Shlok Ramchandran is a former Indian doubles player, who reached a career-high world ranking of No 32 in men’s doubles. Having recently retired from the highest level of the sport, Shlok Ramchandran is the Assistant coaching director at Synergy Badminton Academy, California. You can read the other pieces in his column, Shuttle Zone here.

How to get started in badminton? How do I prepare for a match? These two are probably the
most frequently asked question I get these days.

The first question is more for adults enrolling the kids into the sport or for adults who want to pick up the sport as a hobby. The second question is from players in the range of age 13-20 who are actively playing tournaments and are looking to find more consistency in their level of performance.

Let’s start with my thoughts on the first question.

Why badminton?

The one piece of advice I would give to young parents is to get their children involved in any sport, let alone badminton. The kids need something else to focus on apart from academics, and sport – especially once you cross the foundation level – gives you another sense of purpose as well as direction in life. Pressure management, fear of failure, dealing with success, and working as a team can all be taught in theory but can be better experienced in sports than any academic curriculum.

Why badminton, then? Badminton is an Olympic, high intensity/low duration, all-weather sport. It’s an individual sport yet teaches you a lot about teamwork. As a sport, it’s on the up, especially in India.

What’s the right equipment to begin with?

Shoes: The most important piece of equipment has to be the shoes. I have seen a lot of people focusing on getting top-end rackets when they start but then play with normal sports shoes. Badminton, be it on the wooden court or the mat, is a sport that requires a lot of change in
direction, thereby putting a lot of pressure on the ankles and the knees. Hence you need proper
badminton shoes which have the right kind of grip on the sole to help you navigate it.

Normal running shoes are designed for, of course, running. They will not give you the right grip on the court, which could lead to a serious injury. So ideally get a good shoe according to the kind of
feet you have. Badminton equipment manufacturers have now come up with shoes for wide or narrow feet. My advice would be to get shoes from Badminton equipment manufacturing companies like Yonex, Li-Ning, Victor, Transform, etc.

My picks: Yonex SHB 65 X3, Transform Alpha, and Li Ning Ultra 3.

Rackets: Badminton rackets, at an early introduction stage, can be as basic as possible. As you start
getting better you will eventually end up paying for expensive rackets so my advice would be to start with something basic and a balanced racket rather than a head-heavy racket. Maybe the lower end rackets of Yonex or Li-Ning for the audience in India, would be advisable. I have been extremely impressed with the quality of rackets from Transform which is an Indian badminton equipment manufacturer.

My picks: Transform Hydra Power, Yonex Arc Saber 11 play edition, Li- Ning Turbo 99.

Strings: The strings I would recommend are the ones that have the most durability. Durable strings are slightly thicker hence last a bit longer but give you slightly less control. Thinner strings offer more control, repulsion and power but that comes at the cost of durability.

My picks: Yonex BG 65, Li Ning no.1, and TS 101 for durability. Yonex BG 80, Aerobite, BG 66 Ultimax for more performance.

Tension: Badminton strings are usually strung between:
1. 20-23 pounds for beginners
2. 24-27 pounds for intermediate and high performance players
3. 28-34 pounds for world class badminton players

Importance of appropriate tension

  • Playing with the suitable string tension determines the power and control you can bring to your shots. It is important to get the tension right to avoid injuries as well. Tennis elbow and damage to your triceps muscle could happen if the tension is too high.
  • The concept of repulsion is important to understand. Lower string tension of the strings gives more repulsion and thereby more power in your shots. But as you increase your string tension, you reduce repulsion, hence less power. If you are starting off, it is important for beginners to generate sufficient power in their badminton shots.
  • With more string tension, repulsion will be reduced. That’s where your wrists will start taking over. All great badminton players have delightful wrist-work and it is key to succeeding. This is why as beginners, the lower tension rackets are better. Increase the string tension only as you get more control, you can improve your swing speed and develop a strong wrist action.
  • You can read more about the importance of appropriate string tension and the sweet spot on a racket here. A useful resource.

The path ahead once you begin

My advice to young parents who are introducing their kids to badminton would be initially you might have to push your kids for training but within a few months, you would understand if your kid loves the sport. Post that, it comes down to the number of hours your kid spends on the court. Training once or twice a week for a few hours will not facilitate growth unless it’s purely a recreational activity for the athlete.

Training is crucial but the difference maker is how much you spend with your child on court apart from non-training days. This will help in court time plus family time. Consistency in training and time on the court is the key to moving forward for a career in badminton.

For adults starting off, my advice would be to start slow and try to get in a few lessons in a week to understand the right techniques and footwork to avoid injuries.

Match preparation

Having dealt with the first question, we move up the ladder a bit. This section is mainly for athletes who are already in the system and looking for that spark to go up a step in their careers. These are tips that hopefully helps shuttlers, say, in their teens to fine-tune.

Preparation before a match in a tournament essentially is following a process. Ideally, you do not want to try anything new at a tournament. That comes down to finding the right process in training.

Backtrack everything: Let’s say you have a great match-play day at training. What you could then do is backtrack all the major events leading up to training. What did you have for dinner the previous night? What time did you sleep? What did you have pre-training? What was the mindset like in training? What was the mood like before heading to practice? What kind of warm-up routine did you use? Once you backtrack, you can try to replicate this as much as possible in a tournament. Similarly, if you have a bad day on the court backtrack yourself to the same questions and then you’ll know what to avoid. For a personal example, I would not move well on the court if I had pizza the night before training. Hence not eating pizza during tournament days became part of my process. Every athlete has a different mindset and body type, so it’s important not to copy anyone but find your own process. Yes, it will take a lot of time but eventually, once you find it, hold on to it.

Match analysis: It’s important to sit down with your coach and watch clips of your opponents but at the same time, you don’t want to over-analyze your opponent. Badminton is a very instinctive sport and players tend to look good/bad against a certain kind of opponent. There have been cases where I have watched clips of my opponent and got intimidated by the style of play but when I did play him I realized after a while that I shouldn’t have been intimidated. Take down bullet points to make your plans against the player you are up against but continue to have faith in your instincts.

Let go of external factors: Stop worrying about factors that are not in your hand. Draws, scheduling, shuttles, venue, drift in the venue, and team announcements are all factors not in your control. Spend your time and energy on factors you can control. Rest, recovery, diet, on-court preparation. Take care of the factors you can control and the external factors will take care of themselves. Barring players who have home-court advantage everyone is facing the same factors you are.

Short-term goals: Avoid looking too far into the draw. I’d suggest that it is better to make plans for your second-round opponent only once you have cleared the first round. Avoid overthinking the draw and making conclusions in your head that you’re going to play a certain opponent in the semifinals. High-performance sport is an open game and anyone can beat anyone on a given day. Baby steps to big targets.

A shift from result-oriented mindset to a process-oriented mindset: I have written about this
in my earlier column but it is so important that athletes need to move from a result-oriented mindset to a process-oriented mindset. Instead of focusing on a certain ranking or a tournament, focus on trying to be the best version of yourself every day in training, be grateful for the time you spend on the court, and make every shot count. Work with your coaching team and set up a training program and trust the process, it takes a minimum of four-six weeks for any program to show results. Take care of your preparation and the results/ranking will take care of itself.