Written by 4-time Air Hockey World Champion, Billy Stubbs
*Originally published July 26, 2012
Flashy offense impresses; basic offense wins. To hone a winning air hockey offense, master the basics.
Defense fights an uphill battle
The reaction time on defense is very small – impossibly small. Pucks move up to 45 mph. This might not seem that fast until you consider that a table is only eight feet long and when a shot is executed from the centerline, travelling at 45 mph over four feet, the defense has just under .07 seconds to respond. The upper limit of reaction time for athletes in all sports is .12 seconds. Simply responding to the puck’s movement to block it is not feasible because the window of reaction time is so small that it exceeds human limits.
A top-tier defense does not primarily respond to the movement of the puck after it is struck. It responds to everything that precedes the shot: the relation of the mallet to puck, tendencies, shot location, arm movement, and body language. When the offense disguises its shots perfectly and strikes the puck from the centerline at 45 mph the defense cannot react in time and is forced into to a guessing game. If you are on offense you want the defense to be in this quandary!
Just say no to chases and volleys
Since offense holds a distinct advantage over defense, the way to approach offense is to stick to the basics. Execute most of your offense at the centerline with full velocity while using a controlled attack. If you take your shots two feet back from the centerline, and do not use full velocity, you allow the defense time to react. Chases, volleys, hand serves, double banks, and blade shots, etc. are not needed to score effectively – this level of complexity will result in too many unforced turnovers and is difficult to execute.
For a world-class attack only three well refined shots are needed: Both straights and either one of the under banks, everything else is gravy. With just a Cut, Cross, and Right-wall-under (or Left-wall-under) a full offensive arsenal is possible. Add to each of these three shots various drifts, several shot locations (all near the centerline and middle), multiple releases with time delays, and you have more than enough to score on a defense that only has four feet to react.
Three shots, thousands of combinations
Let’s take a look at how a hypothetical player who only uses a Cut, Cross and Right-wall-under can score effectively by applying subtle variations to each shot. He has three drifts, two vertical locations, three horizontal locations, two release motions, and three variations of timings and drift speeds:
Within the matrix above there are almost 1000 possible combinations of shots and an infinite number of sequences. Below is an example of a shot sequence that our hypothetical player will find useful against most defenses:
Why end with a Cross? It works because it breaks the patterns established in the two previous shots. Straights executed six inches back have a better angle (sometimes). The defense may be out of position after defending shots from left-of-center. No delay reduces the time the defense has to adjust. And the fast right-to-left drift, after two medium-speed-drifts, should help yank the defense out of the way.
What this basically means
Since it is relatively easy to score you should capitalize on this advantage by perfecting a handful of basic complimentary shots, be able to make your releases look identical, and use a controlled attack from the centerline. If you master this and can identify which shots are most effective, you will render the defense helpless without doing anything that will impress onlookers, except win.
Source: Master the basics | Say AH