A high percentage of games played at club, league, county and international level are mixed doubles. It’s become a favourite in clubs and it’s probably the only sport at Olympic level where men and women complete together.
What still amazes me when I watch mixed doubles in club and league is the inability of some men to truly appreciate the vital role that women play in this partnership.
For some men, even the word partnership is alien. They think of mixed doubles as a variation of singles with a woman also stood on court. How poor is that? If they only could see and understand the art of mixed doubles compared to level doubles. It’s a real thinking persons game, highly strategic where shuttle placement is paramount.
2012 OlympicsThe skill in mixed doubles compared to level doubles revolves around moving formations and finding the mid-point between the opposing pair to create an opening. It’s got more touch, more finesse and more variety dare I say than level doubles. But, it can still be a fast and powerful game.
So why is it that, with all of these attributes, the majority of club and league badminton players fail to understand the game well enough to excel?
The Ego Has Landed
Without doubt, in some cases ego has got in the way. It’s almost below some men to even consider taking part. It’s as though they’ll lose some macho by playing mixed doubles. These are the guys who like to hit the shuttle hard from the rear court and are usually totally clueless at the net. In fact, you’ll probably find that their idea of men’s doubles revolves around a “your side, my side” strategy soon followed by “and I’ll take the back” tactic. The thought of placing the shuttle to win a point hasn’t even entered their head.
Then there’s the player who would like to play good mixed doubles but hasn’t really understood what it’s all about. They’ve got a few 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 from their partner.
Ego’s aside, where are the real pitfalls in the men’s game that leads me to suggest we’re asking the impossible from our lady partners?
1) They have no appreciation of what it’s like to play at the net. In particular, the speed of the shuttle on and around the net. Because of this, they don’t understand the skills involved and what is considered quality play or the opposite.
2) Worst of all, they have this ridiculous ideal that the lady’s place is in front of the doubles service line, just to make the job of intercepting 10 times harder! A super-fast interception is a combination of being in the right place, reading the game and sometimes pure fluke. That’s not to take away the skills involved here, I’m talking about a really fast shuttle with little or no time to react.
3) The number of times the man gives away a short lift and expects their partner to stay at the net and get it back when the opposing man gives it his mightiest smash. Come on, smell the roses, YOUR PARTNER IS NOT SUPERWOMAN! You’re asking them to get in the way of a smash from half court that you probably can’t return stood back in court, never mind intercept at the net. And what happens when the man smashes straight through the woman? You probably know this answer…our really kind man thinks, if not tells his partner to keep her racquet up at the net. Does this sound familiar?
4) Because the man doesn’t understand the net, the only time he plays near it is when he’s smashing at the opposing woman. Other than that, he’s trying to outplay the opposing man.
5) Usually, but not all the time, this man is slow around court, has little or no backhand to speak of, and he’s probably so full of himself he’s slowly running out of partners in the club.
How Do We Begin To Fix This Problem? (a simple guide for women/clubs)
Changing our egotistical or uninformed friend may be one bridge too far, at least if you tackle him head-on! A more subtle approach may work better.
1) Ladies, don’t listen to men who ask you to stand in front of the doubles service line. Instead, take a step back and work from a base that is say 30cm behind the doubles service line. As long as you can move forward and take the shuttle early at the net, then you’ve no problems. You’ll find you intercept more shuttles because you have the time to see them – isn’t that simple!
2) Ask someone in the club to help you to defend better, as though you were playing level doubles. Master a block return which is the best approach in mixed to get you back into your strongest formation. At least it’ll show that one of you is thinking on court.
3) Develop a really good low serve. It’s vital to winning. A good low serve will force your opponents to lift the shuttle. Keeping the attack will cut out many of the problems in mixed which usually stem from a defensive position.
4) Work on moving backwards to return a flick/high serve. Make sure you hit the shuttle downwards and quickly return to the net. Develop a nice easy straight fast drop which travels past the lady and in front of the man. This gives you time to move and makes your opponents hesitate (sometimes both leaving it or both going for the same shuttle).
5) Don’t be a wallflower. If you say nothing you’re not helping the partnership. If you’re positive you’re 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) Ask some of the better players who your partner may respect to have a “chat” about mixed doubles. If there’s a coach around, get them involved. Ask questions when your partner is with you about what went wrong or how to improve. They may not like a truthful response but at least the message is delivered.
In lower leagues and clubs overall skill levels in both men and women may not be as high as first division, but you can still have extremely exciting games and matches. Cutting out simple mistakes is one area that everyone can massively improve on, in particular serving and receipt of serve.
After that, understanding roles in doubles and mixed doubles are vital to winning. There is no reason why anyone should be expected to be super-human to return the shuttle; we just need to apply a huge dose of realism. After all, usually, it’s not the fault of the player for failing to return a shot, but moreso the failing of the player for creating the situation in the first place!
Mixed doubles in particular seems to get more attention for partnership fallouts than level doubles. The main reason, I believe, personalities aside, is that the man is asking way too much of their partner and is failing to create the situations where the lady is shining in the game. Some men seem to feel the need to virtually bully their partner and wonder why they don’t win or stay a partnership for long.
When you spell it out this way, it’s simple to see, not as simple to fix. Clubs should not tolerate this behaviour from anyone and it’s up to the powers at be to make examples of these people. Aside from that, the basic requirement here is education. Ignorance may not be a good defence but unless we educate men in clubs and leagues to understand the roles, skills and reasons why they are so misguided, then nobody is going to win! Women also need educating too so they try to maintain the strongest formation.
I hope my suggestions help in changing a potentially nasty situation from arising. As always, I welcome comments and unless they are full of mindless profanity, they will be published on my blog.
By writing this article, I’ve not set out to cover every potential aspect of this topic otherwise I could have written a book. This article is meant to provoke to a degree, question and try to draw some conclusions as to what can be done to solve this age-old problem. I know when I’ve been badminton coaching and asked questions about mixed doubles, the women like and respect my views, some men remain quiet! I rest my case.