Birds of a Feather: Badminton
Fast-paced, action-packed and sociable, badminton converts a longtime tennis player.
After enjoying a few games with the Erin Adult Badminton Club earlier this fall, I headed out and bought a racquet and proper shoes.
What is it about this sport, I wonder, that appeals to me so much? Sure, Erin is close by and it costs only $70 to join the league, which runs from October to May. Badminton is also a racquet sport, so as a longtime tennis player, I ventured onto the badminton court with a degree of skill that was lacking when this column had me, say, playing hockey or trying to trap shoot.
But I think there is more to the attraction, even if I’ll never be a great badminton player. My eyesight isn’t good enough and I don’t have the requisite quickness. I could, however, become accomplished enough to play competitively with most of the 15 recreational players who show up in Erin. I enjoy the pace of the game. Not pace in terms of how fast I need to run, but in terms of how the game moves along. I love tennis, but there’s something clunky about it. Just as a badminton bird or birdie – also called a cock or a shuttlecock – is lighter than a tennis ball, a badminton game (first to 21 points) flies by. I liken the fluidity of badminton to the way euchre is played by experienced players. When a game finishes, we shake hands, pick up a new game with different players and start again. Quick. Easy. Fun.
Sally Holt, a 29-year veteran of Erin’s nearly 50-year-old league, is now its organizer. Like me, Sally also plays tennis and learned badminton in high school. “In badminton you are always on your toes. You have to be lighter on your feet than for tennis,” she says, echoing my observations. “It’s quick. You get a good workout and it’s a fun group,” she adds, emphasizing the importance of the social aspects of the game.
In my research, I learned that while a best-two-of-three-set tennis match takes more than 90 minutes, a best-two-of-three badminton match takes half that time. When playing at a recreational level, really good tennis rallies are rare enough that you can remember them afterward. In badminton there are too many great points to keep track of them. And this results in another thing I like about badminton. It’s a more intense, sweat-inducing workout.
The game’s ability to raise my heart rate relates to the fact that in a 45-minute badminton match, the bird is in the air for about 20 minutes, which is twice as long as a tennis ball during a tennis match. So rather than spend time picking up the balls, you’re doing what’s the most fun: hitting the shuttlecock and running around the court, which is about half the size of a tennis court. In an average 45-minute badminton match, a player covers four miles. It’s half that for tennis.
Something else that adds to badminton’s appeal is that it’s hard to overhit the bird. You can take out all of your day’s aggression on that little piece of plastic and cork. You can smack it almost as hard as you want, and it stays in play. Try that in tennis and, unless you are very skilled, the ball goes out of bounds. Then you not only lose the point, but you also have to go fetch the blasted thing!
Unfortunately, badminton is definitely the poor cousin of tennis on the Olympic and world stage. In the 1930s, Canada boasted a top-ranked male and female player, but there is no present-day Milos Raonic or Bianca Andreescu in badminton. Similarly, there is – so far – no Olympic gold, such as the tennis doubles medal won by Daniel Nestor and Sébastien Lareau at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
Canada’s most successful badminton player is Michelle Li, who was born in Hong Kong in 1991 and immigrated to Canada with her family in 1997. Impressively, Li is currently ranked number 9 in the world and has several gold-medal wins in international tournaments, including the Commonwealth and Pan American games. But compare the prize money available at the U.S. Open badminton championships, the richest in the badminton world, with that offered at the U.S. Open tennis championships. Andreescu alone took home a cool $3.85 million (U.S.) for winning the women’s singles title at this year’s U.S. Open tennis tournament, while the total purse offered at the 2019 U.S. Open badminton championships was $150,000. These figures help explain why badminton is an under-the-radar sport. Most Canadians – more than two million according to The Canadian Encyclopedia – play a backyard variety or recreationally in the local school gym.
Historians assume that badminton developed from the ancient game of battledore and shuttlecock, but they are less certain about the route it followed to transform into today’s game. It’s known, however, that the moniker derives from Badminton House, the Gloucestershire home of the Duke of Beaufort who, presumably, hit a shuttlecock or two.
Along with England, Canada was one of the nine countries that established the International Badminton Federation in 1934. But badminton didn’t become an official Olympic sport until the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. At those Games, all the badminton medals went to Asian countries with the exception of a lone bronze won by a Dane in men’s singles. Asian countries, particularly China, continue to dominate the sport, with Denmark being an unlikely outlier.
I’m not giving up tennis. I love playing, especially when I’m embroiled in a close set with an evenly matched opponent on a warm summer evening. Then, tennis doesn’t feel clunky at all. It feels graceful and elegant and fun. Nonetheless, if you turn up at Erin Public School on a Wednesday night this fall or winter, you’ll likely see me out there, too.
All the badminton clubs listed welcome adult players of all skill levels, and many also offer junior programs. Check websites for details.
Badminton Club of Caledon
Pickup games Mondays & Thursdays 8–10pm
St. Marguerite d’Youville SS, Brampton (Mon)
Robert F. Hall Catholic SS, Caledon East (Thu)
For drop-in times at various Caledon locations, search ‘badminton’ at caledon.ca
Erin Adult Badminton Club
Pickup games Wednesdays 7–9pm
Erin Public School
Orangeville Badminton Club
Pickup games Tuesdays & Thursdays 7–10pm
Orangeville District SS