Choosing a Shuttlecock: Selecting the Most Important Item in Badminton
29th March 2018.While badminton may not be the game that most people think about when they consider sports that have fast-paced action, that's precisely what a professional badminton match includes. Not only do the two players move with serious quickness around the court, but a smashed shuttlecock can reach speeds of almost 500 kilometres per hour! The mixture of gentle, lofting lobs and driving smashes means the pace of a badminton game can turn on a moment's notice. Because it is the central part of the game, good shuttlecocks are a vital element of a successful game. For the amateur or recreational player, though, knowing how to choose the right shuttlecock doesn't always come easily. Not only are there a wide variety of types out there on the market, but they come with all kinds of numerical ratings and different attributes. Some of them can even turn out to be quite expensive. As a result, it?s essential to understand what to look for when shopping for shuttlecocks. The birdie that you buy for a practice session will be very different from the one you take into a match. What are the differences, and what should you know as you shop for these products? We can start by dissecting the anatomy of a shuttlecock, which will help to clear up some of the bigger decisions you'll make later.
What goes into a shuttlecock? Knowing the differences
A good shuttle achieves the right level of speed, arcs in a predictable, standard way, and stands up to several games worth of use before deformation becomes a problem. To achieve this balance traditionally required several highly specific materials, and it was this strange recipe that produced one of the most unique pieces of sporting equipment in history. A typical high-level professional shuttle begins with a heart of cork, a sphere of the same material that stops up your wine bottles. This cork sphere forms the head or the striking surface of the shuttle. To protect the cork and improve aerodynamics, it is typically covered with a very thin skin of leather, stretched tightly. Today, it is more often a hard-plastic covering. Professional shuttles use sixteen goose feathers carefully selected and embedded into the cork. These feathers give the shuttle its characteristic drag and flight features. Outside of the professional circuit, shuttles often feature plastic or other synthetic materials in place of real feathers due to the expense involved. All of this adds up to the action you get when you serve the shuttlecock, but there's more to it than that. Did you know that there are different "speeds" of shuttles? Some fly faster than others, and it all depends on the weather. When choosing a shuttle, this will be one of the most important factors to consider.
Understanding shuttle speed and why it's important
A typical shuttle in optimum conditions should be able to reach a certain distance over the net when lobbed normally; how far a shuttle will travel in these circumstances is what defines its "speed." Due to the highly eccentric nature of a shuttle's flight, local conditions such as temperature and humidity can have a significant effect on how fast the shuttle travels. As a result, some speeds work better in some climates than others. For example, a typical shuttle for general use at sea level is a speed 77; this is what most people will use. As it gets colder outside, lower speeds, such as 75 or 76, become more appropriate. Likewise, the hotter it gets, the more you'll want to tend towards a 78 or a 79. What if you're more of a recreational player? In that case, these numbers are less important, if they matter to your game at all. However, it is still worth your time to try and match the speed to the type of conditions in which you play. Otherwise, you could find it too hard to control the shuttle, or it won't behave in the ways you expect. Ask a fellow player what speed they use to get some useful tips for your area.
Real feathers or a synthetic shuttlecock?
How much can you afford to splurge on your shuttles? That will be a determining factor in whether you opt for a higher quality set or one explicitly designed for reuse and recreation. Real feather shuttlecocks undoubtedly deliver the best performance you'll find; there's a reason it's what the pros use, after all. However, genuine shuttles aren't just very expensive. They also don't last very long in regular use. In fact, a typical shuttle might not even last for the duration of a particularly strenuous match or practice session before it needs replacement. Hard strikes can deform the cork, while contact with the ground or the racquet can damage or even destroy the feathers. Therefore, real feather shuttles are only an option if your budget has the space. A nylon or synthetic shuttle uses plastic "feathers" instead of real ones, while still retaining the cork head, is a good all-around option. Though still on the pricier side, these shuttles will deliver resiliency and good flight for session after session. This type of birdie makes for a good practice shuttle. You can even take them into match play with your practice partner if both of you are familiar with its flight characteristics. Typically, shuttles in this range will act more like their professional counterparts. If you intend to step up your game eventually, this is a good way to practice without spending your entire sporting budget. In the economy range, manufacturers eschew cork for a lightweight foam head instead. Combined with the plastic body, it is a very cheap and durable option that does not often require replacement. For amateurs, beginners, and other casual badminton players, this is the way to go. It won't hurt your wallet if you lose or damage one of these shuttles, and it will function well enough for you to develop good habits. These shuttles are also much easier to strike, and their flight tends to be less unpredictable. However, do note one thing: this will not give you a full idea of real competitive badminton. While a good starting point, you may need to step up to the next level if you want to practice with the goal of competing against other players.
Making your shuttlecocks last for game after game
If you intend to use plastic or nylon-based shuttles, you won't have to do too much to keep them in good shape; simply store them away from high humidity or excessive heat and out of direct sunlight. It will prolong their usable life and maintain their flight true when you practice. When you first get a new package, it's a good idea to let them sit out for a few hours before play; this allows them to lose some of their factory stiffness and become ready for play. With goose feather shuttles, drying is the primary problem you'll face. Over time, the feathers can become brittle, causing irregular flight and ultimately failure. Some players take to steaming their shuttles in a special humidifier every so often to rejuvenate the feathers. Others will lightly dip the tips of the feathers in warm water shortly before play. Either of these methods will work to keep your high-end shuttles in good shape, but their lifespan even in the tube will always remain limited. After purchasing shuttles, try to use them within a month or two to play with them at maximum performance.
Ready to practice your smash technique? Hit the court!
Whether you need to select a high-speed shuttlecock for your particular environment or you're looking for a budget option to practice with repeatedly, it's clear that some thought must go into your purchasing process. Real feather shuttlecocks offer serious performance gains, but at a significantly higher expense. Synthetic options may not always behave as you expect in the air, but they won't have as big an impact on your bank account. Which one is right for you? In the end, it comes down to your style of play, the level at which you compete (if at all), and of course your budget. Consider all the options carefully, and explore the various brands out there on the market. With these tips, you should have no trouble locating the perfect birdie. This article was written exclusively for Sports Fitness, where you can shop for badminton equipment including a range of shuttlecocks and rackets. Follow @SportNessUK