Air Hockey is a fast-paced, action-packed game that offers lots of fun whether playing casually or competitively. It brings lots of excitement especially when playing with friends or family.
However, playing air hockey is not just about hitting the puck to the other end trying to score a goal. It’s not simple and straightforward as many beginners would assume. You need to develop strategies and techniques that will not only help you play much better but also win matches against your opponents. Your game will also benefit from knowing the rules.
With that said, we are going to break down some of the fundamental things you should do and areas you need to focus on so as to improve your overall game. With this helpful guide, you will be able to step up comfortably to the table and play like a pro in no time. Let’s get started…
Holding the Mallet
The first important thing you should work on is how you hold the mallet. Holding the mallet (also called the striker) properly is actually the key to achieving a good shot when playing air hockey. In most cases, armature players and beginners tend to grab the central knob of the mallet with their entire hand.
This grip is not optimal and you want to avoid it. It will only slow you down because it will take your whole arm to move the mallet. You won’t be able to move your hand quickly with such grip and that means you won’t achieve maximum speed and accuracy in shots.
The proper grip is having a few fingers holding the mallet. You should hold it behind the knob with your ring and fore fingers positioned to the side of the knob while the middle finger rests against the back of the knob.
This way, your entire hand does not end up gripping the knob because the small finger and the thumb do not touch the mallet. Therefore, you get more control and flexibility when handling the mallet hence letting you make shots with greater agility, accuracy, and speed.
You can also choose to wear air hockey gloves so as to lessen the impact and as well improve the grip. Generally, the main point when it comes to holding the mallet is to ensure that you don’t grab it at the central knob and not with your entire hand so that your fingers do not interfere with the puck.
Before you jump into shooting, you want to make sure first that you have your defensive skills perfected. Winning air hockey games requires having a solid defensive strategy as much as having a good shot. If your opponents can’t score, then definitely they can’t win, but it won’t matter how much you scored if your opponent ends up scoring more.
You need to know how to block and defend your goal correctly. The best defensive position to take is to hold the puck slightly forward, around 2 feet in front of the goal and centered. This narrows down the angle especially when defending straight shots plus it allows you to move the mallet back and forth easily and quickly when reacting to bank shots.
To cut off angle shots, you can apply the triangle defense method. Draw your hand back towards either end of the goal to catch the oncoming pucks.
While using the triangle method, you want to ensure that you are ready to move the mallet back because you will be more vulnerable to bank shots. You need to be focused and very flexible so as to move back if you need to.
Aside from mastering your defensive position, you should try to track the puck. Try to follow and match the puck’s movement so that you can have more time to react and effectively cut the puck’s path off before it enters your goal.
Avoid leaning too much over the table or bending the shoulders down while defending. When you bend your shoulders down, you will not be able to block any underbanks the opponent sends. You won’t be able to move backward quickly enough to stop those shots.
Therefore, try as much as possible to maintain a straight posture as it will not only make moving backwards much easier but also enables you to set up offensive opportunities.
When it comes to playing offense, the first important thing you want to work on is how to strike the puck properly and effectively. You want to strike the puck in manner that will cause maximum amount of speed in your shots.
You should attack the puck behind and be aggressive when making contact and actively drive the mallet forward towards the direction you want it to go. Do not strike your shots near your own goal because you will be giving your opponent more time to react.
You have only seven seconds to take your shot, so you need to use that space and time to set up your shots. There are many shots that you can employ to score points. You must know which one works best for you. Generally, there are two basic but very essential shots you need to master especially if you are a beginner.
1. The Straight Shot
The straight shot is one of the most fundamental shots and although it can be somewhat tough, with a bit of practice it becomes quite easy to pull it off. This is an incredibly effective shot to use especially when playing against an opponent that is out of position or is over-committed to a big shot.
One thing you want to avoid when making a straight shot is hitting the puck too much on the side. If you hit it on too much of an angle, it will end up hitting the sides of the table and become a poorly executed bank shot.
2. The Bank Shot
The bank shot is another fundamental shot that you need to master. The main aim of this shot is to hit the side of the air hockey table before you reach your opponents goal. One mistake you should completely avoid when executing a bank shot is to hit the puck from the side.
Doing so will result to a double or even triple bank which means your shot will hit the table walls more than once before proceeding to the goal. This is something you want to avoid totally because each time the puck hits a side wall, the speed of your shot reduces which gives your opponent enough time to assume a defensive position.
You should always aim to hit the puck from the back, but not the side and try as much as possible to hit the wall once.
TIP: Power is king in air hockey: the harder you strike the puck, the less time your opponent has to block it from scoring (Hitting hard and straight improves your aim and helps you be ready to defend)
Gaining possession of the puck is equally vital especially when you want to set trick shots. Many armature players often just smack the puck directly towards the other end when it’s heading their way instead of actually taking possession.
This a big mistake as it normally leads to wild shots. You need to try to gain control of the puck. The best way to do this is to work with its momentum. Try to slow it down by moving with the momentum back slightly and then catching it. When you are able to aim more deliberately then you strike.
Watch For Rebounds
Finally, you need to be much focused when striking the puck as you are very likely to end up with rebounds when you don’t strike it properly and this can easily lead to an own goal.
Because it happens more often, you should make a habit of getting back to your defensive position immediately you strike the puck. This is quite an effective technique because it will not only help prevent an own goal, but will also allow you to be ready in case your opponent blocks the shot and then fire one back towards you.
Just like any other sport, becoming a better air hockey player will require mastering and perfecting the fundamental skills first. You need to work towards improving each aspect of your game not focusing on just one area. Keeping your table clean will ensure a fast, even and fair game. If you have not yet bought a table, then be sure to check out our guide.
The game is fast, intense and requires good skills to play more effectively. So, if you want to become a successful player you need to work on all the five key areas I’ve pointed above. Once you put in the effort and time, you will be able to up your game within no time.