A closer look at how positioning your feet, hands and body impacts the game

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(Reggie Stefaniszyn is known for his good positioning. Eric Davis uses a stool. Photo by Eric Krol at 2014 Stiga U.S. Open.)

By Stephen Klump, CTHA member

When we get together, conversation among table hockey players often turns to ranking systems, federation politics, tournament scheduling or league format. On that kind of thing, I always say it’s best to stick to what happens on the table. Win the games in front of you and the rest takes care of itself.

But there are a few areas off the ice that are worthy of any player’s attention. From easiest to hardest, these are: your feet, your opponent’s wrists (and body), and your own wrists (and body).

YOUR FEET

On attack, you might find that your bread and butter shots are all going wide to the same side, or that your RW-C low pick passes are sailing harmlessly through the crease just out of reach for the C tip. Adjusting the timing isn’t helping, and neither is changing the stick angle on the shot. Trying to work more spin on the pass in-game without some practice time usually turns into a giveaway factory — take it from me — by way of embarrassing wild pucks.

On defence, it may seem like you are getting twisted up when your opponent goes low LW-C or RW-C, exploiting a seam that has somehow opened up where you have become slightly off-balance.

Question: where are your feet? If you’re like me having this experience, one foot is way ahead of the other. If all your shots are wide left, your right foot is too far forward. If your RW-C low pick pass tracks too low through the crease, your left foot is too far forward. If you can’t seem to close a defensive hole down low on one side, that foot is too far forward.

The position of your feet on the ground drives the angle of your hips and torso. If they are too far off square from the game, your shoulders are going to have the same bias, and it will translate as a rotation of your whole plan on the ice. Your dominant foot can creep up on you as you correct for your back pain or your nerves, or maybe you use a hip to nudge a rod and forget to put your foot back into place. Try squaring them up to face the table for the next sequence and see what happens to your aim. You didn’t just forget how to play the game — you might be delighted how easy the fix was.

YOUR OPPONENT’S WRISTS (AND BODY)

On defence, blocking the pass is key to disrupting your opponent’s attack. Good players will usually have a few options for the next pass, but the most likely one is to the player without the puck whose rod they are holding. You can read this out of your peripheral vision without taking your eyes off the game, even over the top of your glasses if you wear them. If your opponent realizes you are reading his wrists, he may feint with one figure and pass to another when he sees your own wrists move, so keep this check to your peripheral vision close and try not to give it away with head movements.

On attack, a figure in the right place defensively but without any pressure on it can readily be blown through with a bit of speed on the pass (just avoid the pin). It is generally safe to pass through a such a passive defence: again, check with your peripheral vision for your opponent’s wrists, identify the hole and put the puck through. Over half the Stiga ice is uncontested space, so you don’t have to make a complete pass: the right amount of weight on a clear (where your opponent is not guarding) can put it safely into a stronger position for a higher-percentage attack.

Some players use a hip or other body part to put pressure on rods on defence (see below). It is obviously more error-prone to try to overpower an active defender than a passive one, but dumb pressure on the rod falls somewhere between, since it is a static defence (it cannot spin or easily move). Prefer passing around a static defender to powering through it. Your opponent will have to move his wrists to activate this defence, which gives you a split second to surprise.

YOUR WRISTS (AND BODY)

On defence, there is not much you can do about your wrists telling where you are defending the pass, but you can stay agile and change when your opponent does.

Defending against a velodrome pass (winger to winger around the boards), you can use a hip to brace the LD all the way back, leaving your hands free to work the RD and G. Against a clear from your opponent’s defence to a forward, you can use your right back-of-the-hand/wrist/forearm to press down on the RD and RW (once they are in position) while holding the C, creating a static wall. You can use your hand across the LW and LD if your opponent’s bank shot is weak, though this approach leaves the G passive. Note that in creating a static defence, too much pressure on a rod bends it, especially on the LD against the back boards (Editor’s note: Yes, this is true, we highly recommend you know what you’re doing here; otherwise a whole bunch of LD rods will get bent).

On attack, the LD, C, and RD have options right or left. By practicing passes, clears, and shots with either hand, you make it harder for your opponent to guess where you are going from your wrists. For example, the LD-C combination is not generally feasible if your right hand is on the LD (although a few freaks can cross their hands over). But if you can perform the LD-LW clear with your left hand as deftly as with your right, your opponent has to outguess you to block either pass. Similarly, the RD has far more options if you can clear the puck with either hand — sending it to a wing or drifting it through the middle for a C fintar (deke) setup. You will see some Europeans mask their shooting hand on C (fintar) dekes with their other hand, to avoid showing a tell. Alternatively, practise C moves with both hands. Also, confidence with either hand on the C will allow real-time advantage if the puck falls well in the moment.

If you suspect that your opponent is tracking your wrists, you can touch one player and then come back to another to complete the pass as his hands move. Remember also that there are four open skaters, not just two. Stiga is a short table — you can score from anywhere. If your opponent is concerned only with a winger and the C, your D can represent third and fourth one-timer options.

Finally, putting a legitimate three-hander in your bag of tricks can help defeat a defence that relies on tracking wrist position. As you release a pass with one hand to an empty bonhomme, switch the other hand to it, pick up the pass and move it in one fluid motion — either a shot or a pass to another figure you’ve also picked up at the same time. For example, from hands on LW and C, pass LW-RW while picking up C and RW, then do it again in reverse). It takes practice to gauge how fast you can make the pass and still not lose control. Once you have a base line, get comfortable with the motion and try not to let the puck stop. At first, don’t worry about the speed. The more you practice, the faster you will get.

SPORTSMANSHIP

Perhaps the most important off-ice consideration is in your own brain. Try to remember to have fun and to enjoy the process of learning and sharing company with the few like-minded and ridiculously skilled people who call themselves table hockey players. Game on!

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