There was a lot of “I hate you’s” directed towards my coach in class today. Which can only mean one thing: footwork practice.
Footwork is, by far, my biggest problem in badminton, and hammering out all my bad habits and replacing them with good ones is a real nightmare for me.
What should proper badminton footwork look like? Well, the court looks deceptively small. You think it’s so tiny, you should just be able to run around all corners easily. But when your playing a game, and the shuttle is flying literally 100+ miles per hour, the small little court seems bigger than the Sahara. And going from one corner to another, or the front to the back, is an impossible journey.
Add to that that you are supposed to cross this desert landscape in not 4 or 5 steps but 1 or 2, and you can maybe see where my problem stems. Badminton is a game of lighting fast reflexes, with proper footwork. It’s the key to winning.
(If you want to read more about badminton footwork, check out this article. If you want to see a video check out this video although I’m not gonna lie, I think his footwork isn’t that great. Not compared to my coach.)
My big problem is unconscious laziness. If a birdie flies high to the back of the court, I kinda lean really far backwards to hit it. That’s a terrible way to do it because I’m reaching behind me to hit it so there is very little power. I need to move faster to get my entire body behind the birdie so I can hit it with forward momentum.
The way to get faster footwork is actually “go low.” You gotta keep your body low when you are waiting for your opponent to hit it, like if you are trying to pee in a toilet but don’t want your butt to touch the toilet rim. You have to stay “ready” because you have zero idea where your opponent is going to hit it. If your center of gravity is low you can pop up in the direction you want to go with speed and power.
It’s my obvious weakness and good players spot it within minutes and exploit it. They just give me a few shots on opposite sides of the court and they know I’ll probably miss one.
My coach jokingly blames himself because in the Becky Cup Tournament he told me not to move because I kept getting in his way. “Now she never moves!” he said to my group one night as we were eating after practice. Everybody laughed.
But he’s right.
“I just can’t do it!” I’ve complained again and again.
“If you think you can’t do it then of course you can’t,” says my coach assuming the wise old mentor role.
My coach has never given up on me, and after a long break we finally started one-on-one class again a few weeks ago. And ALL WE DO is footwork. I lose my breath within the first minute of class, and I don’t find it again till we finish.
But recently, after he yelled at me again and again (I don’t go deep enough in my squat) something clicked and I began doing it. When your body is low, you really can move so much faster. After going through about 20 birdies, with me getting almost all of them as he hit them in opposites corners of the court, he came over to my side of the court.
“Does staying low work?” he asked me as I was bent over panting.
“Yes,” I croaked out.
“Can you do it?”
“Yes,” I said, drops of sweat rolling off my nose.
“See! I told you,” he said hitting my arm and smiling big.
I know I gush about my coach a lot, but the truth is right from the start he always believed in me. He’s never treated me like a hobbyist looking to improve, but a profession trying to break into the big leagues. And he has always expected me to do things, even when I thought I never could.
“You CAN.” he told me. “Every time, everywhere.”
I’ve regressed since that one moment of clarity, but it happened once so I think I can make it happen again. If you watch all the best badminton players (both professional and amateur) they look the same while playing. The best footwork is standard and while everyone has their special shots, when they move they all look alike. And technically, if you can move properly, you actually move less. Each step is the height of efficiency.
In badminton footwork is king, and I wanna be queen.