lieber mit einem Weltmeister als immer nur wie ein Weltmeister trainieren
Badminton is a very complex game that can never truly be mastered. When I thought that footwork was the key to success, I realized that even the best of physical specimens win only sometimes. I then turned to the mental aspect of winning, which is really the most important component of any sport, and concluded that it was not unique to badminton. So this month I shall focus on the grip, which I believe determines the ultimate sophistication of the player.
The ability to suddenly change the direction and pace of the shuttle is controlled by the carriage of the racket. Without proper carriage, the player cannot have varied deception. Yes, most players have one or two deceptive shots, but these tricks, at first successful through unorthodoxy, can become painfully predictable as the match wears on. I am constantly catching myself in predictable patterns on the court, where my once-deceptive shots are no longer effective.
A good grip begins with the pinkie, ring and middle fingers cradling the grip against the heel of the hand. Pointing the racket forward, a side-to-side wiggle should bounce the flat sides of the grip from the inside of the thumb joint to the pad of the index finger between the knuckle and the first joint. The wrist should hang limp, and the elbow should be bent. From there, you can raise your arm and turn for an overhead, bringing your upper arm into a position perpendicular to the net and parallel to the floor, leaving your wrist in the same limp position. Notice that the racket head is naturally flat to the net, and the pad of your index finger is still on the flat part of the grip, ready to push when you contact the shuttle. A simple catapult action, leading with your elbow, following with the inside of the wrist and finishing with the snap of the index finger will easily launch the bird an impressive distance. Please let your index finger gently curve around the grip and not lie flat. Don't let it point skyward toward the racket head. Thank you.
Now put your palms up, bend your elbows, shrug your shoulders and say, "Like, I dunno," mimicking Moon-Unit Zappa's style of speech in her 1980's hit, "Valley Girl." This naturally places your hand in the proper position for the gentle redrop at the net. Straightening and bending the elbow moves the racket head away and toward your body without changing its height. Notice how the head remains parallel to the floor. If you bounce your hand, supporting the grip with the M, R, and P fingers, the racket will bounce on the pad of the "I" finger. This play in the racket looks like those cow heads you see in rear windows, and it absorbs the shock of the shuttle so that it does not bounce too high over the net.
Leaving the elbow bent, turn over your hand and let the grip fall onto the pad of your thumb, bending your wrist forward. Your arm and wrist should look like a cobra ready to strike. Pretend to strike and say, "Tss, tss, tss." There! That's the backhand redrop. Of course, the same gentleness and play in the racket head applies to this shot, too.
Practice reaching to the low forehand side, racket head facing the net, letting the racket barely balance between the curve of your I-finger and the heel of your hand. Your thumb barely touches the grip here. Only at impact on the smash return will the thumb gently squeeze in to prevent the racket from flying away. Reach to the low backhand side and press the pad of the thumb against the flat part of the grip. Most of the palm should not touch the grip and the wrist should once again be limp. Push the grip with the pad of your thumb. The racket should briefly leave your thumb and return when gently stopped by your I-finger. It is difficult to understand the correct badminton grip at first, because the lightness of the hand's contact with the racket and the obvious power needed on clears, smashes, drives and lifts seems contradictory. Therefore, the best way to master the feel is to begin with light shots.
Exercise 1: Half-court pushes. Let the racket wobble between your thumb and index finger as described earlier, supported by the other three fingers. Gently lob the bird over the net, down the line to your training partner. One person will be hitting backhand, using the thumb, and the other will be striking the bird forehand, using the base of the index finger for what little power is needed for this shot. Hit everything underhand, with the wrist limply bent sideways toward the floor, as if shaking hands the traditional way. Do not worry about catching the bird late or early, nor how high above the net it passes. Position of the hand is the important thing. Eventually, the shots will be skimming over the tape. Oh, and practice both forehand and backhand.
Exercise 2: Target taps. Feeder stands at the net corner selected as the target and touches the bird around the front part of the opponent's court. These taps include straight and cross half-court pushes, straight and cross redrops. The drillee must return the shuttle just over the net to the selected corner. You will be surprised at how tough just feeding the bird is. Both feeder and drillee must step with their racket foot on each tap.
Exercise 2.5: Target taps with random flick. When you feel ready for a greater challenge, the feeder may suddenly flick the shuttle to the back without warning. The drillee must raise the racket quickly and tap it down to get back into the rally. In both drills, make sure both net corners are addressed.
Another special grip that I haven't discussed is the forehand net punch. This is not as light a grip as for the other shots. The hitter must keep the racket ready above the net. The position of the hand is more of a pan grip, with a larger portion of the I-finger and the ball of the I-finger on the flat part of the grip. To avoid hitting the bird in the net, you must advance upon the bird, stepping with the racket foot and leading with the racket, and punch with a rapid squeezing of the grip. To do this effectively, you must be quick on your feet. Do not swing the racket.
Exercise 3: One-on-one net taps, half-court. One person is midcourt in the defensive position, and the other is at the net, racket up, punch grip. The goal of the net person is to kill the bird. The goal of the defender is to sneak the bird just over the net so that the net person cannot do this.
Exercise 3.5: Two-on-one net taps, full-court. Two people are side-by-side, midcourt in the doubles defense position. One person is at the net covering the doubles width. The two people move the bird around at the net, and the net person tries to kill the bird. Very difficult for all involved.
Simple exercises to do off-court: 1) Hit the bird straight up, using the base of the I-finger for the forehand and the pad of the thumb for the backhand. 2) Hit the bird up, using the cobra style to spin it every time. Try spinning it by stabbing it, caressing it right, and caressing it left. Do both forehand and backhand. You will see that the grip must be very loose and the wrist must be limp. 3) Net taps: Stand shuttles up on the tape by jamming them feathers down on the wire of the net. Using your punch grip, knock off the birds without swinging at them. Use the racket foot lunge and powerful tightening of the hand.