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Move Over, Pickleball. It’s Badminton’s Turn To Be the Trendy Racket Game

Close-up shot of a person playing badminton

Photo: Getty Images/ globalmoments

Let’s step back for a moment in time: You’re in your fourth grade gym class when your PE instructor passes out slender rackets and white, airy shuttlecocks, also known as birdies. She introduces the day’s activity as “badminton,” something you’ve perhaps only seen in retro photos.

You and your classmates try to toss the birdie back and forth for 30 minutes. Then, the bell rings and the equipment is tucked away. Perhaps the game fades away in your memory as a pleasant but fleeting memory. That is, until you spot it while scrolling social media in 2024.


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According to a Pinterest trend report, Gen Z and Millennials are driving popularity for badminton this year. It’s not just about the sport, but the overall lifestyle: Searches for “badminton racket” and “badminton outfit” are both up by 80 percent, “badminton bag” is up by 105 percent, and “badminton shoes” is up by 50 percent. Even the more specific “playing badminton aesthetic” term, complete with preppy skirts and striped socks, has increased by 45 percent.

Meanwhile, the badminton and tennis market is forecasted to have a 5.85 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) through 2031, with a projected market size of $18.9 billion by 2031, per market research company Business Research Insights.

Sound familiar? Another racket sport, the now-famous pickleball, has also gone from virtually unknown to ubiquitous in recent years. This similarly accessible racket sport has become a go-to activity and is still the fastest-growing sport tracked by market research company GWI, according to analyst Chris Beer.

“Consumer trends, in general, tend to spread on one of three channels: TV, social media, and word-of-mouth,” Beer says. “If a sport like badminton is going to make inroads, it likely needs to be featured on a platform that can reach a lot of people. Increasingly, we’re seeing sports grow their following through social media, particularly TikTok.”

(Badminton influencers like @badmintonjack have already gained millions of likes on TikTok.)

Here’s how badminton reemerged as a trending sport—and what makes it so appealing to players today.

What is badminton, anyway?

Badminton is a racket sport with two to four players who hit a birdie across a net, per the International Olympic Committee. One side scores a point when the birdie hits the ground in the opponent’s half of the court. The first side to reach 21 points wins the game (all matches are best-of-three games).

It may be surprising to some in the West, but badminton is one of the most popular sports worldwide—and is most well-known in Asia.

However, it also has a robust history in the United States. The Badminton Club of New York, founded in 1878, was the first club in the country, according to USA Badminton. The sport’s popularity boomed in the 1930s with the support of YMCAs and educational institutions. Many celebrities like Bette Davis and James Cagney played.

The sport grew over the years, but American clubs eventually saw a slight decline in the 1970s. However, when badminton was officially included in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, its popularity started to rise once again.

Similar to pickleball, badminton is touted for both its accessibility and health benefits.

“Regularly playing badminton may help ease health conditions by releasing feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals to enhance your sense of well-being,” says Lloyd Green, head of communications for the Badminton World Federation.

Badminton can lead to other overall health benefits, such as improvements in heart and lung function, according to an August 2022 review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Plus, the benefits have been seen in all types of populations, ages, and sexes.

“The average person burns 475 to 525 calories per hour by playing a social game of badminton,” Green says. “During 20 minutes of badminton, players will make at least 350 changes in a direction of 90 degrees or more, building speed, strength, agility, and flexibility.”

“If a sport like badminton is going to make inroads, it likely needs to be featured on a platform that can reach a lot of people. Increasingly, we’re seeing sports grow their following through social media, particularly TikTok.” —Chris Beer, data analyst

How badminton is growing in popularity

Badminton player Diana Knekna represented Bulgaria in the 1992 Olympic Games at the age of 19.

“It was my dream, and since then, the world federation started to promote the sport everywhere,” says Knekna, who now lives in Nicosia, Cyprus. “You’ll find it in the schools, universities, and on social media and live on TV. Ten years ago, someone would ask what badminton is, but now it’s almost everywhere here.”

It’s also affordable and simple for someone of any age to learn the rules of badminton.

“For first-time players, it’s very cheap and the racket is also very light,” Knekna says. “It’s easy for anyone to learn. Plus, you can play it anywhere.”

Although badminton is the fastest sport in the world (the birdies can move up to 306 miles per hour at the professional level, per the Canadian Olympic Committee), changes have been made in the past few decades to make it even more appealing to viewers.

For instance, courtside microphones have been added to pick up the sound of the birdie being struck and the scoring system changed in 2006 to align with other sports like tennis and volleyball.

“Before, you would only win a point if you served, but now it’s whether you serve or receive the serve,” Knekna says. “This made it more fascinating and faster.”

Since the 1992 Olympics, many initiatives have been launched to grow the game worldwide.

“The Badminton World Federation invests significantly every year to support development projects and activities at world, regional, and local levels,” Green says. “It has delivered a sophisticated suite of educational resources to support the delivery of structured development programs, projects, and activities for our members.”

This emphasis on teaching the correct fundamentals of badminton and expanding its audience has seen ripple effects around the world.

“It not only increases participation, but also ensures that individuals are taught by professionals, equipping them with the skills to subsequently teach others of all ages,” says Knekna, who has given more than 200 presentations on badminton in schools and universities. “They also organize events in famous locations worldwide, where large audiences can witness and engage in the sport firsthand. These events are often live-streamed.”

The current efforts to promote badminton are also in preparation for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

“This gives a tremendous opportunity to promote the sport, not just in the Los Angeles area, but beyond,” says Steve Kearney, director of USA Para-Badminton. “Badminton clubs have a stronghold in California, but now Texas is also blowing up with clubs—as are Florida, New York, Chicago, and Oregon. It’s all over the country.”

Still, Kearney acknowledges that badminton is gaining traction in the United States later on compared to Asia and Europe. One reason may be that governments in countries like Indonesia support sports like badminton, whereas this is not the case for most sports in the United States. Most badminton athletes are self-funded in the states.

“Plus, an Olympic medal causes the sport to explode,” Kearney says. “India has exploded for badminton, for instance, because they won a silver medal in the Olympics.”

The United States has not yet won an Olympic medal for badminton.

“When someone who has never tried badminton says it’s boring, I tell them, let’s play together for two minutes—no more. From that first moment, you see them get excited during the rally and they start smiling. What else do we need?” —Diana Knekna, Olympic badminton player

What the future of badminton looks like

Current championships in the United States—coupled with social media trends like “playing badminton aesthetic”—are expected to continue driving the popularity of the sport.

“We certainly know there is interest in North America, particularly driven by the Asian communities there, with quite sophisticated badminton infrastructure in some areas,” Green says.

Last year, the BWF World Junior Championships 2023 were held in Spokane, Washington. Francesca Corbett and Allison Lee achieved history as they became the first players from the United States to medal at the World Juniors in women’s doubles. Wins like these are key stepping stones for badminton programs leading up to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games and beyond.

“I see increasing growth, membership, and playtime for badminton,” Kearney says. “With the Olympics, there will be the opportunity to expose it to more and more people. There’s always been the perception of badminton as something you play in the backyard with a beer in one hand and hitting a shuttle with the other, but we know it’s different than that.”

For the everyday player, badminton may offer an easy way to mix up your fitness routine and add a little joy to your day.

“When someone who has never tried badminton says it’s boring, I tell them, let’s play together for two minutes—no more,” Knekna says. “From that first moment, you see them get excited during the rally and they start smiling. What else do we need?”

If you’re interested in playing badminton, you can learn about clubs in your area by writing to info@usabadminton.org.

Citations
Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Cabello-Manrique D, Lorente JA, Padial-Ruz R, Puga-González E. Play Badminton Forever: A Systematic Review of Health Benefits. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Jul 26;19(15):9077. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19159077. PMID: 35897446; PMCID: PMC9330062.
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