[This is Chapter 2 of my book "Badminton Secrets, 7 Steps To Getting the Edge Over Your Opponents", now available free on badmintonsecrets.com!]
Now I’m sure that if I asked you what skills a badminton player needs
to be successful, you could list a great many (that’s why we love
badminton so much!):
• Hand-eye co-ordination
• Tactical awareness
I would like to add one to that list, a characteristic that all top players
have by nature, and one that again comes from your love of the game and
the desire to be the best you can.
That skill is observation. Taking in what is happening in a game,
observing all of the tiny little factors that go into determining who comes
away as winner, and who comes away as loser.
Everything that happens to us is observed by our subconscious. It is the
conscious that has the unenviable task of deciding what it wants to take
notice of and put to use.
It sifts out millions of things all the time, only remembering that which it
thinks will serve it.
But how does that help us in our quest to win more badminton matches?
Just by knowing that
1. Observation is a skill.
2. It is a skill that can be developed, and
3. It is a skill that will win you more matches, more often,
you are better equipped than probably 99% of players out there.
Sure, the top players do this automatically, over years and years of
But we are going to cut all that out and use the power of observation
From now on you are going to go about the job of winning more
badminton games with the dedication and attention to detail of a
Choose your favourite.
Sherlock Holmes? Miss Marple? Hercules Poirot?
During a game, you will be keenly watching, looking for any evidence
that can help you clue together what it takes to win more matches.
There are three aspects to this observation, that if combined will give you
the ability to control matches, always know what happened when you
lost, and more importantly what happened when you won – so you can do
more of it!!
Number one is observing your own actions.
This is the secret of success – the better you are at observing the
outcomes of your actions, the better you are at adjusting them to what
they need to be for you to succeed.
I’ll repeat that.
“The better you are at observing the outcomes of your actions, the better
you are at adjusting them to what they need to be for you to succeed.”
That net shot worked, but the last one didn’t. What was the difference?
You play better at the end of a game than at the start. Why? What is it
that makes the difference?
Some days you can do backhand clears for fun, other days you feel like
you’re learning from scratch again (this is one I particularly can associate
with!). What are you doing or not doing on the days that it works?
One side benefit from this self-observation is that the act of observing
yourself takes the focus off your potential for mistakes, making you play
automatically a whole lot better!
To illustrate this, let me take you back to my soccer days.
The coach had set us a challenge to kick the ball into his hands, from a
suitably challenging distance away, and over an obstacle if I remember
We all lined up and one by one, everyone had their turn to get it slap bang
into his hands. And lo and behold, not one of the passes hit its target!
It was getting quite amusing just how bad the kicks were, and the coach
was getting more and more exasperated (which of course made it even
He eventually got us to stop the exercise, and got everyone to stop trying
to be accurate, and to just observe what was happening with each kick.
And of course, we all breathed a sigh of relief at not having the pressure
of trying to get it inch perfect, and, you’ve guessed it, most of us got our
kicks right where we wanted them to go!
This is very useful to remember in a badminton match when every shot
seems to be going wrong. You are not only trying to observe to learn
ways of winning the game, but you’re also observing as a way of
returning to your natural, relaxed game.
So a player can become adept at what’s going wrong and right in their
own game, but that is only half of the battle (or rather a third – it’s a three
step process remember!).
The second step is taking notice of your opponent, what they are doing
Where are their strengths and weaknesses?
Do they stand far forward when receiving serve?
When they smash are they slow to recover?
As this particular skill develops, not only will you know what shots you
should play to a particular player, but you will be able to predict what
they are going to play back to you.
Because other players won’t have as well developed observational skills
as you, they won’t be using the first step (self-observation), so won’t
know that they always return a cross-court net shot cross-court, or they
always lift your short serve, or always go for the winner when faced with
As a corollary to this step, to take this concept even further, and to make
it more effective, you can take a poker expert’s advice.
I remember reading somewhere that the key to winning a poker game
doesn’t involve controlling what you should be thinking.
It’s not even controlling what your opponent’s thinking.
It’s controlling what your opponent thinks YOU are thinking!!
The example they gave was of one of those old poker games on a boat in
the middle of the sea, and it all came down to the last game, all the money
was at stake. The hand was dealt, one man put all his money in the
middle of the table, stood up and threw himself over the edge of the boat!
Of course, his opponent matched his bet, confident that it must be a pretty
awful hand to make the guy do that. They turned the cards over and the
guy actually had a full house!!
To put this into a badminton context, let’s take the three examples given
1. Your opponent always returns a cross-court net shot cross-court.
Remember, your opponent doesn’t know that he is going to do this (step
2). He thinks that you don’t know where he is going to put the shuttle
(step 2 corollary). So if you change your actions (step 1) to looking as
though you think he’s going to do a straight net shot, all the while
knowing it’s going cross-court, when he actually plays the shot you have
nipped across the court before the shuttle has left his racket! You are
controlling the return before he’s even played his shot!
You may be thinking, well that’s all very well but what if he notices this,
and starts playing straight net shots? Well, if you’ve ever played against a
player who always cross-courts a net shot, it takes them quite a while to
adjust and then suddenly start playing them straight!
2. Your opponent always lifts your short serve.
This may seem obvious – ‘how can someone not know they always lift
my short serve’?
But imagine in a doubles match where the serve goes around the four
players, where even on your serve you are only serving one in two to a
particular player, and you are mixing it up between long and short serves.
Every eighth serve in the game could be you serving them a short serve.
How useful would it be to know what one in eight returns is going to be?!
That can be achieved by developing your powers of observation with my
3. Your opponent always goes for a winner when faced with a smash.
This is a nice one to have!
If you have ‘detected’ from your observations that whenever you lift the
shuttle, they go for an out and out winner, you have the steps covered.
You already know what they are thinking – shuttle up, me kill! You know
what they think you are thinking – they don’t care! All their focus is on
killing that shuttle so that you can’t return it, so to them it doesn’t matter
what you are thinking.
Of course, the fact that you are now controlling them by lifting the shuttle
and being totally ready for that smash, safe in the knowledge that they are
not preparing for their smash to be returned means that you are
controlling your own play in such a way to get maximum results.
Obvious question: What if the smash is impossible to get back?
Now obvious answer: No smash is impossible to get back if you know
where it’s going!
The third and final step in this three step process is to observe the game
from what we call in life coaching terms ‘third position’, or to observe it
from an outsider’s point of view.
It is the hardest of the three steps to do during a game, but the most
effective if done right.
The way to do it is to take out of the equation what you are feeling, take
out of the equation what you think your opponent is thinking (and, yes,
take out what you think they think you are thinking – this is getting
complicated!) and view the match from the eyes of an outsider.
And I mean this literally – pretend you are sitting on the side of the court
watching ‘you’ play the game. What do you see? As your favourite
detective, what do you observe? What would you tell the ‘you’ on court
to do to win the match?
For example, it may well be obvious to an outsider that player A is
winning because he is smashing and B is lifting the shuttle more. Or that
each rally is ending with an unforced error. Or that one player only wins
points on their short serve.
This is all vital information that you can use!!
Let’s just take one of those examples; say most rallies are ending with
unforced errors. Just by then changing the focus of your play, based on
this new found observation, from trying desperately to win the point to
making sure that your shots were going in with no thought to winning the
game, you would suddenly paradoxically start winning.
Your opponent would still be making the unforced errors and you would
calmly just be tapping the shuttle in. In all likelihood, your calmness and
effectiveness would probably make them try even harder to win the point
and make even more mistakes. You are playing smarter – proof indeed
that just trying harder alone will not make you a better player.
This particular result may in fact have come about from any one of the
three observation steps:
• You may have observed that you were making a lot of unforced
errors to lose the points, and changed your focus to getting the
• You may have observed that your opponent was making a lot of
unforced errors, so changed your focus to wait until they did them!
• You may have observed looking at it from the ‘outside’ that the
rallies were finishing with unforced errors, and adjusted your game
Not all changes will be as obvious as this one, or capable of being spotted
from each of the three steps, but I hope that this gives you an idea of the
three ‘dimensions’ if you like, of developing your skill of observation.