What's in a Shuttlecock?

Badminton is a sport that is usually played by two players (singles) or two teams of two players (doubles). It is a racquet sport in which a shuttlecock is hit over a net. If the player or the team does not manage to hit the shuttlecock before it falls, the other player or team gets a point and they get to serve. Twenty one points mean victory.

A carefully picked out shuttlecock is a necessity in the sport of badminton. The shuttlecock is described as a conically shaped projectile, which is hit back and forth by players during the game. It has overlapping feathers and a cork base, but its conical shape makes it aerodynamically steady.

As badminton was popularized during the Victorian Age, the term 'shuttlecock' came into existence in that period. This term, today, is frequently reduced to 'shuttle'. It is presumed that the "shuttle" portion of the name was taken due to the back-and-forth movement that goes on in the game, and the "cock" portion was adopted because of the feathers that resemble those of a cockerel. It is also called a "birdie" or a "bird".

Shuttlecocks are differentiated due to the materials used in their making. There are two main types of shuttlecocks: feather and synthetic shuttlecocks. Feather shuttlecocks are made from 16 overlapping feathers (goose or duck), which are inserted into a circular cork base, while the cork is covered with a thin peace of leather.

While making a shuttlecock, it is advised to use feathers from only one wing (left or right), because the feathers of left and right wings are shaped differently and might affect flight. Synthetic shuttlecocks are made of plastic or nylon and are often referred as to "plastics".

Feather Shuttlecocks

The first thing that needs to be said about feathered shuttlecocks is that they are mostly used by professional badminton players or amateurs that are serious about the sport. Every professional badminton tournament or league is played with feather shuttlecocks.

The advantages that the feather shuttlecocks offer are that they provide a more secure flight at a higher speed, which explains why the professionals love them. In play, they are lighter and extremely responsive. Although, the disadvantages are the lack of durability and the cost of the shuttlecock. Feathers are more fragile, and often become brittle.

Usually, a feather shuttlecock endures one game, or even less. The feathers also need to be humidified four hours prior to game in order to perform well. If one feather is damaged during the game, the flight of the shuttlecock is compromised, so before each game shuttlecocks are tested in order to see if they achieve the proper speed and distance that they need to cover. Nevertheless the higher quality of the feather shuttlecocks are undeniable when compared to the synthetic ones.

Synthetic Shuttlecocks

Plastic or nylon shuttlecocks are mostly chosen by beginners or recreational players. Inexperienced players often decide to purchase plastic shuttlecocks and progress to the feathered alternative later as their level of skill increases.

Durability is the greatest advantage of the plastic shuttlecock. If maintained properly, it can endure up to 100 games or more. Also, no humidification is needed in the case of synthetic shuttlecocks. Unlike the feather shuttlecocks, their plastic counterparts come in different colors (white and yellow).

The disadvantages in their case are less speed and a less consistent flight. This is why they are mostly used by recreational players and beginners. They are perfect when it comes to learning the basics of the sport because they allow you to develop your skills and movement without fear of damaging the shuttlecock. Plastics are usually a bit heavier than the feathered ones and need to be hit harder and steered more. They are not as fine-cut as the feather shuttlecocks, but highly suitable for beginners.

The opinions of which is the better shuttlecock vary, but the best way to pick a type of shuttlecock, is to define your purpose clearly. Beginners and recreational players are likely to opt for the synthetic shuttlecocks, but badminton lovers and seekers of quality should opt for the feather shuttlecocks because the fine and consistent flight of the feather cannot be compared to the plastic, heavier counterpart.

The experience of playing with feather shuttlecocks is much more rewarding, as stated by professionals. Also, feather shuttlecocks fly faster off the racquet, and therefore cause less injuries and impact. The choice is simple: if you seek quantity, the plastics will serve you just fine, but if you seek quality, feathers are the clear choice.

Back to the guide list