Badminton may very well be the most misunderstood of the racquet sports. Perhaps for good reason; watching players knock the lightweight, floaty shuttlecock back and forth is amusing, but badminton is actually a challenging sport, and a physically demanding one at that. There’s a reason it’s been an official Olympic sport since 1992.
Today we’re going to spend some time educating you on badminton. We’ll look at the history, the rules, the gear, the professional competition side, everything. Will the act of playing it look any less silly? Probably not, but you’ll walk away with more respect for the sport. You might even want to step outside and give it an honest try yourself.
Badminton: The Beginnings
Badminton isn’t nearly as old as cricket, which has its roots in the 14th century, but it’s not exactly new either. The sport originates in India during the period of British rule in the 18th century. It was enjoyed by the colonial officers who were stationed there at the time as a leisure activity, though it wasn’t until those officers returned home to England that the sport really came to be fleshed out.
That’s the belief, anyway. There’s some evidence that the sport might have origins even earlier than the 1870s, when it was popular in British India, but it was popular among officers stationed there at the time.
The sport’s eventual return to England is actually where the name comes from. “Badminton” springs from Badminton House, a country estate in Gloucestershire owned by the Dukes of Beaufort. That’s where the sport was re-introduced when it was brought back from British India, though it is unclear exactly how or why that’s the name that stuck.
The first official rules for the game were drawn up in 1873, and they were re-written several times before the Badminton Association of England officially published them 1893. The country hosted the sport’s first official championship competition several years later, in 1899.
The international pasttime of badminton as we know it today first emerged in 1934, when a group of nations together formed the International Badminton Federation, later re-dubbed the Badminton World Federation. The BWF continues to serve as the sport’s governing body through to today.
Badminton: The Rules
Now that we’ve learned where it comes from, let’s take a look at how you actually play badminton. The game’s rectangular court is split in half by a net, and it can be marked for either singles or doubles play. A regulation court is 20 feet wide (17 feet for singles play) and 44 feet long, with a 5 foot high net running across the center. There isn’t a regulation governing how tall a ceiling there should be, but as a general rule you’ll want a fair amount of open air space above the court, since the shuttlecock tends to fly rather high.
A typical game of badminton is played to 21 points. Earning points isn’t tied to who is serving, as it is in tennis, so the winner of a particular badminton rally earns the point regardless of who started it off. The winner of a badminton match is decided in a best of three competition.
There are specific rules governing where players must stand as a rally gets underway. Before the serve, the opposing players stand diagonally opposite service courts (a “service court” is the smaller marked area within the full regulation court’s dimensions). The serve is delivered via an underhanded swing that must make contact with the shuttlecock below waist height. If the serving side loses a rally, his or her opponent takes the next serve.
The rules once the shuttlecock is in play are largely similar to tennis, albeit scaled down to suit a much smaller court. For example, the initial serve must pass over the short service line on the opposite side of the net; if it doesn’t, it’s marked as a fault. Scoring goes to 21, though a win is only recorded after a two-point lead has been achieved. A 20-20 game will continue until one side pulls ahead by two, though the score caps off at 30 regardless of whether there’s a 2-point lead.
Once you’ve got the fundamentals of service and scoring squared away, it’s important to learn the proper strokes. Shuttlecocks are very different from tennis balls in the way that they bounce off your racquet and move through the air. What kind of swing you use is heavily dependent upon where the shuttlecock is in relation to both the player and the net. The basic principles are similar in many ways to tennis, largely because your point depends on hitting the birdie to the ground on the opponent’s side of the net before it can be sent back.
Badminton: Gearing Up
Badminton racquets feature a different design than tennis racquets do, but you’re still dealing with a lot of the same core ideas. Each lightweight racquet — less than half a pound — features a wide-faced head made up of strings and some sort of handgrip. A variety of materials are used to make them, though carbon fiber is the most commonly used one nowadays.
Build concerns include string tension and grip thickness. The best way to find what works for you is to experiment. Recreational players tend to use lower string tension than professionals, so it’s probably best to start with that in mind. Grip, on the other hand, is entirely dependent on what feels comfortable to you. Thin or thick, taped or not, it’s all a matter of finding what works in your own, specific case.
The shuttlecock, which is also often referred to as a birdie, is a lightweight projectile with a covered cork base that 16 overlapping feathers are attached to. This “tail” portion of the shuttlecock creates a high level of drag, which factors into the uniquely floaty flight path that you see when it is struck. Recreational players tend to rely on shuttlecocks equipped with synthetic feather materials, such as nylon or plastic, since they’re less expensive and more durable.
Badminton: Hitting The Courts
Now you know the rules. You’ve got your gear. Where the heck do you go to play? The BWF is the sport’s international governing body, but here in the USA — and, really, the American continent as a whole — we’ve got the Badminton Pan Am serving as a regional confederation. For those who wish to go pro, that’s where you’ll start.
The BPA is headquartered in Lima, Peru and it’s responsible for organizing regional tournaments, certifying referees, and maintaining a set of rules among its 31 member associations. Here in the States, USA Badminton is the BPA member association. Once you’ve paid for your membership, you can use the organization’s resources to sign up for tournaments and get involved with your local clubs.