The shuttlecock is an essential bit of kit, but does it really matter what it’s made of?
By Katie Garner
With most sports, there is a decided and set equipment list that you need to get your hands on before you can even begin to play. The same is true of badminton – you need a racket, a court, some people and a shuttlecock. However, shuttlecocks come in two varieties, ones made with a feather skirt attached to a semi-circular cork end, or ones that have a plastic skirt. Both have their plus points and downsides, but which ones do you actually choose?
When watching badminton on the TV, its feathers you are going to see. The choice of professionals, these bad boys are made up of 16 goose or duck feathers, taken from the left wings only. They are definitely light and exact, as well as being extremely responsive when in play. Using feathers requires certain levels of control and skill from the players, as all too often clears can zoom past tram lines, short serves pop up metres above the net and the punishing replies seem all the more devastating. Once you get a feel for them though, they are rather dreamy to use with a quick-cut clean feel to them as they fly incredibly well through the air, building up serious speed on the attacking shots. Where they fly quicker off the racket, this also causes less shoulder impact on players and can help prevent injury. Not only do feathers make smashes and drives feel almost superhuman, but the delicate drops and net play can also benefit with a light trickling touch that these feathers can provide, replying better to a gentle hand.
Seen as the superior shuttle by most, these elegant shuttles do have their negatives though. They may be fantastic to play with, but their durability causes some serious question marks about whether you want to purchase some. It’s not that they are massively expensive in the scheme of things, but it’s the fact that you have to buy them so frequently, much more often than you would with their plastic counterparts. A killer smash can annihilate a few feathers, ruining the flight of the shuttle, meaning you need a new shuttle. In some professional games, it has been known to go through a tube of shuttle a match, which is definitely not cost effective.
Plastics are considered to be the starting point for all badminton players, often used in recreational games and in schools. Beginners often lean towards plastics for their more forgiving nature – where you don’t need to be as precise to get a good shot in, they allow you to practise and develop your shots, which is a great tool. Although they are naturally going to be a bit heavier, this means you need to whack them that bit harder and definitely you need to steer them more. They have a slower flight speed, but don’t get me wrong – they still deliver. Smashes are still thunderous and drops still elude stretched rackets but they don’t have the same polished finesse of a classic feather.
However, plastics do have plenty of benefits, including the fact that they are widely available in most general sports shops, so you don’t need to dig up specialist sites all the time. They are also incredibly durable and actually last for hundreds of games. This makes them very cost effective, which is great for groups as then you are getting more games for your money. And although this may sound completely daft, they come in different colours (normally white or yellow), and I generally find a yellow shuttle a lot easier to see than a white one – especially at Wychelm, where the hall walls are cream.
It’s what you want
At the end of day, as with anything, it’s what you are used to. If you have never played with feathers, you will say you prefer plastics and vice versa. It’s all about your purpose and what you want to use them for. At Wychelm, we play with plastics, purely because we cannot justify the costs of using feathers, as it would prove too expensive for our members. However, since dabbling with feathers in the matches, you can feel a decided difference between the two and it just depends on what you like the feel of. Using both feathers and plastics in the same evening of games is rather annoying, as you do need to adjust your play slightly to make allowances for how the different shuttles fly, so it is better to be consistent with your choice once you have made it.
If you don’t mind the costs, then by all means experiment with feathers as they are so rewarding to play with. But plastics are practical, and this efficiency is never going to change. It’s all down to personal preference, and in all honesty, I couldn’t even tell you what I like best as I am happy using either shuttles. As long as it means I can play badminton, I don’t mind!
Our survey said…
Causing a bit of controversy at Wychelm, a known plastic-only club, I decided to hit the Facebook page to see what members actually preferred. All of our league matches are played using feathers, since that is what the other clubs use, as we are the only local plastic club; however, all Division One matches have to be played with feathers due to league rules. With our Mixed Team enjoying its first season up in Division One, and one Ladies Pairs in their Division One, we’re a bit of a mixed bag at the moment.
Het: “I think feathers are good as it does improve your game. You tend to have good rallies and I just love how it feels with every shot you play. On the downside, it costs a hell of a lot of money, but I think it’s worth it.”
Nick: “Plastics. Why? Cost. And I definitely do not like mixing plastics and feathers in the same evening as they have very different characteristics.”
Diane: “I find feathers too heavy and I think they sound flat when you hit them, or maybe that’s just me!”
Stuart E: “I prefer the ‘float’ of a feather. When I did my level one certificate ages ago it was the first time I’d played with them. Went home and immediately ordered a tube, always play my mates with them.”
Mike F: “Plastics. You get a constant game with them (with feathers, starts off very fast, slows down, then shuttle chucked to get another new fast one). Better for my racket too – I’ve done the strings twice when playing with feathers!”
In our survey, Wychelm members actually prefer playing with plastic shuttles, but feathers were only just beaten. Looks like we’ll continue to be a bit of a mixed bag!