The Rise of the Shuttlecock

The Speed, the Smugglers, and the Sweat of Badminton, the Sport That's Tougher Than Tennis


I was recruited by my high school gym teacher to be the token white guy on the new varsity badminton team in Long Beach, CA in the mid-80's. The school district wanted to create varsity sports that would encourage the newly-immigrated Asian students (mostly Cambodian, at the time) to play. Played on and off while living in Asia and while I lived in Boston (there is a significant old-money, WASPy serious badminton presence on the East Coast). I freaking love to play - it can be fast as hell and then slow down to little taps at the net. I think of it as the way you would play tennis in your dreams, since a badminton racket is infinitely more easy to wield due to its size and weight. Looks like I'll have to head on over to a community center and get back into it - when I first moved to Seattle the scene was pretty non-existent.
Endurance and intensity are only two aspects of a sport. It is convenient that this article ignores the rest, since that wouldn't support the bullshit argument that a large margin of error game like badminton was harder than a low margin or error game like tennis. Tennis is harder. This is probably why the athlete cited in this article could only be a national champion in tennis while still being able to be an Olympic champion in badminton. The reverse is not nearly as easy.
@2 - Bullshit comparison. Saying one sport is "harder" than another is a fools errand. The ESPN article ranks hockey (2) higher than cycling (20). Hockey requires a combination of more different skills, but I would say a professional game is not "harder" than cycling a Tour de France stage up a pass in the alps (PEDs or no). Cycling requires outrageously more cardio work than hockey, but little hand-eye coordination, agility, etc. Badminton requires different skills than tennis (more quickness and agility). Elite level athletes are where they are due to natural abilities tailored to the sport they play in combination with shit tons of training - switching a sport is not easy for anyone (see: Jordan, Michael).
@2, not sure what you mean by large margin of error, but I will say this; with the exception of lobs, tennis is played in two dimensions. Badminton is almost all played in three, that to me is the big difference between the two.
Sounds fun. If one were new to the sport where would one go in Seattle to play?
Aw, badminton. When I was in high school, the non-athletic gym wussies tried to have it recognized as an alternative team sport during class because we knew none of the jocks would take it seriously and select it.

It didn't work, but we wound up cutting gym and playing it in an empty hallway in the basement, anyway.

It was actually really fucking hard and frustrating to keep the stupid birdie in the air, and we probably would've had way more fun just playing tennis.
@4, that makes no sense, unless you are comparing badminton to atari pong. Tennis is absolutely played in 3 dimensions. WTF? Digging from your feet, overheads, left, right, pulled off the court, deep shots and drop shots, etc.
It is hilarious seeing all these comments from people that don't know shit about tennis or sports in general. Two-dimensional tennis! Please!

In any case, it is foolish to think that one sport can only succeed at the expense of another. Not much ties these two sports together beyond the fact that both are played with a racket. So I think the "tennis sucks" angle to this story is pretty lame.

It seems the article is really straining to put tennis down too. For instance why pick as an example the 1985 Wimbleton match? Played on grass (short points), 25 years ago, when tennis was all about serve and volley.

This article, shorter:
Badminton isn't as goofy as it seems. Come on out and try it and be mocked by surly regulars. And guys, it's totally better than tennis. Because, well, because.
I fucking love badminton. Played on my high school team in Southern California for a bit -- poorly, cuz I'm a big slow guy. But it was a lot of fun. I loved the intensity and speed. The rush of an amazing save. Or smashing the shit out of a birdy directly at your opponent's head in the hope their flinch reflex would mess them up and give you the winning point. Great memories!
@7, of course I didn't mean that literally, I know there are drop shots in tennis. But tennis is mostly about getting your opponent out of position and driving the ball past them. A drop in badminton goes STRAIGHT DOWN, and it a huge part of the game. Not insulting tennis, just pointing out shot selection is a much bigger part of the game.
Wicked article on a misunderstood sports subject, Brendan, certainly most important!

Perhaps one day you'll do a much needed article on Extreme Croquet? I bet it will be another "wicket" article, dude!…
A very good and serious article about badminton. Thank you, Brendan. I have tried to get people to understand it for years. Pretty much to no avail. My experience was very much like this article. Introduced to it at 29. Played in local gyms with the small, but dedicated number of Washington players. Started entering tournaments, traveling to Canada, etc. We talked about trying to start a dedicated badminton facility for years. It finally happened with the opening of The Bellevue Badminton Club. Which kind of became my undoing, because I began playing up to five times a week--and against far better (and younger) competition. I blew my shoulder out, and have not played for a few years now. I miss it very much. I can say without doubt, when I played, I was in far better shape then I am now. And as far as any tennis vs. badminton debate... it just doesn't matter.
Great article. If you're looking to check out the game you can easily drop in on either the Bellevue Club (which is in Factoria) or the Seattle Club (which is in Kirkland) :)

There's all standards of players, from total beginners to experienced folks with years of play behind them, so you should be able to find a good game. And both clubs offer lessons if you'd like to learn to get better. But 99% of people are just playing for the fun of it - come and join in.

I agree the whole tennis vs badminton thing is silly. They're both great sports and both very similar in style - if you like one you'll probably enjoy the other. Badminton players can get a bit defensive because in the US people think they know what badminton is because they used to play in the back garden. Nope - that's really not the same game as the Olympic sport :)

Badminton's biggest plus in Seattle is that the courts are all indoors, so you can play year round.
@14, thanks for the info.

Another very fun, very aerobic racquet sport is pickleball, which can be played on a tennis short-court or even on a street or a driveway.

Write Seattle Parks & Rec about weekend/weeknight badminton or pickleball leaugues! Do it!

P.S. I grew up playing tennis, love it, watch it whenever it's on, but the knees are saying no.
cross country is better than downhill!

bodysurfing is better than surfboarding!

football is better than soccer!

straight, gay!

curry v. cinnamon!

beaches are better than mountains!

the French -- not as great as the Italians!

boston. new York!

Colombia. Venezuela!

Jefferson. Madison!
dang. we had about 10 professionals at the bellevue badminton club for a demo two weeks ago between the US and Canadian Opens. would have been fun for the article.
next time!
heard this?…
I love tennis, raquetball, squash and badminton. As far as the game that makes me gasp and pant and wheeze the most, that would be badminton.
Regarding the speed of the shuttlecock versus the speed of a tennis ball, the author has neglected the fact that a tennis ball has 10x the mass (50 grams vs 5 grams). A tennis ball going half as fast still has 2.5x more energy.

Not to take anything away from the badminton players but the tennis players are doing more "work"
I play both tennis and badminton and can say that badminton is a bit aerobically challenging and uses some muscle groups that are used less than in tennis. The skills I developed playing badminton are more useful for tennis than vice versa.

A few places to play badminton in Seattle: Jefferson Community Center on Tuesdays (crowded) and Fridays (not all seasons), Mercer Island north gym (Fridays, busy), Seatac community center, Mondays (also Wednesdays in summer, great facility), Van Asselt (Thursdays).
the article lacks numbers on how many play each sport. rising from a miniscule market share produces very dramatic percentage increases though the overall rate of badminton participation is probably lower than the rate of people cycling to work.

got data? tennis is million. badminton, not.
Infuriated that my parents didn't name me Boris Poon.
Oh, well, now. Let's compare the number of steps tennis players and badminton players have to make. Or the mass that tennis players and badminton players have to shift.

Badminton is a great game with an under appreciated level of intensity and athleticism, as the article makes clear. But comparisons between sports are seldom very useful.
This is in response to "delirian's" comment that I could only be a National Champion in tennis while being an Olympic Champion in badminton. I am NOT JUST a Nat'l winner in tennis. I was chosen to be on a 4 member women's tennis team to play for the US in the World Championships in Croatia last September, all expenses paid. Our team came in 2nd. The 2nd week was the Individual World Championships. My ladies doubles partner and I won the Bronze, my mixed doubles partner and I WON the WORLD Mixed Doubles Championship title. i am by no means running down tennis. I LOVE TENNIS. I'm often asked which of my 3 sports I like best, and I can only reply that I love them all equally. But I DO get a better workout playing 1 hour of badminton than I do in 2 hours of tennis. As Brendon mentioned, I just finished playing in the National Sr Olympics, and I won 2 Golds in tennis, and 3 Golds in pickleball. I couldn't compete in badminton, as it was held the same time as tennis, and I chose tennis because there's more competition in my age division in tennis. Pickleball is another great sport. It's the fastest growing sport in the country right now, and lots of my badminton and tennis friends are migrating to it because it's easier on the knees than tennis,because you don't have to cover as much ground, and it's easier on the shoulders than badminton. And it's FUN. Thanks for a GREAT article Brendan!
@#22 The mass of the power and the mass of the object itself is different. Although a badminton shuttlecock is lighter than a tennis ball, it doesn't mean you send less power to hit the shot.
I played Badminton competitively growing up in Berlin, would love to play again. Anyone know of a place near Ballard to play Badminton?