Throughout sport, you always see shared trends in athletes who are at the top of the sport. In basketball and volleyball you see a lot of the best players are tall, commonly at least six feet tall. In other sports, it’s more desirable to be shorter and more compact like racing jockeys. So naturally, there must be traits that are desirable for Badminton?
So do you have to be tall to play Badminton? Simply put, no you don’t have to be tall to play Badminton. Anybody can play Badminton. That’s the beauty of the sport, it’s accessible to everyone. It can be an advantage in some scenarios which is a different question.
I’ve played with good players of all kinds. Tall and short, old and young. There isn’t one physical characteristic that makes a great Badminton player. But let’s look closer at how being tall can be an advantage and a disadvantage.
It can be an advantage in many areas of Badminton if you’re taller than the average person. These differ when playing singles, level doubles and mixed doubles. Each of the disciplines can be approached in a variety of ways to take advantage of this.
The body is all in proportion, so the taller you are the longer your arms and legs etc will be. Having longer arms gives you the ability to reach further without having to move.
Taller singles players like Viktor Axelsen (1.94 meters tall) uses his height to great effect in men’s singles. You often when he’s defending that he only needs to take a small step, if any, and stretch out his racquet arm to be able to reach a smash. Same for playing most shots from the defence.
The same applies for overhead shots. Being able to reach up higher he can strike the shuttle at a higher point even without jumping. Adding a jump as well and he can reach the shuttle at around 3 meters! This means he can achieve very steep angles on his attacking shots. Most players are unable to even reach the shuttle most of the time.
Without jumping into a full-on science lesson there is another advantage in Badminton with longer arms. The way we hit the shuttle overhead in badminton is a bit like a trebuchet or a slingshot.
With both of these pieces of weaponry, they rely on the clever use of levers to be able to deliver projectiles. When hitting the shuttle overhead we swing the arm in a similar motion as trebuchet fires the load. Our forearm and upper arm work with the elbow to act as a lever. It’s noted in physics that with longer levers less effort is needed to move a greater load. So having longer arms has a similar effect with proper technique.
Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. - Archimedes
Just see this incredible smash by Mads Kolding of Denmark and you can see how everything builds up, but it’s the last pronation with the forearm that generates the speed of the racquet and hence more force into the shuttle.
Usain Bolt, the legendary sprinter is analysed as an anomaly in sprinting. Taller than what sports scientists would agree to be the “ideal” height of a sprinter he defies the odds. They all acknowledge his talent and hard work but also note his one big advantage. He’s not as fast out of the blocks as most sprinters but being taller gives him a longer stride. Once he gets into a full sprint each stride he takes is that much bigger than his opponents allowing him to cover more ground with fewer strides.
The same advantage applies to badminton but not in terms of speed. Longer legs mean longer strides so when we see Viktor Axelsen and Chen Long play you see they can cover a lot of the court with only a few steps from the centre. Couple this with good timing and reactions and they can cover the whole court with less movement than most players.
Being able to take longer and fewer steps is more efficient than having to take multiple shorter steps. Here’s a great example of Viktor Axelsen showing the ease he covers the court often reaching the shuttle with one lunge!
It’s not all positives, unfortunately. These natural advantages all come with counteracting disadvantages. Not that they can’t be overcome but without training these can often be exploited by seasoned opponents.
The counterpart disadvantage of having a better reach than most is that it makes it more awkward to protect the body area. You see the likes of Lee Chong Wei, Kento Momota and others using the body smash against players like Viktor Axelsen and Chen Long to great effect.
When players use the body smash they tend to aim for the other players’ racquet side hip. Without shifting your defensive stance it can be near impossible to return an accurate body smash like this. You need to shift your body to be able to get your arm out of the way of the racquet to defend that area. Here’s a great compilation video of the body smash being used well.
A basic lesson taught when first beginning Badminton is to get low in your ready position. You can’t be stood upright otherwise your centre of gravity will be too high making it difficult to move and change direction quickly. If you have longer legs you have to squat more to get your centre of gravity low enough to be agile enough to keep pace in a fast rally.
It’s another tactic used against taller players to keep them twisting and changing directions. It takes good leg strength to be able to stay low in your stance for an entire match. Another slight disadvantage is steep smashes become much harder to get back as well. You’ll have to lunge a lot more in order to reach the shot without bending over which can damage your back and posture.
The elite in Badminton come in all shapes and sizes. There is no one body type that suits Badminton best. A lot of it comes down to tactics and how you play. But let’s have a look at the players at the extremes. How tall are the tallest and how short are the shortest?
So the tallest players in world Badminton are:
- Mads Pieler Kolding (2.05 meters)
- Vladimir Ivanov (2.01 meters)
- Viktor Axelsen (1.94 meters)
- Chen Long (1.87 meters)
- Mads Conrad-Petersen (1.86 meters)
The shortest players in world Badminton are:
- Nozomi Okuhara (1.56 meters)
- Akane Yamaguchi (1.56 meters)
- Tai Tzu-Ying (1.63 meters)
- Ashwini Ponnappa (1.65 meters)
- Saina Nehwal (1.65 meters)
As you can see there is a large difference between the tallest and smallest. The biggest difference being 40 centimetres (nearly 16 inches). In each list, we have Olympic, World and All England champions aplenty. So being tall or short is not an overwhelming advantage or disadvantage.
In Matthew Surf’s book Bounce, the author provides a lot of case studies and research that proves that practice overcomes “natural ability”. If you can master a skill or a sport than it won’t matter what natural advantages you or your opponents have.
Going back to the example of Usain Bolt, his height comes with some natural disadvantages. Requiring more power to leave the blocks he overcomes this through rigorous training. He is able to have a start much faster then he would naturally by mitigating this disadvantage through practice. This then allows him to only gain more advantage as the race plays out to his natural strengths.
I believe the Badminton equivalent was the legendary men’s double player Jung Jae-Sung. In men’s doubles, it’s a clear advantage when receiving the serve and playing from the back if you’re taller. You can attack the shuttle on the return of serve very aggressively by reaching the net early. Trying to defend smashes from tall players can be so difficult with the steepness they can hit the shot. Jung Jae-Sung managed to overcome his lack of height with sheer hard work.
We were used to seeing him taking the role as the rear court player when playing with Lee Yong-Dae. Despite his lack of height, he was able to hit incredible smashes with both power and steepness. A powerful athlete he was able to jump so high to hit smashes that it didn’t matter that he measured only 1.68 meters tall. Here’s a quick video of his smash in slow motion.
Does badminton increase height? Scientists do agree that certain exercises combined with good nutrition can stimulate bone growth. Longer bones especially in the legs results in naturally becoming taller. It’s noted that this growth stimulus is most affective in a persons teenage years. After about 20 years of age both male and females growth stops. So you’re unlikely to see anymore growth after that.
How tall is Lin Dan? Lin Dan measures in at 1.78 meters (5.8 feet) average height for a man these days.
Who is the tallest badminton player? Mads Pieler Kolding is the tallest elite Badminton player. Measuring in a 2.05 meters tall (which is just over 6.2 feet) he a giant in the world of Badminton.
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Written by Liam Walsh who lives in Manchester, England. Working as a Software Engineer but moonlighting as a dad, Badminton player/coach and creator of BadmintonsBest.
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