Faster than a speeding bullet, it's . . .a badminton birdie? Also called shuttlecocks, these feathered corks can travel at speeds of up to 200 mph; this might explain the record for the shortest match -- 6 minutes. The fastest racquet sport in the world is also the world's second-most popular participation sport, according to BBC Sports. While badminton is more often played as a backyard game in the United States, competitions in Malaysia and Indonesia typically draw crowds of up to 15,000 fans.
Today's game is played by two or four people volleying a shuttlecock over the net using rackets. The Chinese, however, played a version around 500 BC using their feet in place of rackets. By the mid-1800s, British army officers stationed in India enjoyed a version of the game, called "poona," which more closely resembles today's badminton. The soldiers brought it back to England where it quickly achieved popularity with the leisure class.
World Governing Body
The sport's international popularity grew to the point that England's Badminton Association recognized the need for uniform rules, so in 1934 they invited representatives from nine countries to form a governing association which became the Badminton World Federation. The BWF succeeded in standardizing the game -- the International Olympic Committee acknowledges it as badminton's world governing body.
Now that you've got some background, it's time to play. BWF's serving rules for singles (one-on-one) state that the first serve of the game is made from your right court. If you win the point, your next serve is made from the left court. If you lose the point, your opponent makes her first serve from her right court. For the remainder of the game, continue serving from the right court when your score is even and from the left court when your score is odd. The BWF doesn't allow overhand serves -- the shuttlecock needs to stay below your waist during the serve.
After serving, quickly move to the center of your court so that you will be in a good position to receive your opponent's volley. Badminton requires more finesse than strength, so keep your grip relaxed and your wrist flexible. Try sneaking in some hard-to-return shots like the smash and the net shot; snap your wrist in an overhand "smash" to rocket the shuttlecock over the net or gently drop the birdie just inside your opponent's side of the net.
- BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images