Knowing how to hold a mallet is the first step to becoming a professional air hockey player. The concept may sound simple, but it is one of the most common mistakes that beginners make.
Something as small as the grip on your mallet can make all the difference in shooting into the goal and winning the game. Especially when the stakes are high, whether that is a bet with a friend or a national level air hockey tournament, you need to ensure that you are holding the mallet right! Here are a few things to be kept in mind when playing air hockey.
How Not to Hold a Mallet
If you’re a beginner or playing for the first time, your instinct may be to hold the mallet with your entire hand. This is because it seems the obvious choice, but the truth is, this hampers your performance in the game.
Using your entire hand to hold the mallet requires a lot more force when shooting the puck, thus slowing down its speed. Lower speed then gives your opponent more time to understand your play and block the shot before it enters the goal. You are also more likely to lose control of the mallet as well.
The Right Way to Hold a Mallet
You’ll always see a professional player holding a mallet with two fingers; the index and middle finger. Another alternative is using the ring finger and index finger for placing on each side of the mallet and placing the middle finger’s knuckle on the top of the mallet (from the back).
The idea of using this technique is to hold the mallet from the backside only, rather than the top or the front. This allows for more control so that the mallet easily glides on the surface of the air hockey table.
Another benefit that you will gain from this is faster speed, making it easier to confuse your opponent and shoot goals easily. Plus, if you’ve got a tricky opponent who loves to shoot drift shots and keeps the game going, you don’t have to be worried about tiring your arm by holding the mallet wrong. Tiring it out means less energy during the play which results in increased chances of losing.
Balancing the Right Amount of Force
Every air hockey table is different - in terms of surface smoothness, suspension levels, balancing etc. This is why, if you wish to play on a professional level, it is best to practice on a mid-size or large-sized table. This way, you will be able to practice and perfect the right amount of force despite playing in different environments.
There are two things to keep in mind when applying force to the mallet; downward force and grip. Downward force refers to how hard you push the mallet across the surface of the air hockey table. Of course, the key here is balance. You don’t want to push down so hard that you block the speed of the puck and at the same time, you don’t want to hold it so lightly that the puck slips away without shooting correctly.
Like I said, every feature about an air hockey table is unique so adjusting to different tables can be difficult. The best thing you can do is to practice on tables that are of similar size and type as professional tables.
The second force you need to keep in mind is the force with which you hold the mallet. Along with holding it in the right position, another important aspect is the amount of grip that you apply while holding it.
A grip too tight will result in a slower speed of the puck and consequently you will tire yourself out too quickly. A weak grip can be even more harmful as it could result in deflections in the shot because the mallet tends to slip out of your hand. This significantly decreases your chances of scoring a goal.
Again, the key is to balance the grip. In an intense match, some players may start sweating which loosens the grip on the mallet, whilst others hold it tighter under the stress of an intense match. This balance is not so simple to achieve, but the key is to stay calm and play with resilience and commitment during all games without letting the pressure get to you.
Tips and Tricks to Win the Game
The simplest yet effective tip to keep in mind is having possession of the puck. That is, of course, only possible if you have the perfect grip on the mallet, thus further emphasizing its importance.
When the puck is shot at a player, an amateur mistake that some players make is shooting it right back. Instead, what you need to do in order to become an expert player is to stop the puck, gain control, decide your next move and then shoot.
In real time, this takes seconds (sometimes even micro-seconds), but this entire process significantly increases your chances of scoring a goal.
The second tip that you need to learn is how to perfect drift shots. Drifting is extremely important because it allows you to confuse your opponent and score a goal, especially for those opponents that have a very strong defense.
There are different types of drift shots - including the basic drift, L drift, circle drifts etc. Each uses a different technique which cannot be pulled off until you have the right grip over the mallet. Check out YouTube tutorials or hire a trainer if you’re practicing for professional level games.
Last but not least, know when to play an offense and defense position. Both are equally important and relying on one is never enough. Practice each excessively with different opponents to get a better idea of when to use which.
Atomic Ergonomic Air Hockey Striker with Grip
A proper grip on the mallet in air hockey is like the foundation upon which all your moves are built on. Without a foundation, you can never have a firm structure, so first always perfect the basics and then move on to practicing shots.