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  • Aarush Jain

Plastic or Feather Shuttlecocks?

By Aarush Jain

Badminton is a racket sport similar to tennis and ping pong. Players need a net, a badminton racket, and a shuttlecock. The objective of badminton is to hit the shuttlecock over the net in such a way that the opponent can’t send it back over the net. Additionally, if you hit the shuttlecock behind the back or side line, the opponent will get the point. 

Players can win games, by achieving high clears, drop shots, and smashes. 

  • High clears are achieved by hitting the shuttlecock high and deep in the backcourt, ideally towards the backline. 

  • Drop shots are achieved when a player hits the shuttlecock lightly, so that it falls just over the front of the net and onto the front of the court. 

  • Smash can be achieved when the player hits the shuttlecock towards a downward trajectory with great speed and power, making it difficult for the opponent to return the shot.

The Shuttlecock

When playing badminton you can either use a plastic or feather shuttlecock. But which one is better? Plastic shuttlecocks are made out of synthetic material such as nylon, while feather shuttlecocks are made out of 16 different goose feathers and are attached to a cork. 

Feather shuttlecocks

Feather shuttlecocks travel forward towards a downwards trajectory, just like a parachute. It flies with a high initial speed and then experiences deceleration at the end of its flight path. The feather material of the shuttlecock is flexible and light, which allows it to have better accuracy and precision in the air. Hence, players can hit high clears without worrying about the shuttlecock going past the back line. It is also good for drop shots, as it will drop off steeply at the end of its flight. Therefore, professional players mostly use feather shuttlecocks more often as they can hit the shuttlecock precisely without it wobbling in the air. Kinetic energy is transferred to the shuttlecock, when a player hits the shuttlecock with the racket. The flexibility of the feather shuttlecocks material allows it to absorb the kinetic energy during impact and react to the impact of the badminton racket, making it easier for players to control the trajectory of the shot. When the badminton racket hits the shuttlecock it bends and deforms, but its flexibility allows it to return to its original shape. This is similar to the elastic material of a rubber, which returns to its original shape when pulled. At its highest point the shuttlecock generates potential energy to decelerate towards the ground.  The conical shape of the shuttlecock is expected to give it a consistent flight path, preventing it from wobbling in the air.

Plastic shuttlecocks

Plastic shuttlecocks travel in a flat and wobbly trajectory, and will travel further than a feather shuttlecock. The initial speed of a plastic shuttlecock experiences less acceleration than a feather shuttlecock, but has a more steady deceleration at the end of its flight path. Players may have a challenge achieving high clears and drop shots. High clears pose a challenge for players, as hitting the shuttlecock far, usually causes it to go past the back line. Drop shots are inaccurate because plastic shuttlecocks don’t decelerate like feather shuttlecocks and move erratically. However, plastic shuttlecocks are better suited for smashes as they fly faster in the air than feather shuttlecocks. These shuttlecocks also have much more durability than feather shuttlecocks, as their rigid material protects them from damage. The rigidness of the material could lead to a player having less control of the shuttlecock's trajectory, during subtle drops and lifts. The skirt deformation of the plastic shuttlecock could cause a reduction in drag, making the spin of the shuttlecock unsteady and wobbly. Rigid  material tends to be less flexible than feather material. Hence, it does not deform when absorbing the impact of the badminton racket.

Overall, I believe that beginners should play with plastic shuttlecocks, as its rigid and durable material does not break. If beginners used feather shuttlecocks, they would easily break. However, professionals or club players should use feather shuttlecocks as they can hit more precise shots and can control the trajectory of their shots. 


Kinetic energy: The energy an object has due to its motion

Potential energy: Stored energy in an object that has the potential to be released

Drag: A force that causes an object to move the opposite direction, that it was moving through a fluid(air or water)

Trajectory: The path an object is moving through space

Acceleration: The rate at which an object's velocity changes

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