The Beginning of the American Badminton Revolution

Badminton Awareness – Wait, that’s a thing?

Badminton isn’t often a topic featured on ESPN.  It’s rarely, if ever, found in the sports section of the local paper.  Men drinking coffee in diners on Monday mornings aren’t centering their conversations around Friday night’s epic match.  Americans love to gather for Super Bowl Sunday.  There are watch parties for Pay-Per-View Boxing fights.  But why don’t we ever hear about the great time friends had at the badminton watch party last weekend?  

The truth is, this game is under-rated. It has a broad and serious competition side that isn’t widely known in the US.  Even badminton training for beginners rarely goes past high school PE class.   Why is this?  Well, badminton simply doesn’t have the flashy drama.  It doesn’t carry the high price tag of the NFL or NBA. There will never be an NHL style brawl on a badminton court.  That kind of drama is what sells jerseys and TV ratings.  So the big question is, can this be changed?

Creating a Bolder Image

The short answer is, players, coaches, organizations and even amateurs across the country have been attempting for years to raise awareness and credibility for the sport.  These “awareness campaigns” are crucial for growth in the US, and professionals know it.  Unfortunately, there’s a long way to go.  It’s a complicated ‘Catch 22’.

The majority of the United States has a skewed image of the game.  It’s an unpopular sport.  It’s reputation as a “real sport” has been watered down by decades of Labor Day picnics and Fourth of July parties.  Big box store sets have been set up in backyards and on sandy beaches for years.  Cheap rackets are cast aside every winter, where they wait for warm weather barbecues to return them to their rally points.  

Ironically, truly competitive badminton games are always played indoors, where wind is never a factor.  Badminton matches on a high performance level require speed, agility and stamina that the average picnic goer just doesn’t have.  What makes badminton more than just a backyard leisure activity?  It’s a little known fact that badminton is the fastest racket sport in the world. The shuttlecock is the fastest object ever recorded in sports, smashing in at a whopping 306 mph.  That’s almost three times as fast as the fastest pitch ever recorded in Major League Baseball.  Consider some aspects of the sport that the average American knows very little of:

Scholarship Opportunities

Interest in the sport could help high school seniors as they plan for higher education costs.  Purdue University, Yale, Princeton and Boston University are just a few of the many colleges and universities in America that offer access to well ranked clubs and teams.  Scholarship money is up for grabs, and many athletes rely on their sport to help them get it. Badminton scholarships are available in the United States if one knows where to look.  Some American students can take advantage of funds offered from the popular badminton brand Yonex.  They’ve coupled with the California Interscholastic Federation’s North Coast section to offer scholarships to athletes in their member high schools.  Students are likely to find scholar/athlete awards that don’t specify a particular sport, making badminton players eligible as long as they meet GPA requirements.  

One of the most generous American badminton scholarships offered stateside nets it’s recipient $20,000 in award money.  It’s given out by the First Ever Foundation. Any student attending a four year university while pursuing professional or Olympic level badminton is eligible.  There are competition and GPA requirements that winners must meet. 

Playing Badminton Abroad

Although awareness campaigns in the US would likely discourage talent from competing outside of the country, there is scholarship money abroad for badminton players.  Scholarships abroad are actually more predominant.  This is because foreign countries in Europe and Asia command a higher respect for the game.  In those countries, it’s worthy of all the accolades.  Badminton BC, based in British Columbia in Canada offers multiple scholarship opportunities for both male and female badminton players.  Scholarship awards are also available in England if students are willing to travel there. 

Competition In the US

USA Badminton (USAB), has headquarters in Anaheim, California.  It is one of the major governing bodies presiding over many of the national and collegiate badminton tournaments in the US. Their athletes even participate in International tournaments and World Championships.  USAB Certified coaches run clubs and teams in cities throughout the United States.  Most of these clubs are for players of all ages and skill levels.  Winning high level badminton matches can net contenders as much as $15,000.  The sport is more than a beach day time killer.  Just how high does the competition level reach?  The answer is: to the very top.  Team USA touts a badminton team that represents the country at the summer Olympics.  It’s every ambitious athlete’s dream.

Olympic Glory

Badminton was initially a “demonstration sport” in the Olympic schedule.  Promotion of the game was the intention, and though winner’s ‘places’ were recognized, their victories were not formally included in the medal count.  It was officially introduced as a full medal sport in 1992.  As we approach almost 30 years of going for the gold, Team USA has yet to bring home a top spot.  This inability to rank in the highest competition level has a lot to do with the reputation of the game in this country.  Strides can be made to change this outcome in the future if those in the badminton community can garner the public support needed.

Coaches, fans and players all over the country are seeking to raise awareness of the game as a worthwhile sport for young people.  With interest in the game comes increased participation at younger ages.  This can cultivate the size of the talent pool in the US.  Broadening prospective talent allows TEAM USA to be more selective in the future, choosing only those athletes in top form.  

Superior Badminton Coaching

At the youth level, coaching focuses on building blocks and techniques.  Participants need to first learn the five basic shots – clear, drive, drop, smash, net.  They also need to learn the proper serving technique.  A player with a weak serve will never find themselves at the top of their game.  A reputable coach is most often a member of USAB, and is certified through a rigorous program.  This program includes background checks and SafeSport certification.  USAB has a tiered certification program that differentiates between coaches interested in instructing beginners, and coaches interested in instructing high performance athletes, and are only certified when they’ve demonstrated the proper level of skill and knowledge.

USAB certified badminton coaches and trainers lay the groundwork for these young players in clubs and teams across America.  A great coach most likely has a competition background, and can draw from experience when educating individuals.  Badminton gyms – yes there are badminton gyms – offer classes and open gym times for interested individuals all over the United States.  California and New York have a notably dense population of these types of facilities.

Many clubs, like Bintang Badminton in the San Francisco Bay area, offer both group and private lessons for beginners and elite players.  Bintang Badminton has six different locations where badminton enthusiasts learn to play, and train to win.  In an area where a facility is unavailable, beginners can learn badminton rules and skills through hundreds of free badminton videos online.  

The sport is fun for people of all ages, but as players travel through the ranks from youth recreational clubs to intercollegiate competitions, training intensifies.  The workout for an Olympic hopeful is as rigorous and regimented as one would imagine in other sports.  Elite athletes set up multi-faceted badminton drills to practice many skills at once.  Badminton training drills that teach fundamentals and footwork are common.  Skill sets like stamina, speed, and footwork are all important to the game, and need constant improvement.  Staying in top form is an ongoing process.  Weightlifting, agility training and long distance running for endurance are not uncommon. 

Get Involved

The bottom line is, badminton awareness campaigns, like the one started at BadmintonBites are becoming more commonplace.  Badminton training can be fun, and good for the body.  The drawbacks are few.  Getting involved isn’t difficult.  Supporting a local high school team is easy.  Going a step further by gauging community interest and then encouraging a school district to form their own club or team is also fairly simple.

Finding a club nearby is made much easier by Stan Bischof at World Badminton.  He’s constantly updating a comprehensive list of active badminton facilities in the US.  This list has been updated as recently as August of 2020 and includes locations, links and contact information.

Lastly, revolutionizing the badminton image in America won’t happen alone, or overnight.  Sharing content from badminton awareness campaigns like this one can get the word out to people who may otherwise be uninformed.  Badminton training for beginners is everywhere.  Young people who are looking to belong to something bigger than themselves may find refuge in the supportive badminton community.  Catching a few badminton videos online could change a life!

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