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Why Do We Ask the Impossible From Women Partners at Badminton Mixed Doubles?
At club, league, county and international level, a large proportion of competition is mixed doubles. It’s become a club favorite, and it’s probably the only sport at the Olympic Games where both men and women play together.
When I watch mixed doubles in clubs and leagues, it still amazes me that some men can’t really understand the important role women play in this partnership.
For some men, even the word partnership is foreign. They consider mixed doubles a variation of singles where women also stand on the court. How poor is that? If only they could see and understand the art of mixed doubles compared to regular doubles. This is a real thinking man’s game, highly strategic, where shuttle placement is paramount.
Compared to horizontal doubles, the technique of mixed doubles revolves around moving formations and finding the midpoint between opposing pairs to create open spaces. I dare say it has more touch, more technique and more variety than horizontal doubles. However, it can still be a fast and powerful game.
So why do most badminton players in clubs and leagues, having all these attributes, fail to understand the game well enough to excel?
Undoubtedly, in some cases the ego gets in the way. It’s almost lower than some men even consider taking part. It’s like they’re going to lose some of their masculinity by playing mixed doubles. These guys like to hit the ball hard from the back and are often completely powerless at the net. In fact, you might find that their thinking for men’s doubles revolves around a “your side, my side” strategy followed by an “I’ll back off” strategy. They haven’t even thought about placing the shuttle to earn a point.
There are also players who want to play good mixed doubles but haven’t really understood what it’s all about. They have some good shots in their repertoire, but they don’t know how to use them, and they certainly don’t know how to get the best out of their partners.
Ego aside, let me suggest that where are the real pitfalls in the men’s game where we present the impossible to our female partners?
1) They don’t understand what it’s like to play on the net. Especially the speed of the ball on and off the net. Because of this, they don’t understand the skills involved and what makes a good game or vice versa.
2) Worst of all, they have a ridiculous ideal that the lady’s position is in front of the tee line for doubles, just to make the interception job 10 times harder! Ultra-quick interceptions are a combination of being in the right position, reading the game and sometimes pure fluke. That’s not to take away the skill involved here, I’m talking a very fast shuttle with little or no time to react.
3) The number of times a man sends a short drop and expects their partner to stay in front of the net and get the ball back when the opponent uses his strongest spike. Come on, smell the roses, your partner is not a superwoman! You’re asking them to block half-court spikes that you might not be able to return, stand on the field, let alone intercept at the net. What happens when a man bangs straight through a woman? You probably know the answer to this one… the really kind man of us thinks that if not telling his partner to keep her racket in front of the net. Does this sound familiar?
4) Since the man doesn’t understand nets, the only time he plays near the net is when he’s throwing himself at the opposing woman. Beyond that, he’s trying to beat his opponent.
5) Usually, but not all the time, this guy is slow on the court, has little backhand to speak of, and can be so smug that he’s running out of buddies in the club.
How do we go about solving this problem? (Simple guide for women/clubs)
Changing our egotistical or ignorant friend can be too far a bridge, at least if you take him head on! A more subtle approach may work better.
1) Ladies, don’t listen to men make you stand at the tee line in doubles. Instead, take a step back and start serving from 30 cm behind the service line for doubles. As long as you can move forward and get to the net early, then you’ll be fine. You’ll find that you intercept more shuttles because you have time to see them – not so simple!
2) Ask someone in the club to help you defend better as if you were playing doubles. Mastering block returns, this is the best way to mix and get you back to your strongest formation. At least it will show that one of you is thinking in court.
3) Develop a really good low serve. This is crucial to winning. A good low serve will force your opponent to lift the ball. Keeping the offense going will reduce many of the problems in the mix that often stem from the defensive position.
4) Move back hard to return flicks/high serves. Make sure you hit the ball down and return to the net quickly. Develop a nice simple straight line down quickly past the lady and onto the man. This gives you time to move and makes your opponent hesitate (sometimes they all leave it or both go to the same shuttle).
5) Don’t be a wallflower. If you don’t say anything, you are not helping the partnership. If you are positive, you are more likely to get a positive response from your partner. Tell him what you’re going to do so he knows what to expect.
6) Invite some of the better players your partner might respect to “chat” mixed doubles. If there are coaches nearby, get them involved. When your partner is with you, ask what went wrong or how you can improve. They may not like a real response, but at least the message is getting across.
In the lower leagues and clubs, the overall skill level of both men and women may not be as high as in the First Division, but you can still have a really good game. Reducing simple mistakes is an area where everyone can drastically improve, especially serving and catching.
After that, understanding the roles in doubles and mixed doubles is crucial to winning. There’s no reason to expect anyone to be Superman to return the space shuttle; we just have to apply a great deal of realism. After all, under normal circumstances, it is not the player’s fault that the return ball is not scored, it is more that the player did not create the situation in the first place!
A friend recently told me a sentence that sums up what we should be aiming for in mixed doubles – “Men win the game, women win a point”. The meaning is very simple – a man should use his ball-handling skills to set a “lore” for his female partner in front of the net. So the trick here is to know how to outsmart your opponent and create chances to finish the score.
Mixed doubles in particular seem to be more of a partner-influenced concern than horizontal doubles. Personality aside, I think the main reason is that men demand too much from their partners and fail to create situations where women can shine in their game. Some men seem to feel the need to bully their partners and wonder why they can’t win or stay in a relationship long-term.
When you spell it out that way, it’s easy to see, not so easy to fix. The club should not tolerate such behavior from anyone and has the right to set an example to such people. Other than that, the basic requirement here is education. Ignorance may not be a good defense, but unless we educate those in our clubs and leagues about their roles, skills and why they are being misinformed, nobody wins! Women also need education so they can maintain the strongest formations.
I hope my suggestions help change what may have been a nasty situation. As always, I welcome comments and unless they are full of stupid profanity, they will be posted on my blog.
By writing this article, I do not intend to cover every potential aspect of the topic that I could otherwise write a book on. This post aims to provoke some degree of doubt and try to draw some conclusions on how to solve this age-old problem. I know that when I coach and ask questions about mixed doubles, women love and respect my opinion, while some men keep silent! I’ll take a break.
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