“The best form of defense is offense.” True, but only if your offense is so overwhelming that you won’t have much to be defensive about. Far too many players, as well as some courtside coaches, do not pay enough heed to the art of defense.
Young ones are usually mesmerized by speed and power and are prone to neglecting other aspects of the game in order to display their ability at net rushing and jump smashing.
Realistically, you need to have a balanced, complete and all-court game in order to do well at any level, anywhere. And the ability to defend effectively is a requisite.
Defending is always the last resort… something to fall back on in a situation where you cannot safely make any offensive shot. But if you cannot or will not, it immediately narrows the range of your game.
You will be under your own constant pressure to set up or attack. Unless you only play against weaker opponents or have a relentlessly superb attacking game, it is not possible to always be on the offensive.
You’ve got to be defending sometimes – it’s all part of the sport. If your opponents are faster or stronger, you will have to defend even more. It pays to have defensive skills you can use.
Having a solid defense takes a lot of the pressure off, right from the bat. If you’re not feeling as lively, or if you’re not particularly sharp on any given day… when your smashes are not “skedaddling” off the sidelines, or your drops are not rolling over the tape, you can always rely on your ability to defend with confidence.
Being able to defend consistently puts the onus on your opponent to be accurate. He will have to hit winners to score. Let him sweat over it.
So, how do you become effective at defense?
Initially, you have to realise that unlike offensive shots which are usually hit from a vantage position (for example, shuttle several feet overhead, slightly in front – your racquet foot’s behind, shoulders turned, arm and racquet poised to deliver a smash, quick drop or attacking clear), defensive strokes, more often than not, are hit when you’re out of, or scrambling to get into position.
It’s always harder to make a good shot when you’re not assuming the proper stance. Then, you must be prepared to make returns instinctively – easier said than done. How do you return a shuttle that’s traveling so fast that by the time you see it, it’s already gnawing at your shoelaces?
To add a steady defense to your game:
1. You need to have good hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes. By the time you see the bird (from a powerful smasher), there’s no time to even say “sh…!” In that millisecond, you will have to make a good return – a quick block just over the net, a flat drive along the tramlines or a whip back to the baseline. Mostly, with little or no time to decide, you’re just instinctively reacting to the smash.
2. Early racquet preparation often makes a difference. Just as you’d prepare to make an offensive stroke, the proper basic defensive stance is bent-knees square to the attacker, racquet head out in front, about chest or shoulder height, elbow bent and close to the body.
This position of readiness allows for quick defensive work on both forehand and backhand sides as well as responding to shots aimed at the body.
3. A decent pair of legs will help you move quickly into position. The bent-knee stance makes it easier for you to spring forward and lunge for that deceptive drop and to bounce back on recovery. And in mixed-doubles especially, all those squats and treadmill work you did at the gym will pay off, when you’re being jerked around the court laterally and diagonally.
4. Shots aimed at your body will limit your racquet’s range of motion. You will need to be able to use all the joints in your arm, from fingertips to shoulder, to angle the racquet head to block, push or flick the shuttle back.
Digging out and deeply clearing drops at ankle level requires a strong wrist and steady racquet control. To be able to effectively hit birds that have gone behind you requires upper body strength and advanced racquet skills from both forehand and backhand sides.
5. Even harder to cultivate – the attribute, patience. Basically, you’re waiting for an opportunity to turn the tables. When the moment presents itself, you will execute an offensive stroke. And if the other team is also defensively capable, there will be many such exchanges. Which is what makes a match good.
By all means, attack when the occasion calls for it, but be prepared to fend off the body smashes, dig out the steep drops and whip back the fast attacking clears that have accelerated past you. Let’s face it, if you cannot make those returns, guess who your opponents are going to attack?