Air Hockey

Most Common Mistakes in Air Hockey

family air hockey

There are essentially two types of air hockey players:  those who play merely for the fun and excitement of the game and those who really want to win.  For those in the first group, this article may not be for you, but if you are really interested in improving your air hockey game for the better you should definitely read on.  

In this article we will cover some of the most common mistakes made by novice air hockey players. Moreover, we will also discuss how to correct some of these mistakes in order to become a better player.

Improper Stance on Defense

Many novice or beginner air hockey players tend to take an improper stance on defense.  Here is what that stance usually looks like: players tend to lean their shoulders and torso forward so that their shoulders are actually over their own side of the goal.

If you go to any local arcade, chances are you will see this defensive impropriety at the air hockey table, with players hunkered down trying to get their faces and body as close to the air hockey surface as possible.  This is a huge mistake that is made by approximately 75 percent or more of the general population. So why is this stance so inappropriate?

According to one expert, professional air hockey player Tim Weismann, “if you are leaning over the table you won’t be able to stop under bank shots very effectively—shots designed to go under your opponent’s paddle.  That’s because the forward leaning stance makes moving backward much more problematic. Leaning out over the table also puts you in more of a ‘charge-and-snag mentality.’

On defense blocking the shot must be the first priority, and even though snagging missed shots is important, it is secondary to blocking shots. Blocks are most easily achieved when you have proper defensive mechanics.”

So given that information, what does the proper defensive stance look like and entail.  Here are just a few things to keep in mind when setting up (assuming you are a right handed player).

  • Your right leg should be slightly forward of the left and slightly bent at the knee.  This knee can either be touching the base of the table or just slightly off of it.
  • Although your left leg should be back of the right leg, it should not be uncomfortably back of it, as you want to maintain good balance.  The left leg will be straighter than the right leg.
  • The weight of your body should be balanced on the balls of your feet—and never on your heels.  This will allow you to react to shots quickly.
  • Although your torso should be positioned at about a 90 degree angle to the floor, it should bend over the center of the body and not completely over the playing surface.
  • When your right hand is on the paddle, your left hand should be braced comfortably on the back-left side of the table on the railing’s edge.

Correcting your stance so that it reflects the stance above will allow you to save more shots and better control the puck on your side of the rink.

Trying to Be Too Tricky or Complicated

Another huge mistake that most novice air hockey players make is that they try to be too tricky with overcomplicated shots.  Trying to smash the puck so that it will make three to four banks along the rail really gives you no advantage in the game of air hockey.  In fact, by trying these overcomplicated shots all you will really accomplish is ensure the puck slows down markedly prior to reaching your opponent’s goal, thus making it very easy to block.  What many beginners fail to understand about air hockey is that the offensive player has such a huge advantage to start with that there is no need for such shots. In fact, according to experts, “attempting to perform overly complicated shots and drifts is a sure sign of a player that does not correctly understand offense.”

Air hockey offense essentially consists of two types of shots:  the straight-in shot and the bank shot. Within these two categories of shots there are of course many varieties, but most of these varieties are quite simple to learn and execute and they are also very effective.  What most professionals suggest is that players work on single bank shots—both over shots and under shots—and straight shots exclusively until they master these two skills. Understanding how to make these shots and correctly executing them about 80 percent of the time will quickly have you winning more matches than you ever dreamed you could.

Tipping Off Shots Based on Location

Most players tend to tip off their shot type based on the location of the puck on the rink.  For example, players usually go for left wall shots when the puck is left of center, right wall shots when the puck is right of center, and crosses and cuts from the center location.  This may feel like the most comfortable or effective way to shoot, but once your opponent sees these tendencies those shots are not going to be very effective. In other words, being overly predictable in a game of air hockey is usually a recipe for disaster.

So how do you change this predictability—these tip-offs?  To start with, when you are on offense you must learn to strike the puck both straight and off the near and far rails regardless of where that puck is on the rink.  When you watch some of the masters of the game play you will see that they regularly mix up their shot types just to keep their opponent off-guard. Think of it this way:  if you were a professional tennis player would you serve the ball in the same exact manner every single time? Of course not. Because if you do tip off your serve in this manner, it will not take your opponent long to pick up on that serve and be ready for it when it comes.  Try to practice by hitting multiple shot types from various locations on the rink and you’ll be sure to confuse your opponent in your next big match.

Spend Little Time Practicing Defense

You will hear this said many times throughout the course of this article, but offense in air hockey is much easier to play than defense.  While practicing offensive shots and even trick shots may be more fun, games in air hockey are usually won and lost on defense. This does not mean that you should forgo your offensive practice completely, just that you should spend ample time practicing your defensive skills as well.  Even if you do not have a partner, there are many things you can do to work on your defense. These include drilling the proper stance and the appropriate footwork and watching videos to see how some of the best players in the land setup defensively in certain situations. Giving equal time to practicing your defensive skills will make you a better, more well-rounded player.

Choosing the Wrong Type of Mallet

Last but not least we must talk about the proper mallet selection. As you probably know, in air hockey the instrument that is used to strike the puck is called a mallet (also referred to as a ‘paddle’).  Some people opt for a very hard or low top mallet because they think it gives them an advantage on offense, and in some respects it does just that. However, as we mentioned above, offense is the easier side of air hockey.  Defense is much trickier to play, and neither a hard mallet nor a low top mallet is recommended for defensive play.

There is no need for hard mallets or low-top paddles. Instead, your mallet selection should always revolve around your defensive strategy, and a soft or original high-top mallet is the only thing that makes sense. With a low-top mallet you may have a little more power on offense, but this is not necessary.  Control is actually what you should be looking for. Playing with a high-top mallet gives you more hand contact on the mallet, and that means more control.

Creating enough power on offense to penetrate your opponent’s goal is not a difficult thing to do in air hockey.  But playing good defense and keeping control of the puck are both a different story. Defense and puck control are the more difficult facets of air hockey play, and the type of mallet you choose is paramount to these skills.  If you think about it, playing defense with a hard mallet makes no sense, as most blocked shots will have a tendency to rebound to your opponent, giving him or her another whack at your goal. On the flip side, a soft or original high-top mallet will be much more effective. When a mallet is softer, it deadens the puck upon impact of an oncoming shot and also makes catching your own missed shots much easier.

About the author

Sam Frazier

As a child of the 80's, my fondest gaming memories are playing Pitfall, Frogger, Kaboom! and Chopper Command on our old Atari 8600. These days I've been rocking the Nintendo Classic and learning some new card and board games with the family.

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