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Foosball Instruction

Learning Foosball
Content from FAQ4 v 1.2a
Learning Foosball: a Guide for Beginners and Intermediates
(C) 1995 Robert Uyeyama
Permission granted to to publish in modified HTML format.

CHAPTER 2 - Consistency is the Key:
Resolving to Practice & Stop the Ball

This chapter is intended for players who have casually played the game (and never took it seriously) for many months or even years, and for those who have been seriously playing but only for a few months.

If you're reading this chapter, you may play the game largely to pass time while being entertained-- you may have played the game like this for a few years, even going through a few short periods of "foos-addiction" and taking the game seriously. Now, after all this time, you've finally become tired of that/those "good" players still being much better than you are and would like to know if it's worth the effort to get that good. Answer: The effort required is much less than you think; the keys are knowing what to practice, and knowing strategy.

What may seem to be the answer at first is acquiring an arsenal of unstoppable shots; this is untrue! Although having such an arsenal isn't necessarily a disadvantage, all you need on the 3-bar is one good shot... learning all of the other shots will simply make you 2nd-best in all of them, and very good at none. However one unstoppable shot from the 3-rod is not enough either; you need a good 5-rod to pass it to your 3-rod unstoppably. Re-learning your defense is less critical at this point (for tips on learning a moving-defense see Chapter 3).

So in summary:

  1. Choose a shot and learn it well
  2. Learn the 5-rod brush-pass, and use it so you can use your shot
  3. Learn essential strategy so you can put your shot and pass to good use

All of these parts must be performed consistently and effortlessly-- using your best shot or pass once in a while, or having it be inconsistent (i.e. it works great half of the time) will make all of your effort moot. 1-3 are described in turn:


You should choose one main shot. My advice is choose the pull. If you play on a Tornado or Stryker table, you can choose either the pull or the snake; on some of the older tables, snake-shots are often more difficult and less potent. Read FAQ6 for instructions on these offensive weapons-- included are instructions for both beginners and intermediates. Once you have chosen a shot, it is very important to use it strategically... in other words every single time you get the ball on your 3-rod; the point here is that your favorite shot is also your highest-percentage shot. Having a wide-arsenal is fun and flashy, but the "one-shot-player" will win the most matches! Make sure your setup is the best it can be; for example with a pull, make sure your 3-rod is pushed all the way to the wall; if it isn't, the defense has less goal to defend, and your scoring percentage will simply go down!

Why the pull is good: Good shooters can shoot the shot so fast the defense cannot race the shooter to the hole. The pull-shot begins with the ball on the right side of the middle-man with the 3-bar pushed to the wall; as you pull the rod, the ball moves horizontally, and you eventually shoot the ball in. Remember a good stationary defense will cover your straight shot and angle shot. By moving the ball horizontally far enough you will be able to shoot a straight shot to the right side of the goal; the defense will obviously move his men to the right side of the goal. Therefore for the shot to succeed, you must "race" the defense to that open hole; if you have a slow pull shot, it's useless. If you have a fast one, you can always beat a set defense to the hole!

Some caveats: A fast pull can be beaten by a set defense if the timing of the shot is predictable... in other words don't set up your shot, wait a consistently predictable two seconds, then shoot it-- a blazing fast "2-second pull" is raceable. By USTSA rules, you have 15 seconds on your 3-rod, so use your time and "sit on it"! You will also be able to analyze the defense during this time. Also, practice shooting the straight shot (!) accurately in the case of a good moving-defense.

Why the snake is good: This shot begins in a front pin in the exact center of the 3-bar. The shot is good because it can be as fast as a pull shot, but can be shot in both directions: the pull-snake to the right corner and the push-snake to the left-corner... the defense doesn't know what to defend! If these are both covered, the straight shot is open. For this reason, the snake is most useful when its setup is in the center of the table. Most people think the snake-shot is easier to learn than the pull, and for this reason some people recommend learning the snake to beginners; people can get quite good at the shot in only a month! And once you learn the shot, you will find the soreness of your wrist will disappear. But learning to really master the shot, however, is not easy either.

If you don't want to practice a shot at all, but still would like to score better, doing the push-kick or the pull-kick (see definition in FAQ1) every time you get the ball on your 3-rod will improve your scoring percentage. Why? I am not implying that these are bad shots to learn in the long-run; many people have unstoppable push-kicks and pull-kicks. The reason these shots are recommended in this context is that even a medium-speed push-kick or pull-kick can score reasonably against a good defender; a medium-speed pull or snake is much easier to block! This is because where you intend to shoot the ball is more unpredictable-- the ball begins on the inside of either of the outer-men on the 3-rod (left man = pull-kick setup; right man = push-kick setup). The ball is passed horizontally to the middle man, who shoots it straight in. This middle man can shoot the ball straight into either the left or right corner of the goal, depending on how far the horizontal pass is. If the horizontal pass is even medium-fast, it becomes difficult for the defender to predict which corner you are aiming for. So practice shooting the edges: the edge of the near corner and the far corner of the goal. The middle of the goal will usually be blocked in any case, but if you always aim for the corners, you will be most unpredictable to the defender! Also, be aware of two more options: 1) a faked pass w/the outer man who instead angle-shoots it toward the near corner, or 2) executes an outer-man push or pull shot toward the near corner.

However, mastering a pull-kick or push-kick shot so that your scoring percentage is very high tends to be more difficult than getting to this same percentage with a pull or a snake shot. So if you are going to practice a shot, make it the pull or snake. If you refuse to practice, but still want to score more, always use a push-kick or pull-kick. And always use your best shot.


Having an unstoppable 3-rod shot is useless if you never get the ball on your 3-rod! A good opponent will do exactly this. Even if no players in your area can keep the ball away from your 3-bar the entire game, learning a good 5-rod pass will still do wonders! You can play someone with a better shot, and if your pass is better, you will get more scoring opportunities, and things will even out in your favor.

If you're going to practice anything on your 5-bar at all, practice the "Brush Pass"-- read FAQ2 and skip straight to the "brush passing" section. The brush pass techniques will begin bearing improvements to your game almost immediately. So the brush-pass is as important as learning a good 3-rod shot. Spend as much time practicing this as you do your shot.

What else do you need to know about your 5-rod? You should be able to: 1) block opposing defensive shots; 2) block opposing 5-rod passes. The first point is difficult for many people because there are "too many men" on the rod, and the range of motion of that rod is very limited. The following exercise (also described in FAQ3) is very helpful: Lift up the opposing 5-rod. Pass the ball back and forth between your 5-rod and your 3-rod, doing ALL ANGLE PASSES. The straight passes are easy to intercept, but the angle passes are the ones which teach the range of motion for each man on the 5-rod; it may be frustrating but even a few 10-15 minute sessions will help vastly. Once your "intuition" for the 5-rod is improved, you will block more shots from the opposing defensive region. Also, by using this intuition, you can begin using your 3-rod men to block the "holes" in your five-bar (usually the spaces between the 2nd & 3rd and 3rd & 4th men). "Meshed" in this way, both your 3-rod and 5-rod can contribute in the most effective way.

The second point, blocking passes, will be improved just by the intuitions developed while learning the brush pass; also you can block slow-medium speed passes by moving your 5-rod back and forth rapidly, so that you "swat" away any passes. Moving unpredictably back and forth can also make it more difficult for a good passer to choose the open pass. Remember that your wall pass is very open because the bumper on the five-bar prevents your men from actually touching the wall; against very good brush-passers, you can "twitch", pretending to move the five-bar off of the wall (or lane), but actually keeping it stationary-- mix your "twitches" and back-and-forth movements. This advice even should be applied to on a standard moving-defense in the defensive-region!

Finally, if you have practiced your brush-pass, a consequence will be that you will habitually keep your 3-rod angled forward, making it much easier to catch loose balls. If the defense is shooting, you can angle it backwards to try to catch a blocked shot. When your 5 and 3 rod are both lifted for any reason, they should swing to the horizontal, the 5 rod clockwise, the 3 rod counter-clockwise. In this way, your 3-rod is ready to catch an incoming loose ball, and the 5-rod is ready to block a bounce off of the opposing 5-rod.


After you learn your chosen shot and the brush pass, you must do two things with these:

  1. learn to execute these consistently (19 out of 20 times)
  2. religiously use them in real play

In addition to your shot, pass, and shot-pass strategy, there are additional points:

  1. never, ever accidentally lose a ball you have possession of-- practicing pinning hard any ball which is about to get away from you
  2. learn to always foos (serve) the ball to yourself-- practice this
  3. never repeat bad strategies
  4. never shoot the ball from the 5-rod
  5. learn ball control & pass-catching, and when you lift your 3-rod up swing it up counter-clockwise/toes-forward-- this is so you will learn to catch loose balls like velcro

In more detail:

Your shot options (long, middle, straight) should be practiced to at least 9 out of 10 consistency, and preferably 19 out of 20. The same goes for each of your brush pass options (wall-pass/brush-down, lane-pass/brush-up). Once you're this consistent, don't even dream of using a less effective trick shot or second shot in a tournament. The same goes for hacking from the 5-bar-- sure, you may sometimes score, but since your pass and shot are so consistent, your scoring percentage per 5-bar possession will be higher if you brush pass and shoot from your 3-bar instead! Maximize your percentages! Ditto goes for losing the ball; a lost ball on a 5-rod possession may mean one less point for you; losing the ball from the defensive region may give your opponent a 3-rod shot opportunity, which is bad if his shot is as good as yours! If you can't serve the ball to yourself, that's as bad as losing a 5-rod possession!

Learn to keep your 3-rod either swung up counter-clockwise and horizontally with toes-forward, or down with the toes still slightly angled forward. In either case you are ready or almost-ready to catch a loose ball or quick pass. On a Tornado, this forward-angle can also "auto-stuff" defensive shots when the ball bounces hard off of the 3-man's toe. The uncommon exception to the rule is when your opponent's defensive shots are weak, you can consider angling your 3-man backwards (in this case only) to try to "catch" the shot by blocking it.

But when you lift your 5-rod, lift it by turning the rod clockwise. And when it is down defending against a 2-rod shot, angle it toes-slightly-forward so that any hard shots will bounce hard off the toe, and perhaps into the opposing goal (i.e. "auto-stuff") or at least to your 3-rod which is waiting, angled-forward (if you read the last paragraph) and automatically ready to catch any such rebound; hence when you lift both rods, the two lines will "swing away" from each other, 3-rod counter clockwise, 5-rod clockwise.

Never shooting from the 5-rod was explained above. Also, a blocked 5-rod shot may mean a 5-rod possession and therefore a point for your opponent! Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule. These exceptions will be discussed next, but remember they are only exceptions to fine-tune your strategy, not excuses to have lapses in your strategy.

The most difficult point is the one about not repeating bad strategies. For example, let's pretend your chosen (and best) shot on offense is the pull. If your opponent blocks your first attempt, you should probably stick with the same shot. However, if many more pulls are blocked, you may consider going to your second-shot, or even a trick shot; in this case, although your pull is your best shot, it is not the best shot to use against this opponent. You may find the snake works better; you should experiment and find what your best shot is, and stick with that. An unexpected one-time trick shot may also be worth one point here, but no more than that.

The same goes for a 5-rod shot, or a shot or pass immediately upon foosing the ball. If it's unexpected, and you think your chances are high for scoring, it may be justified. Try it once. Remember it's all percentages: repeatedly using these tricks or hacks will only make you score less.

The same goes for defense. Suppose you use a stationary race-defense and it usually works, but if one day you should run up against someone who always scores on you, you should drop the race defense, and experiment with a moving-defense; although if you're not familiar with a moving-defense, you may still block 50% or 25% of the shots, while previously you were blocking about 0% with the race-defense. Now, instead of a hopeless race, the burden is now on the shooter who has to guess which holes you are opening, and when.

Remember, you can also vary the type of moving defense that you use; if the opponent is always scoring on your moving defense when you use your far 2-man, switch to your 1-man periodically-- if the opponent scores too often when you bait the long shot, bait the middle or straight. So switching the 2-man that you use is good, just as long as you don't do it too often-- if the shooter can count on you switching, he can wait for the switch then shoot it in. Also, to increase the unpredictability of your defensive motions, remember to experiment with your mix of several techiniques:

  1. a periodically standstill rod
  2. a moving rod, (push/pull movement)
  3. back-forth circular movements of the men
  4. "twitching" movements to give the appearance that your men are going to move to another spot in the defense, but actually stay put
  5. switching your 2-man
  6. leaving the straight-shot open

In summary, when you are using a moving-defense, think about what areas you are blocking-- don't get caught just moving your men back and forth across the front of the goal without being aware of which holes are being opened most, and which hole is likely to look most enticing to the shooter. A moving-defense is not strictly a random defense; there is a lot of subtle "baiting" to be done along with the unpredictability. Be able to adjust your defense for different opponents as soon as possible.

You get the idea: figure out what works, then stick to it. This means using your brush-pass and "best"-shot sequence. Keep the exceptions infrequent, and make the exceptions work toward your scoring and blocking percentages.

Summary: use the tools you have practiced to your advantage!

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