Thursday, 29 May 2014

Badminton Trick Number 6: Badminton Practice for Lazy (or efficient) People

If you're like me, practice sounds like a good idea in principle, but it gets in the way of actually playing badminton.   I'm too competitive in spirit, so spending time practicing rather than playing gets boring real fast.  I just end up thinking stuff like,"What do you mean I can't smash it out of the blue?   Do we really have to do 40 drop shots in a row?"

If there's not a point on the line, my attention span gets really short.  Maybe that's just me.  

Do I agree with practice?   Absolutely!   Do I admire those who practice?  Absolutely!  

Do I actually get out and practice? Absolutely not!

So how do you get better without practice?

The simple answer is to practice while you play.  

Here are the concepts:

1) Make every moment on the court be constructive practice.  

Okay, now that the lesson is over, let me summarize: every moment on the court is practice. 

Got it? 

Some of you might like me to expand on that, so here it goes:

When you are on the court, you are doing things that either make you a better badminton player or a worse badminton player.   So to be time-efficient and to improve, make the choice to do the things that make you a better badminton player.

Never (ever):
-make a casual shot
-make a shot without choosing a shot type and aiming it at a specific square centimeter of the court
-not try your hardest for a return
-tell yourself that your lousy return was good enough just because the opponent flubbed the return

To expand even further (sorry)...

"Make a casual shot" 
By casual, I mean a shot where you don't put in your full attention, focus, and effort.   Think of your body as a child that learns by example, and the example is what your brain tells it to do.  If you tell your body that it's okay sometimes to slack off, it will slack off regularly and make it harder to be  consistent and automatic.   

"Make a shot without choosing a shot..."
Similar to the previous point, if you get into the habit of only sometimes picking a shot, only sometimes will you be in control of your response.  By making it a habit to pick a shot (type and target) for every shot, you will be practicing.  It is EXTREMELY better to aim and miss than to not aim at all.   It is even EXTREMELY better to plan and execute the incorrect shot than to not plan the shot at all.   Remember practice is to try something, evaluate the results, then repeat until automatic.   If you don't try something specific, there is no learning and no possibility of improvement.  
Here is something that I've only told my closest friends: I do mean literally "every shot, every time".  This includes returning the bird to the opponent after they have made a point, for example.   You should aim to have it land on their head wherever they are standing in the serving side of the court.   Taking it to extremes:  After the badminton night is over, I help to get birds back to the line of Yonex tubes that the birds are stored in.   From wherever I pick up a bird, I try to land the bird in one of the tubes.   Over the years, I've actually put a large number of birds right into the standing tube from half a court or more away.   All this practice adds up and I find that I'm hitting more court lines during a game than ever.    Frailty due to age should be setting in by now, but I still find that my accuracy (if not power) is increasing.   

"Try your hardest for a return"
Similar to the above in that mental consistency leads to physical consistency in the game.   However, there is also a fitness aspect in that if you work hard, your body adapts and next time you can work even harder.  I find that it's better not to "save yourself for later" for any given game but work hard all the time so that you don't have anything left by the end of the game (or night).    Even if you lose the game today, this is how you improve your fitness level the fastest for tomorrow. 

"Tell yourself that your lousy return was good enough..."
There is a child within your body, and it learns by success and failure.   If you make a bad shot but you get away with it, don't trigger the "success" feeling because that will tell your body that it responded correctly and it obediently files the experience under the "success" category when it should be filed under "don't ever do that again".    PLEASE keep this though under wraps however; I play against one person who audibly berates himself if a shot doesn't meet his standards and this is very depressing for the opponent who has just lost a point despite this inconsiderate person's bad shot.    Practice is personal; you don't have to make other people feel bad in order for you to improve.    Your "inner voice" is good enough.

Summary of trick number 6: You are really practicing all the time.  Once you realize this, you can take advantage of this fact and you will need less "formal practice" and will improve faster.

Have a great week of badminton!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Badminton Trick Number 5: The truth about fakes.

When your opponent is having a good game, you shouldn't try to spoil it, right?

Get real!   Don't you know me yet?

As we've covered already, good playing needs as little thinking as possible.  When your opponent is having a good game, he or she is "in the groove" and not thinking at all.  Every shot is automatic, every response is correct and instantaneous.  Even when they hit a rim shot, it turns out to be a winner.   Luck is on their side as well.

When you realize this is happening, you can be a spectator or a spoiler.  Your choice.

Okay, you'll be a spoiler.   So you'll do dirty rotten tricks to ruin their concentration, right?

NO!  Don't you know me yet?

You'll do totally fair things to ruin their concentration.  One of the best things to do is to introduce fakes into the game.

Fakes are simply those shots where you look like you're doing one thing but you do another.

Most of us forget about these because:
1) They are not "pure" badminton, which is using power or placement or speed to win a point.
2) They can backfire and look bad for you.
3) They don't look easy.

If you agreed with the above, kindly take your nose out of the upper atmosphere and get back down to earth.

My response to the above three "concerns" is:
1) "Pure" badminton is winning badminton without breaking or even bending rules, one of which I consider to be "fair play".    When you play an opponent, you should use all your skills and performing a fake is a skill.   Luckily, it's a fairly easy skill.   However, I'll note a major caveat later (look for "MAJOR CAVEAT" as a handy reference to where I hide major caveats in my blog)
2) Sure, a fake can backfire.  But so can a good "normal" shot, and if you're losing already there's much less pride on the line.
3) A fake can be very easy.  In fact, it doesn't even have to be a good fake or win you the point to be successful.  You have to understand the real purpose of a fake.

When you need to use a fake:
The time to throw in a fake is when your opponent is having a smooth and easy game.  The purpose of the fake is NOT to win the point.  The purpose of the fake is to make the opponent stop and wait to see what you're going to do on the next points and get them out of the pattern of "reading" your shots so well that they are always in the right place to make their return.  If you add delay and hesitation to the opponent's game, you have improved your chances immensely!

MAJOR CAVEAT:  Never use a fake when you're playing someone who is not as skilled as you and the fake will merely embarrass them further.    I've "faked out" a new player and and can vouch for the fact that result is guilt rather than satisfaction.   It's just "showing off".   However, in one case, the new player wasn't discouraged too much and is now an excellent player AND outfakes me at every opportunity.  And no, that isn't because of me, but despite my initial rudeness.

How do you do fakes?  
There are several ways:
1) Pay attention to how you set up for a particular shot, and learn how to do a totally different shot from the same set up position.  A drop shot from a smash set up is a good one to work on.
2) Move your body in one direction but put your shot in the other direction.  One of the best ones I do is to run directly at a server in response to a short serve.  Most times this will stop the server in his/her tracks or cause them to back up.  The actual shot I do is then to drop the bird just over the net as far away from them as possible at a right angle to my motion.    People tend to expect you to shoot in the direction of your movement and to make a fast shot if you're moving fast, but this fake gets them on both regards!
3) Don't do what is expected.   One player that I regularly play against lets the bird drop almost to the floor before turning his body and making a drop shot as far away from me as possible.  This one still gets me once in a while!
4) Don't let the opponent see what you are doing.  This isn't technically a fake but should be used like one because it has the same effect.   I know of two techniques for doing this: one is try to take the bird when it  gets in between you and your partner in doubles (use your partner as a "screen") and the other is to do drop shots from in front of your chest.   There is something about the racquet position that makes it extremely difficult for your opponent to judge the racquet angle and therefore determine where the bird is going.   In both of these cases, your opponent will either stop moving to see where you're going to shoot (Yaaaay! Mission accomplished!)  or move to where he/she thinks the "normal" return shot would go (but doesn't... again Yaaay!)

The last fake type brings up an important note.   If you understand what a "normal" return is, you can make your fakes more effective by ensuring that your fake doesn't do the normal return.   In other words, if you actually make the opponent scramble to get the return from your fake, it will stick more in the opponent's mind and make them hesitate and think more.    In contrast, if you spin around three times, do a little dance, stand on your head and then hit the bird to where the opponent is standing based on their original assumptions before you performed your little routine, the effect of the fake is somewhat diluted.

I must repeat, the real purpose of a fake is to get the opponent out of their "groove" by making the game less automatic and predictable for them.    A fake doesn't have to win the point to be effective;  the measure of a fake is really whether it helps you in the next 3 to 5 points.

Also, don't overdo the fakes.   In the official badminton rulebook, this is referred to as "lame".  Three times per game is about the maximum, in my opinion.   One good fake can turn the tide sometimes.

Summary of trick number 5: Fakes are a valid part of the game and are needed in a tight or losing game, and can be very effective if you understand their real purpose and how and why to do them. 

Have a great week of badminton!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Badminton Trick Number 4 - Playing Stronger Players

There are 4 things you should know when playing stronger players:

1) Every strong player is not equally strong in all areas.
2) Any player's game can be disrupted
3) Use players' strengths against them
4) You will learn most from the strong player

To expand further:
1) Every player is not as strong in all areas:  As always, try different things.   You may find that someone who looks like a great player can't handle a high backhand or a drop close to the net.  Some players will get into a rhythm if you only give them clears.   Continually change up your game if it's not working; what do you have to lose?

2) Any player's game can be disrupted;  If you've ever been beaten by a lesser-skilled player because you're having a bad game, you've encountered this principle.    What happened was that you didn't play up to your usual standards or expectations because your usual level was not available to you due to some emotional or mental disruption.   There are a number of ways to disrupt your opponent's game.   Most of them are below the levels of proper sportsmanship, so I will cover them under a "what NOT to do" blog entry in future.   I'm never going to advise or encourage the use of "dirty tricks".  
Two tricks that I believe to be "fair game" are focusing on the opponent's weakness, and disrupting their rhythm by making the opponent think.
Opponent's weakness:  Not only can you take advantage of an opponent's weakness by continually making them have to use their weakest shot, you will frequently find that if a player realizes that you know their weakness, they develop issues in OTHER parts of their game.   So remember to consciously look for weakness in your stronger opponent and use whatever edge you have.
Making the opponent think:  I've advised before that badminton is a lousy sport for thinking; you have to be responding as close to automatically as possible.   Good badminton players get in a groove and stay there.   However, if you can make your opponent unsure of him or herself and start to think, this leads to mistakes and poorer returns.   The best way to do this is to through fakes.   If you don't know about these, I will cover them in a later blog entry, but the summary is to act like you're making one shot when you actually are making another.    I've found this to be highly effective in making opponents start to think.

3) Use a player's strength against them: This rule is tougher to apply in some cases, but I play regularly against a player who can get to any shot due to his speed.  However, after a certain number of impossible returns, the player tires out and starts making mistakes and starts to not get to the returns.     This is just an example of a strength becoming a weakness.  Another way is to put your returns in between the two opponent players but as far away from both as possible (especially if they're both strong).   Since both can get to the bird due to their speed and skill, they will often both go for the bird and conflict with each other and lose the point.  The point after this one, neither will go for the bird, and they you have two points in a row!   The third point, the two opponents may start to argue, and this can even give you the game.

4) You will learn most from a strong player: If all else fails, try to determine why your opponents are good and learn from them in the process of losing.    The mere challenge of playing against good opponents will improve your game and will detract from their game, so realize that this is a privilege rather than something to regret.

Summary of trick number 4: Don't give up just because the opponent is strong.  You WILL win some of these games if you do the right things, and you WILL learn from all of them if you put some attention into the game.  

Have a great week of badminton!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Badminton Trick Number 3 - Don't make it easy for your opponent.

There are times when your opponent can seemingly counter everything you throw at him or her. In these cases, try to not be too hard on yourself. Just make sure that you actually DO throw everything at him or her.

If you keep doing the same thing where the opponent is quite happy to handle and make the point, then why are you doing that? Yes, the other player may have an excellent smash, but if you realize that you have to provide a “clear” type of shot in order for the opponent to do a smash, then you realize you are actually in control of your own destiny. In other words, look at what YOU are doing that provides the opportunity for the opponent, and do something else from now on.

The “something else” that you can try may even be something that is normally a bad idea, but hey, if you’re not doing well, there’s no reason to NOT change your game. Try drops, horizontal shots, mid-height returns, slow returns, fake shots, etc. It’s been covered in other Badminton Tricks, but it’s worth repeating that you never know what a “strong” player is not strong at.

A strong player may normally be good at a particular shot but may have “lost it” at the moment. If you happen to notice this in the middle of a game, try to make shots that encourage this opponent to repeatedly try this shot (and hopefully fail). You can tell yourself that you are just helping the player practice (grin). The qualification is that you must also be sensitive to when a player finds their groove. In other words, a player may miss the return of 4 consecutive drop shots and then find his or her rhythm and ace 15 in a row after that. Don’t give them the subsequent 15 in a row. Pay attention!

Also, be sensitive to the rhythm of the game. If an opponent is having a rough time in a game, decide whether you want to ease up and lose the game or whether you want to win the game. The reason I’m stating it as “one or the other” is that so often I’ve seen games where one side eased up even slightly and lost the game when they seemed to have it all settled as an easy win. So instead of unconsciously easing up, make it a thoughtful decision rather than a case where it’s more of a “damn, I blew it” situation. If you ease up at any point, it’s like rolling the dice. You never know what can happen.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever ease up; there are times where positives of sportsmanship outweigh the positives of winning. However, I’m generally in favour of playing as hard as you can because losing can be learned very easily and is difficult to unlearn. (more on playing with sportsmanship in a later installment). Also, if you make the “easing up” obvious, it can lose all the feeling of sportsmanship that you may have intended.

Summary of trick number 3: Keep doing what is working; don’t keep doing what isn’t working. Try different things to change the rhythm of the game whenever necessary. 

Have a great week of badminton!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Badminton Trick Number 2: Be Automatic

Badminton is one of the fastest games in the world.   When you watch it, aren't you amazed at how the players just react so quickly and get the bird back when you'd think there was no chance?

You can do that too!  Your mind is just as fast as anyone's.  It's not like the computer industry where a faster processor comes out every week.  People are upgraded just a little each generation.

The trick is to use the fastest processing power that your brain has, which is "automatic mode".

This has two parts.   First of all, you have to train to do the right thing.   If you practice to do do what is the right thing, it will become part of the wiring of your brain.

The second part is to actually let your brain work in "automatic mode".   This is actually the tougher part in one sense, but the easier part in another sense.   You have to relax and "not think".   At the very most, you should think about your first return of serve, as you can see how the players are standing and you may know what their weak spots are.  Your plan for the return of the first serve can be to put the return in a particular spot no matter what kind of serve you are give.

After than, you shouldn't be thinking at all.  If you are thinking, you are too slow for good badminton.  Involving the decision-making part of your brain is NOT beneficial unless you are playing a boring and slow casual game.  The decision-making part of your brain should be reserved for buying a car, doing your day job, and picking a movie to watch.   It should not be consulted in the middle of a point during badminton because it will deliberate until the bird has gone past you.  The lightning-fast part of your brain that was formerly used to take life-or-death actions when dealing with a sabre-toothed tiger is what you want to tap in order to play badminton. 

 The "easy" part of this is that you have to try LESS HARD to make good shots.  Be loose, be relaxed, and have fun and I guarantee you will play better!

My very best games have been where I never had a thought in my mind as to what to do.   In fact, I play better sometimes when I am too tired to thing clearly.    "Body tired" is bad for badminton, but "head tired" does not necessarily lead to bad results.

I would venture to say that even if you haven't done part 1 (the training) and jump right to part 2 (not thinking) you will play better.   Your mind can instinctively react to many situations appropriately if you let it.   Humans are still around today because their minds are versatile and do things well automatically.  Have some faith in your automatic reactions and you will be rewarded.

As further proof, I've seen some normally bad players make some fantastic perfect shots, and although they might think it was fluke, it doesn't line up with the facts because they will say 99% of the time that they didn't think about the shot.  But still they reacted extremely quickly with a response that was ideal under the circumstances.  The odds of doing this by chance are extremely low so that doesn't make sense.  What really was fluke was that they forgot for a moment to think about things and just let their body do what it thought was most appropriate.  That is why the poor player can't do this on a regular basis.   I'm not saying that training is important; I am saying that training is not the only factor and also that practice can be sabotaged by thinking too much.

Summary of trick number 2: When you're playing, don't think... Just play and have fun and you'll do better.  Save your thinking for any practice sessions that you manage to fit in between games.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Badminton Trick Number 1: Be Invisible!


Hello everyone!!

This is my first entry, as you might guess by the primitive format.

This blog is intended for those who want to do "better than they should do" at badminton, a fantastic sport.

I'll get more into my background later, but you're here for one reason: to beat your opponent at badminton.

I'm sorry, but I don't ever intend to add "at any cost" to the above statement.   All you poor sports and cheaters can leave now.

Gone?   Okay, let's proceed...

I intend to reveal secrets that you can use to improve your game without a lot of practice.   Sure, if you want to be really good, you have to practice.

However, it sometimes seems that you need a little more.  It's called "an edge".   That's what I'm here for.

I'll make this blog prettier as I go along, but are you here for pictures, or for information?

Okay!  Here's entry number one...

Badminton Trick Number 1:  Be Invisible!

I have seen many players who wear bright colours (yes I spelled that right; I'm British) and have interesting patterns on their court wear, and play with brightly coloured racquets.
I love playing against these people because: YOU ALWAYS KNOW WHERE THEY ARE.

Sorry for yelling, but it's like their clothing is yelling, "I'm here! I'm here!"   Therefore, you can more easily avoid hitting it directly to them.

The best colour to wear is the same colour as the court or gym walls.   Do your scouting and find out what colours you need to wear to match the court walls, and if you want to be extreme, wear shoes the same colour as the court floors.   I'm still researching the science of motion detection for the human eye (yes, I'm a sports geek and a regular geek too) and I'll let you know if there's any other key things that our vision clues into easily and therefore should be avoided.

Summary of trick number 1: Stop being a neon sign; make it harder for your opponent to see you!