Is Badminton a Real Sport?

Badminton is a sport with an image problem — most people don’t think it’s a sport. “It has the image of a backyard game and it just drives us nuts,” says Diane Cornell, a longtime badminton player. “It’s enormously frustrating.” Cornell and her fellow players at the Badminton Club of the District of Columbia have all experienced the teasing and catcalls. Picnic game, barbecue game, kids’ game.

Time and time again, the players have to explain that their game is a far cry from what most Americans know as badminton. “It’s not the sport that they think about when they say ‘badminton.’ This is different,” says Jud Mills, who has played at St. Albans School, where the badminton club is headquartered, since 1973.

badminton at the beach

Professional Badminton Equipment

An obvious difference, says Mills, is that competitive badminton is played indoors. And instead of cheap toy rackets, they play with light, tightly strung graphite rackets and a shuttlecock — known as the bird — made of 16 goose feathers set into a cork base.

“Most people think of it as just hitting the bird back and forth to one another in a back yard,” Mills says. “But this requires agility, strength, stamina, quick reaction and speed.”

Fitness and Stamina are Necessary

To illustrate what he is talking about, Mills points to a doubles game underway in the St. Albans activities building on a recent Monday night. The players — Hubert Wu, Sameera Gunatileka, Vincent Nguy and his sister Amy Nguy — are among the best junior-ranked competitors in the country and they are playing a lightning-fast game.

As they move around the court, they exchange a flurry of volleys over the net — drop shots, smashes and high shots that drop close to the baseline, known as “clears.” They jump and sprint, twist and turn, stretch and stop, trying to outmaneuver their opponents. The bird flies back and forth in one rally after the other.

badminton doubles rally

A player wins a rally by hitting the bird onto the opposing side’s court; points are lost by hitting the bird into the net or outside the court. Backyard players try to keep the bird in the air, but here the object is to get it on the ground.

Badminton Is a Fast Sport

“This sport is so fast,” says their coach, Gary Chao. “Sometimes the bird can reach speeds of 200 mph. That’s faster than a tennis serve and faster than a pitcher can throw a ball in baseball. Much faster.” Chao, who moved to the United States from Taiwan seven years ago, says the key to playing badminton is using your wrist — using your entire arm as you would in a tennis stroke doesn’t work.

Finesse is more important than muscle power. A sudden twist of the hand can deceive and send the bird in a different direction than the opponent expects. And the game requires good footwork, since a badminton player is constantly moving, anticipating the next shot or rallying to get to the bird before it drops

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