If you're reading this, there's a chance you are like me: athletically challenged. I struggled to win at games of foosball with my friends because I never formally learned how to play. I just played with the rods on the table at McDonald's (remember the good days when McDonald's had fun games out in the dining area?) and hoped for the best when I shot the lightweight ball in the general direction of the goal. Unfortunately for me, this strategy never brought much success. Luckily, I've since learned some ways to be better at playing foosball. Check out some of the rules and tips below to learn how to improve your foosball game (and even win!).
The History of Foosball
Before we dive into how to play foosball, let's look at how the game started. There are many stories of how foosball came to be. Some people believe foosball began as a parlor game somewhere in the 1880s or 90s, others believe it was Lucien Rosengart who invented the game in the 1930s. Alexandre de Finesterre is also credited with the invention of foosball in 1937. However, the first person to officially patent the game was Harold Thornton in 1923. He shared the idea with his uncle, Louis Thornton, who brought the idea to the United States and patented it there in 1927.
Despite the beginnings of the game being unclear, foosball is popular worldwide and is called different things around the world. In Germany and Russia, the game is called kicker, France calls it baby foot, Mexico references the game as futbolito, the UK calls it table football, Hungary calls it csocso, and in Turkey it’s called langirt. Because of this popularity, the International Tournament Soccer Championships (ITSC) was created in the 1970s when people in America started playing the game more frequently. Tournaments were held all over the country with grand prizes as large as $1 million! But with the creation of video games and other technologies in the 1980s, foosball's popularity in America began to decline to the casual home and bar game we know it to be today.
Before You Play
How many foosballs do you have?
Most foosball tables come with 9 balls, the exact number needed to play the game. A winner is determined by whoever scores the most out of 9 goals, which is 5 goals. Because of this, 9 foosballs are required for an equal opportunity for both teams to win. It is best to keep some replacement balls on hand at all times, just in case one flies off the table and behind the couch (or "into the unknown" as we call it in my family) while you’re playing. You don’t want to have to hunt down runaway balls in the middle of a game.
Do you have a coin?
Foosball games begin with a coin toss. Each team calls a side, heads or tails, and the winner of the toss serves first. Before you begin playing, find a coin to use for your official coin toss.
Is the table ready for playing?
When was the last time you cleaned your foosball table? If you can’t remember or it’s been a while, then give the rods a good wipe down before you begin playing. Use the rubber sliders on each rod or grab a rag or duster to wipe all the dirt and dander away. That way your hands aren’t dusty by the end of the game and you keep yourself from sneezing and missing a goal or from blocking your opponent.
Move the rods back and forth and turn them. If they don’t move smoothly, use a household grease to lubricate the rods before playing. This will make it easier to control the players and move quickly in an intense match up.
When was the last time you played?
It’s never a bad idea to turn the rods a little and practice switching rods from hand to hand before you begin to play. Take a couple practice shots or serves to get back into the swing of things if it’s been a while since you’ve played.
How many people are playing?
There are different variations of foosball depending on how many people are playing. The most common version is one-on-one (where you and one other opponent play against each other). Another version is called two-on-two (where you and a partner play against a team of 2 other players). One final playing variation is called goalie war. It’s a version of one-on-one where both of you only play using the goalie rods. No matter what version of foosball you decide to play, the rules detailed below still apply.
The Rules of the Game
Now that your table is ready to go, it’s time to learn some of the basic rules of table football. Here are the most common and important rules you need to know while playing foosball with your friends and family.
This is the most important rule of the game. At no point in time should any player spin any of their rods 360 degrees. Not only is this damaging to the table, but it is also an illegal move.
Moving the table, bumping it, pounding on a sidewall, or lifting it at one end all count as jarring in the game of foosball. Any contact with the game table that intends to directly impact the path of the ball is illegal.
Just as you like to keep your focus while playing, so does your opponent. Do not distract your opponent or other teammates while the game is in play. Do not touch your opponent’s rods while playing. No unsportsmanlike conduct should be tolerated.
The only time your hand may enter the playing field is when there is a dead ball. A dead ball is any instance the ball has stopped moving and is out of reach of either teams’ players. If you or your opponents cannot move the ball with any of your players, declare “dead ball”, reach in, and serve it again. The team that scored last serves.
A ball can be served through any hole in the table at any time. You cannot serve the ball to yourself at any point in the game. The serve must be directed at your opponent. After a goal is made, the team that didn’t score serves next. If the ball leaves the table, the team that scored last serves.
The only requirement to legally score is to get the ball into the goal. The point still counts even if the ball bounces out after entering the goal. The first team to 5 points wins the game.
Keep er Movin’
The ball must constantly be in motion. It can only be still in one place for 15 seconds at a time unless it’s in midfield. Then the ball must be moved within 10 seconds of possession.
Tips and Techniques
Think you’re ready to play? Check out these tricks to help you play like a pro and improve your game. Practicing these techniques will help you to get better and play faster over time.
Get Good at One Shot
I know what you’re thinking. Why would I only want to be good at one shot? With time and practice, you will become a pro at many shots, but when you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to have one sure-fire way to get points (and ultimately win). Practice one shot that feels comfortable to you and allows you to make goals. Once you know what feels right, stick with it and practice it. That way, you’ll always have something to fall back on if the game is tied up or if you’re falling behind in points.
Center the Goalie
Constantly moving the goalie players can make it more difficult to block your opponent’s shots. Try keeping the goalies positioned in the center of the goal instead. Keeping them in one place makes it easy for you to determine which way they need to move to block your opponent’s shot. Don’t put the goalies on either end of the playing field because it leaves the goal exposed.
Check Your Grip
Make sure you aren’t grasping the handles too tightly while you’re playing. If your knuckles are white or your hands are sore, your grip is too tight. Hang on to the ends of the rods loosely so you can comfortably move and switch rods as needed. Keeping a looser grip allows you to have more control over the speed and accuracy of your shots as well.
Use the Defenders
While playing, make sure all of your defenders are situated properly so they can block shots from your opponent. Each player should be parallel to the table. Positioning them in an upright position makes it easier for you to move and control a player and more difficult for your opponent to get a shot through. It’s also a good idea to keep some defenders in front of the goalie to block the goal. This gives your opponent more players to get through before getting to the goal.
Use Side Players
When you shoot the ball to get a goal, don’t use the center man on the rod. This is predictable and easy for your opponent to block. Instead, use one of the players on either side, pass the ball to another one of your players, line up the shot, and take it. This will help you get around your opponent’s defenders and get into the goal.
Make Lots of Shots
Try to make as many shots as you can while playing. Keeping your opponent on their toes is a good strategy and may just get you to 5 points before they do. Make fast and repetitive shots to prevent your opponent from recovering the ball.
Stagger Each Player
Keep your players staggered across the playing field so you can have as much coverage as possible. When you have them all lined up, it creates gaps that the ball can easily go through, which can let your opponent score.
Foosball is a popular game to play with friends and family of all ages. Now that you know the basic rules of the game, a little about how it came to be, and some tips and tricks, you’re ready to play!