How To Play Badminton

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What You Need to Know

  1. Badminton is a fun game but you should ensure you know the basic rules behind rally and serving before playing.
  2. How the scoring system works in both singles and doubles.
  3. What'lets' are and the situations that they occur in.
  4. The three situations when the shuttle might be considered not in play. Be aware of them so you can rightfully state a claim or stand down.
  5. It's a good idea to understand the many jobs that an umpire does. A level of respect should be formed as they ensure fair play of the game.

Basics of the Game

Badminton is a racquet sport and is played by two opposing players or pairs, who score points by striking a shuttlecock with a racquet and passing it in the opponent’s court end, over the net.

A coin is tossed to determine who serves first and from which end of the court. There are two scoring formats, the 15 point classic and the 21 point format adopted in 2006 and currently being used in official tournaments. Only the side that serves can score in classic format. In 21 point format, whichever side wins a rally scores a point.

The Court & Equipment

The court’s dimensions are 44ftx22ft (doubles), or 44ftx17ft (singles), the equivalent of 13.4m x6.7m or 13.4m x 5.2m. The court is laid out with 4cm wide white or yellow lines. It should be 17ft wide for singles and 20ft wide for doubles (5.18m). A badminton court should be 22ft (6.7m) long on both sides of the net.

The height of the net used must be 5ft 1in (approx. 1.55m) on the sides and 5f (1.52m) at the centre of the court. The net is made of dark, fine cord with an even thickness throughout and a 15mm to 20mm mesh. It should be at least 760mm tall and at least as wide as the court. The top of the net is edged with a 75mm white cloth. The posts should be 1.55m higher than the surface of the court and remains vertical when the net is strained.

The surface of the badminton court should be either wood or bituminous material. Concrete and carpets are usually avoided.

The shuttlecock, or birdie, is characteristically lightweight, which is why professional badminton is played indoors, so that the trajectory of the shuttlecock is not affected by the wind. The shuttlecock has 14-16 goose or duck feathers extracted only from the left wings and it weighs 4.74 to 5.5 grams. The racquets used weigh less than 100grams. The frame of a racquet consists of a head with a stringed area, a throat, a shaft and a handle. It can be made of steel, carbon fibre, aluminium, boron, ceramic or a combination of these materials. It does not exceed 68cm in length and 23cm in width.

For more information on where to obtain Badminton Equipment visit our shopping channel.


A match is considered to be the best of three games. Games start at 0-0, traditionally known as ‘love-all’. There are two game formats. For the classic scoring format, a team needs to score either 15 points in doubles or men’s singles, or 11 in women’s singles. The newly adopted Rally Point scoring system, used in major tournaments, requires 21 points to win the match.

If a serve is a point scored, it is added to the side that wins the rally. If the receiving side wins a rally, the score stays the same and the service passes to the next player, either the opponent in singles, or the partner in doubles. If both team members have just had their turn at serving in a doubles game, the opponent is next. With every new game, the first serve is performed by the side that won last.

A 2 point lead is a win if the score is 20 all. If the score is 29 all, the first side to score the next point wins. With each new 11 points either side, for women’s singles events, 15 for mens singles or doubles, and 21 for tournaments, players have a 60 second interval. In between games, a 2 minute interval is allowed. When the leading score reaches 6/8/11 points in 11/15/21 point games in the third game, players change ends.

With singles matches, when the score is even or the game begins, the side on the right service court will serve. When the server’s score is off, the left service court side serves. The server who wins a rally serves again from the opposite service court and scores a point.

With doubles matches, each side only has one service, which passes consecutively from player to player. Partners may take any position within their courts, provided the server and receiver stand in diagonally opposite service courts and always on the right hand side at the start of the game. Otherwise, the service is the same as for singles matches. Whichever of the players on the winning side may serve first in the next game and either player on the losing side may receive first. Additionally, in 21 point format events, you can score a point whichever side serves, because there are no ‘service over’ calls.

In classic scoring format, 15 points win a game in men’s singles and doubles. If the score is 14-14, the first side to reach 14 can chose to either play to 15, or raise the game to 17 points. For women’s classic singles events, they have to reach 11 points and if there’s a tie-in at 10 points, they have the option to set the game to 13 points.



A rally is won if the shuttle goes over the net and lands on the floor of the opponent’s court. It's lost if the shuttle hits the net, touches any clothing or body part, is hit before it crosses over the net or if it lands outside the opponent’s court. Shuttles on the line are classed as ‘in’.


In terms of service, the rules enforce underhand delivery of the serve and the receiver is required to stand still until the ball is served. Players change ends after each game.

General rules:

  1. A coin toss starts the game and decides which side serves and from which end.
  2. Players are not allowed to touch the net with their bodies or equipment.
  3. The shuttlecock is not allowed to rest or be carried on the racquet.
  4. Players do not reach over the net.
  5. Only diagonal serves are valid.
  6. The shuttlecock should be served from below the waist. Players are not allowed to touch the lines of the court during a serve.
  7. Points are added for a rally win in 21 point format and to whoever served in classic 15 point format.
  8. A rally is won when the shuttlecock touches the opponent’s end of the court or when he commits faults. Examples of fault are when the shuttlecock doesn’t go over the net or when it lands outside the court’s boundaries.
  9. The shuttlecock can only be struck once before passing over the net.
  10. Hitting the ceiling with a shuttlecock counts as a fault.


Service court errors

When a player serves out of turn or serves and receives from the wrong service, a service court error is called.

If the error was discovered only after the next service delivery, the error is disregarded. However, if the error is sighted before delivery of the next service, the following rules will be applied:

  • If the error lies with both sides, a ‘let’ is called. The rally is replayed and the error corrected.
  • If one side only committed the error and won the rally, a ‘let’ is called. The rally is replayed and the error corrected.
  • If one side committed the error and lost the rally, the error is disregarded. The game proceeds without changing service courts.


The following situations are considered faults:

  • When the shuttlecock lands outside court boundaries, passes through or under the court net or otherwise fails to pass above the net, hits the ceiling or side walls, touches objects, people, dress or equipment.
  • When the initial point of contact with a shuttlecock is not on the side of the striker.
  • When a player touches the net with his racquet, dress or body or invades the opponent’s court.
  • When a player distracts the opponent by shouting or gesturing.
  • When the shuttlecock is caught or held on the racket and slung in a stroke.
  • When the shuttlecock is hit twice consecutively by the same player.
  • When the shuttle is hit by a player and successively by his partner.
  • When the shuttle touches the player’s racquet and then continues toward the back of his court.
  • When the shuttlecock remains suspended on top of the net or is caught in the net after passing over it during a serve.
  • When the player persistently undermines the Law of Continuous Play, or rules of Misconduct and Penalties.


A ‘let’ is called by the umpire or, in his absence, by a player, in order to stop the game. It is given for unforeseen events or accidents.

The following situations are considered ‘lets’:

  • When the shuttlecock is caught on top of the net or within it after having passed above it in a serve.
  • When both receiver and server are faulted simultaneously during a service.
  • When the server serves before the receiver is deemed ready.
  • When the shuttlecock’s base separates from the rest of the body, rendering the shuttle unusable.
  • When the umpire is unable to make a decision concerning a line judge.
  • When a service court error occurs yet the Law of Service Court Errors is inapplicable, a ‘let’ is called and the last server will serve again.

Shuttle not in play

Three situations are characteristic of a shuttlecock that is not in play:

  1. When it strikes the net and remains there or suspended on top of it.
  2. When it strikes the net or post and falls towards the surface of the striker’s side of the court.
  3. When it hits the surface of the court during a strike, or a ‘let’ or ‘fault’ occurs.


Continuous play

From the first service and until the end of the match, the play is continuous with the exception of no more than 90 second intervals between the first and the second games and 5 minutes between the second and third.


The umpire is in charge of the match, the court and its surroundings. He or she reports to the referee, who is in charge of the entire tournament. The service judge calls service faults. A line judge checks that the shuttlecocks land in or out of the court lines.

Additionally, umpires are in charge of:

  • Deciding on appeals made before the next service.
  • Making sure the spectators and players are kept up to date with the match’s progress.
  • Appointing or removing line or service judges after consulting with the referee.
  • Making sure that duties are carried out on behalf of court officials who have not been appointed yet.
  • Carrying out an official’s duties or calling a ‘let’ if he is unsighted.
  • Reporting continuous play, misconduct and penalties issues to the referee.


  • The official speed record of 332km/h (206mph) was set by Fu Haifeng in 2005, making badminton the fastest racquet sport.
  • The sport premiered as an Olympic sport at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.
  • Its name comes from the county seat of the Duke of Beaufort in Gloucestershire. It had previously been called 'Shuttlecock', and 'Poona'. When it was played at a party at the Badminton House by British officers, it attracted the attention of the elite.
  • To make a shuttlecock, 4 geese must each provide 4 feathers. Shuttlecocks have aerodynamic properties and high drag and they fly faster at high temperatures and altitudes.
  • This second most popular sport in the world is only surpassed by soccer.
  • The world’s shortest badminton match lasted only 6 minutes.

Further Reading:

You can find additional information on service court changes in doubles on Badminton World Federation Website.

A comprehensive list of guidelines is available on the World Badminton Rules page.

A simplified version of the rules is available on the website.


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