will give you some time to get back to your base position and maximise your options.
- Understand your opponent’s game: In the initial stages of the game, losing a few points to better understand your opponent’s game can be an investment. Give them the upper hand, so that they show you their strategy, and then adapt your strategy accordingly.
- Hitting the same location: If you are hitting your shots in the same corner, to the right for example, your opponent can get there quickly. A way to take advantage of this is to keep hitting the same spot. The other player will instinctively return to their base in the centre, which makes them work hard, even if they anticipate your next shot. This repetition makes them weaker as they are called upon to do the same thing again and again. Not returning to their base is always a risk, as they fear making themselves open to the threat of you switching your next shot to the other side of the court. Their fatigue is your opportunity to take advantage of a weaker return and doing exactly that.
Let’s now explore the change in thinking required for doubles play. The way you approach doubles, both level and mixed, differs from singles in a number of ways. The primary factor is that the size of the court is only fractionally larger, yet there are twice the number of players involved in the game. Here are some other things to consider:
- There is more emphasis on serves and returns, more smashing and therefore more defending of the smash.
- Playing to the spaces/corners is not the primary tactic, as in singles. Smashes are played more often because the ‘front and back’ attacking formation makes it far easier to sustain the attack. Targeting an opponent’s body or smashing down the centre of the court are typical approaches for success.
- Smashing ‘for your partner’, known as a channel attack, is when the rear court player smashes with the aim of forcing the return to arrive within range of the front player for an easy ‘kill’. The objective of this type of attacking play is to narrow the area of reply.
- By contrast, the defensive pair (side by side) have an interest in making their opponents’ court as wide as possible. This makes it more difficult for the attacking pair to sustain the attack.
The emphasis on attacking is greater in doubles because this is typically where the greater percentage of points are won. As a result, faster, flatter rallies are more common as neither team wants to concede ‘the lift’.
The rotation of positions for each pair, from attacking to defensive formats and vice versa in high level Badminton, can be fast and frequent, with players changing roles many times in a single rally. Novice players, on the other hand, tend to stick to their positions more rigidly.
So, here we have some basic strategies that you can implement in your game to give you the upper hand. Knowledge alone, however, is just the start. To excel at these strategies and use them effectively requires practice and experience. Learning from your mistakes is also a great educator, so be prepared to try, try and try again, taking encouragement every time you work out where you could have done better.
Work on your ability to think quickly and switch your approach in a split-second as you find yourself in different situations during the game, both attacking and defensive. Also bear in mind that your opponent is sure to be using the same strategies on you! This awareness will help you better anticipate their moves. With doubles, that also includes awareness of your partner, as you react quickly to support each other.
It’s the battle of minds, as well as bodies, that makes this great sport so rewarding!