Conan’s Net Commentaries

Conan’s Commentary #1

Offseason Conditioning

The Original Text was Posted in the Net Forum.
See the corresponding Post for comments and discussion.

Offseason training basically means improving your strength, endurance, and flexiblity while you are not playing a lot of footbag. It also means not becoming a couch potato in the winter and hurting yourself on the first day of spring practice.

The first phase a serious athlete goes through after the season is rest. If you’ve really been kicking a lot, you should not play at all for 2-4 weeks at the start of the offseason. This gives your body a chance to heal and will noticeably improve those lingering aches and pains. It’s also extremely healthy to just get away from the game for a while, and come back with a fresh mental perspective.

Next, the work begins. Flexiblity is the single most important aspect of physical fitness for a net player. In the course of one game your body will be contorted in ways that the average person never experiences in a lifetime. Good flexibility reduces your chance for injury and actually improves your play. But, before you begin dropping into the splits you need to make sure that your body is prepared. This is accomplished by warming up before you stretch. There are two ways to warm up for a serious stretching session- active and passive. Active is the preferred manner. Stretch when you are hot and sweaty after running or working out. This is when your muscles and joints will most easily and comfortably reach maximum range of motion. It is also possible to do a passive warm-up. Soaking in a bath, jacuzzi or sauna is a passive but acceptable way to prepare for stretching.

Spend at least 15 minutes for a serious stretching session, at least 2 times a week. Focus on the hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and midsection. The standard protocol is to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, but the goal is to get the muscle to relax and elongate. I start with a slow count to 10, then focus on breathing deeply and feeling the muscle elongate with each exhale. There are many positions to stretch each muscle group – get a book or video, or take a class if you want more ideas. Remember that it helps your spiking to get to the point where you are close to the splits, so keep working at it. Another useful tip: stretch your ankles the way freestylers do. Warm up with 10 circles each way, then invert the ankle like you just rolled it. Ankle flexiblity will help the next time you step in a hole or land awkwardly.

Strength is the next most important aspect of physical fitness for net. It takes a great deal of muscle power to change direction quickly, cover the whole court, and jump high over the net. The single best exercise for developing lower body power is the free-weight squat. Lower slowly to about a 90 degree knee angle – no lower. Never bend forward at the lower back (lumbar spine), and never allow your knees past your toes. Start with low weight – the most common mistake when lifting weights is to hurt yourself lifting too much weight. I have literally seen a guy tear his pectoral muscle bench pressing (it pulled over to the center of his chest and looked like a misplaced man-boob). Think about it this way: most people lift weights to get stronger, but injuries only make you weaker. When getting back into lifting after a break, I start with 8-10 different exercises, mostly machines, 2 sets of 15 repetitions. This is more of a conditioning (endurance) protocol. After a few weeks, I will do 3 sets of 10 repetitions, mostly free weights. This is more of a muscle building protocol.

As a general rule, the more muscle groups that an exercise engages, the better it is for you. Push-ups are better than bench press, bench press is better than butterfly machine. Squats are better than leg press, leg press is better than leg extension. One important exception is the hamstrings: it is very important to do a separate exercise for the hamstrings (the backs of the thighs). Do some sort of leg curl. The reason is that the quadriceps (the front of the thighs) are much stronger than the hamstrings. Too much imbalance can lead to serious knee problems. Freestyle can cause this imbalance, ask Sam Conlon. Also, net spiking is brutal on the hamstrings, so you need them strong to spike all day.

Good cardiovascular endurance (involving the heart, lungs, and large muscle groups) is great for your health and a proven way to burn fat and help reduce the risk for many diseases. Running, biking, rollerblading…any activity that is moderately strenuous and is sustained for at least 20 minutes will give you cardiovascular benefits. However, I have been beaten way too many times by chain-smoking footbag players to tell you that improving your cardiovascular fitness will make you a better net player Also, some activities like running can cause repetitive-stress injuries (e.g. tendinitis, shin splints), so I only run during the off-season.

The off-season is also a great time to reflect on your net game as a whole. What is your goal for next year? Be the world champion? Or maybe just learn a new spike you can make your friends in the park wear? Either way, write down what your goal is. Then write down specific parts of your game that you need to improve to get there. Constant improvement is the key. If you feel that you are stagnating, you need to shake up your footbag world. Maybe more frequent training is the answer, or just more specific training. Plan ways to play with different players, either by travelling for tournaments or just for fun. The great thing about net is that the more you play, the better you get

Conan’s Commentary #2

Consecutive drills

The Original Text was Posted in the Net Forum.
See the corresponding Post for comments and discussion.

This is the second in a series of articles on footbag net training and competition that I am writing to make this forum more interesting and useful for everyone, particularly newer players. Feel free to respond with your thoughts and questions, no matter who you are.

The basis of footbag (despite what you see in modern freestyle) is pretty simple: keep a bag in the air by kicking it with the feet using the basic kicks (inside, outside, and back kick). [For those who may not know, a back kick is what happens when the bag goes over your head and you have to spin around and reach back behind you with an outside kick.] In this way footbag net is the last remaining sport example of “pure” footbag. No delays, no head or body shots, just kicking. So, if you want to become a better net player, you need to start with basic consecutives.

Consecutives simply means kicking the bag repeatedly to yourself or with a partner. In all of the following drills the bag that I am referring to is always a net bag. A soft bag can be a good way for a true beginner to learn the basic kicks, but a net player needs to spend many hours kicking the harder net bag to improve. Eventually you will find a soft bag uncomfortable to kick, because you have to strike it so hard!

Before we get into the drills, a quick word about shoes. Yes, you need to have special shoes for net. Your old sneakers probably won’t get it done. Most good players are playing with the Brooks Beast, available through the World Footbag Association. Additionally, I encourage everyone, especially beginners, to modify the surfaces of your shoes to make them as flat as possible. It is legal and necessary, if only because we do not have specific equipment manufactured for our sport. In footbag your shoe is both your footwear and your paddle. For beginners in particular it is vital to have the biggest, flattest paddles to play this very challenging game. How many people would play tennis if you had to play with a curved racquet? Is it any wonder that footbag net is so frustrating for beginners? You think you hit a good shot and BING! the bag hits a shank spot on your shoe and goes flying off. The insides are most important to modify, as most shoes these days are made with huge curves on the inside. Flat outsides are easier to find. See the previous discussion thread in this forum for more ideas about modifying your shoes.

OK, you have good net shoes. Now what? Start with simple consecutives kicking to yourself. Right from the beginning get into a pattern using both feet. It is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL that you can kick well with both feet. Otherwise you will be destroyed on the net court. Practice your weak side/kicks twice as much as your strong side. A “pro” net player should be able to kick a net bag 100 times without dropping. Yes, I know that in a net match you will never kick it more than twice to yourself, but it is surprising how well this “100 Rule” separates the pros from the amateurs.

Inside kicks should be hit about knee level. Another advantage of having flat (modified) shoes is that you can kick the bag lower with less effort when doing insides. Having good insides is particularly useful for digging and setting. Outsides are used most often in serve reception and back kicks. The simplest outside kick drill is “rainbows” – kicking outside to outside over your head. This is a vital drill to develop both of your outsides for net. I take this drill a step further and do an outside kick while hopping off the ground with the supporting foot. This simulates the hopping sets that you see most of the top players use. If you can do these “hopping rainbows”, then you can play net.

Focusing on the bag is essential and there are some techniques to help do that. Mag Hughes taught that you can focus on the spin of the bag or even the color of one panel while you are kicking. Practice kicking at different heights to develop your touch. And engage your upper body in your kicks by opening your arms and shoulders to follow the bag in flight.

Kicking against a wall (with a net bag, of course) is fun and a great way to train alone. You can practice kicking low and with high speed against the wall. It helps your digging and is a good way to force yourself to start using some kicks that you normally avoid. Just be aware that the bag has a lot of spin on it when it comes off the wall. This is actually backspin and is different from the topspin that can make some shots more difficult to receive over the net.

Doubles consecutives drills (often called “kicking power”) are the best way to improve your net game without kicking over the net. John Leys once told me that he credits his jump to the top tier of the game to kicking power every day for a year with Chris Ott when they worked together. Most of these drills I learned from Mag Hughes and Martin Cote. Experiment with different distances on these drills to more closely simulate changing game conditions.

The basic way to start is called one-pass. Move your feet, keep the bag in front of you, and kick it back to your partner. As you warm up and your rallies improve, start kicking harder and aim behind your partner to force them to use back kicks. There are at least two more advanced versions of one-pass, both of them taught to me by Mag Hughes. The first is called “down-the-line/cross-court” or in Montreal “cross/decross”. You and your partner attempt to only kick the bag in one direction e.g. always “down-the-line” or from your outside left you your partner’s outside right. You can both play the same way, or have one partner “cross” and the other “decross”. The point is to have a goal before you start kicking to improve your accuracy. Ideally, only the back kicks are used. The other drill is called “push/pull”. One partner always kicks over the head and behind the other, forcing that player to use a back kick. The receiving player attempts to pop it up right in front of their partner, who then “pushes” it over their head again. In this way you can push your partner all the way across the park and really work on your back kicks.

The next step in doubles consecutives are two-kick drills. This is basically singles practice, but you can use the two kicks to really work your partner. The best two-kick drill that I know was taught to me by Martin Cote. It’s called “low ball”. As you receive the bag, your goal is to kick a nice controlled set that comes down right in front of you. With your second kick you strike it as hard as you can at your partner’s knees. They do the same: controlled set, then hard low shot. This drill really improves your setting and passing shots.

Another interesting consecutives drill that was formerly an event at Worlds (I have no idea why) is called “1-up, 5-down”. You kick it once to your partner. They kick it once to you. Then you do two kicks, they do two, and so on. When you both reach five, you start to come down again. This is a challenging drill that forces you to concentrate, control the bag, and make a good pass. It’s not easy to get all the way through a “1-up, 5-down” even with a good partner.

Finally, a great digging/serve reception drill that I learned from Martin Cote is called “donut”. Stand about 5m from your partner with a good supply of net bags. Then throw one bag at a time at your partner, aiming at the navel. Start off with softer throws, of course. But, the object here is to actually hit your partner in the stomach with the net bag! Your partner attempts to hop out of the way and pop the bag up in the air. Let it drop, then throw the next one. If you can kick a bag in the air that someone is throwing at you from close range, then you have no excuse to miss a serve reception.

As you can see, there are many ways to kick consecutives. Using different drills keeps things interesting and improves your accuracy while working on your weaknesses. The drills that I have described here can be used as an entire workout – improving your skills and getting good exercise without even playing over the net. Consider this: if you kick consecutives for an hour you will get hundreds of touches. An hour of playing net in the park can sometimes result in very few quality touches. In this way consecutives training can really accelerate your learning curve. Keep kicking!

—I’ll add a drill Jukka Peltola taught me. First you and your partner try to have a 10-contact run alternating players. If you don’t get it, you must do 20 push-ups or abdominal crunches (or some amount of any other muscular excercise). If you do get the run, you’ll try to get a 15-contact run. If you get the 15, try 20. If you don’t, you do 15 push-ups. After every successful run, add 5 contacts. After every unsuccessful run, start from the beginning.

For me, this drill really helps with concentration, because you don’t want to be the one giving the bad pass. The same applies on the court too, of course.

—I had hear of “kicking rainbows” when I played circle play. In circle play, it’s just kicking it with the outside of one foot, over your head, and then with the outside of your other foot. In Net, it’s very different. You don’t just “kick” the footbag, you really slam the hell out of it. Furthermore, instead of it being a nice pretty arch, it’s more like the bag shoot’s straight up to 20 feet, you then re-position yourself to receive the bag on its way down and do the same thing with the opposite foot.

One of the things you’ll notice immediately is just how much accuracy you need with your kick to send it straight up to 20 feet. This is where having a weak side really gets you. When you’re just tapping the bag, as you might for freestyle play, you can get away with murder in terms of how sloppy your kick is. The first time I tried to emulate James’ rainbow kick I did send it flying…about 50 feet straight behind me and rolling into the road.

Receiving the ball as it comes down is its own headache. First, if you’ve never played in a net game before you’ll notice that you really feel the impact through your shoe and on your foot. I really hated this at first, but now I use the feeling to tell me when I make a good hit even before I see where the bag goes. When you kick the bag successfully on the second kick (the one you didn’t serve yourself) you’ll notice just how fast your foot has to move to meet the falling bag. In this way, it’s more similar to soccer/martial arts kick than anything even remotely resembling freestyle.

Conan’s Commentaries #3


The Original Text was Posted in the Net Forum.
See the corresponding Post for comments and discussion.

In my ongoing effort to help make this forum more interesting and useful for newer players, I am continuing my series of articles on footbag net training and competition. The point of this is to pass on information and generate discussion, so your comments are always welcome, no matter who you are. Commentary #1 was offseason conditioning. Commentary #2 was consecutives practice. This article will focus on defense.

To begin with, in order to play any sort of reasonable defensive game in footbag net, you must have all your basic kicks wired. Insides, outsides, back kicks, hopping kicks…with BOTH FEET! Yes, most of us favor one leg for kicking. But you will quickly be exposed on the net court if you don’t have all your basics. Sometimes even the greatest of “cheaters” (those who use one leg at all costs) are forced to dig, set, or even spike with an unlikely kick. See: Bouchard, Manu and Shults, Kenny. But, when pressed, all the top players who “cheat” are able to execute just about any kick. For more ideas on basic kicks and consecutives drills, see my Commentary #2.

My general theory of defense in footbag, whether it is serve reception or digging, can be summed up like this, “AGGRESSIVE POSITIONING, RELAXED RECEPTION”. What does that mean? It is basically a two-part method that helps put you in the best place to hit the best shot that you can. Let’s take it one part at a time:

AGGRESSIVE POSITIONING: When you first start playing footbag net, it is very difficult to read where the bag is going to land when it is kicked. But with practice it becomes natural. Positioning starts with reading the shot. Start reading the bag while your opponent is kicking it. Some players never take their eyes off the bag, and that is fine if you can see it all the time. I actually take my eyes off the bag and watch my opponents foot. This way I can see the wind-up and follow-through of the shot. These are the clues you need to tell you if it is a big crush or baby dink, as well as the direction of the shot. But knowing where it is going and getting there are two different things. You need to decide if you are the kind of player that will cover the whole court at all costs, or the kind of player that lets things fall for whatever reason (misread, fatigue, laziness, etc). Aggressive positioning means: if you know where the bag is going, then get there! Don’t wait. This is particularly important when you have been getting beat by the same shot over and over. If you see it coming again, GO! Make your opponent change their shot. This is what good defense is – taking away the confidence of the offense.

RELAXED RECEPTION: OK, you are in position to receive the shot. You have sprung like a cat to the exact spot where the bag is going. Your muscles are tightened up, ready to fire. But, the problem is, tight muscles are actually slower than relaxed ones. You must be physically relaxed but mentally sharp to put yourself in the best position to dig. If you watch the best defenders in any sport, they make it look easy. They aren’t flailing around. This is particularly important in footbag due to the “shank factor”. That spike that your opponent has hit 10 times to the same spot, it just might be shanked to a different spot this time. You need to be relaxed enough to react and move, not have your body weight and foot going one way only. Executing a good kick often requires small, last-second adjustments of your body and foot position in order to kick the bag up at a good angle. If you are shanking, it is probably because you are committing too early to a certain angle of kicking, and you are not continuing to adjust your position. Certainly, relaxed reception is not always possible in this wacky game, but it is a worthwhile goal when digging.

SERVE RECEPTION: Good defense starts with the serve reception. This is the single most important play in the game, but also the most challenging. Once the serve reception goes up in the air, all sorts of shots are possible – from huge spikes to diving saves. But, if the serve reception is missed, the point ends. It is obvious, but it is worth repeating: THE SERVE RECEPTION MUST GO UP IN THE AIR FOR ANY KIND OF ACTION TO HAPPEN! If you think about it, it should be relatively easy to receive the serve, as you know it must land in the 22×10 box that you are standing in. But, over and over the serve reception has proven to be a source great difficulty. At the beginning level of play, if you serve in, you win. Later, if you can return serve, you win. At the top level, the game is lots of sideouts. Set, kill. Set, kill. But if you look closely, missed serve receptions are the source of many points scored in top singles and doubles play.

So you cannot place too much emphasis on this part of the game. But there is no reason to freak out about it. Just go through certain steps before receiving each serve: 1) Do whatever it takes to forget about the last point and focus on the incoming serve. 2) Start reading the bag while your opponent is kicking it. You should know where the bag is going within 3 feet of it leaving your opponents foot. 3) Do whatever it takes to get the serve up in the air (some serves you can easily aim your sets, others just getting it up is a good play). 4) Play.

DIGGING: Good digging takes a mental and physical commitment. You may only have fractions of a second to redirect that spike up into the air, so you need total focus. Remember, “AGGRESSIVE POSITIONING, RELAXED RECEPTION”. You must commit to where you think the spike is going. Don’t worry about being badly out of position – believe in yourself. Plus, in doubles it can be an advantage if your partner commits to defending one spot. That way you can see the part of the court you need to cover. The best defensive teams rotate seemlessly throughout the whole court.

The quality of a dig can be summed up by the result. For example:

7. You don’t even see it. 6. You watch it fall somewhere on the court. 5. You swing and miss. 4. You get your foot on it and shank badly. 3. You kick it out of bounds or into the net. 2. You dig a soft lob back over the net. 1. You set the spike or bang a winner back over.

Really everything short of #1 is not good digging, although sometimes if you get enough #2’s back over the offense will fail. In doubles it is particularly important to try to send your digs up, and preferably towards your partner. The ultimate play in footbag is the big dig followed by the big spike! So don’t deny yourself this opportunity by banging weak shots back over all the time.

DIGGING DRILLS: Playing good defense in footbag is much easier said than done. The quickest way to get better is to play a lot against good players. If you don’t have access to a ready supply of spiking mates, you have a tougher road ahead. But you can get better by mastering your consecutives drills and being creative in your training. Give your friend a wooden paddle and have her play singles against you. Wooden or plastic paddles are the best. Tennis-type racquets are too bouncy. Another great drill is the “Nerd Drill”, named for Jason Langis. You stand in the center of the court and your partner stands somewhere on the other side of the net with a bunch of footbags. Your partner throws a bag to a deep corner. You run back, set,and spike. Then, right when you land, your partner throws a deep one to the other corner. You run back, set, spike, repeat. This is a killer drill for developing dynamic back kicks and conditioning yourself for those long singles rallies. After about 15 bags your legs feel like rocks.

BIG EYES: One of the best quotes about defense I ever heard was told to me by Jimmy C. His philosophy was “big eyes”. And it works. Instead of squinting and tensing up, open your eyes wide and try to really see everything that is happening. It’s a simple and effective technique.

PATIENCE: The last piece of advice I have is to play the game with patience. The problem I see with many beginners is swinging or jumping way too high to receive the bag. It’s really a perceptual problem: as you are playing, you are constantly looking up, so you think that you need to intercept the bag high. But that is not true…your kicks should be as “slow and low”; as possible. You need to move around the court quickly. But always try to take that extra step towards the spot the bag will land instead of kicking really high.

—Another digging drill is one similar to the “donut” drill mentionned in the consecutives topic. The one who throw the bag put his arm up straight and throw the bag from above shoulder by dropping the arm. From 2 meter away it simulate a spike coming from 2M height. This way you can work on a particular kick that you want to dig with, or have the thrower do ramdom throw, then it’s all about reflex, you have to read quickly where the bag is going and which kick to use. It’s quite intense depending of the velocity. Probably a great way to practice the “relaxed reception”

Conan’s Commentary #4


The Original Text was Posted in the Net Forum.
See the corresponding Post for comments and discussion.

In my ongoing effort to help make this forum more interesting and useful for newer players, I am continuing my series of articles on footbag net training and competition. The point of this is to pass on information and generate discussion, so your comments are always welcome, no matter who you are. Commentary #1 was Offseason Conditioning. Commentary #2 was Consecutives Practice. Commentary #3 was Defense. This article will focus on most everyone’s favorite activity Spiking.

A “spike” is any shot hit with good force at waist level or above. Of course there are lots of good, aggressive winners that can be hit low. It is very possible to win singles without spiking once. Winning doubles without spiking probably won’t happen against a good team. There are some spiking videos in the “Personal Galleries” Video section of PT’s are here and Manu is starting to get some on . Seeing the spikes in action is the best way to learn. So, this article will focus not so much on specific spike technique as theory and training.

But first:

Stretching is most important! Be ready to spike and not hurt yourself! Hitting spikes consistently means reaching outside your comfort zone into a potentially painful range of motion. I have torn a hamstring from being out of shape and trying to do crazy spikes. I was black and blue from my ass down to my calf, and it took years to feel normal again. Stretching regularly and warming up properly won’t eliminate injuries but will minimize them. Stretch all your muscles, but focus stretching on your lower back and every muscle that affects your hips and legs (hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, internal and external rotators, calves, etc). Stretching to gain flexibility should be an integral part of your fitness regimen. Stretching to prepare for a spiking session is slightly different: warm-up gently to get your blood pumping, stretch out gently, then go through your spiking motions with slow stretching kicks (dynamic, specific stretching). Now you are prepared to spike.

If you are a beginner or are learning a new spike, train with a hanging ball. Experiment with different foot and leg contact surfaces. Spiking high is great, but sometimes hitting that shot a bit lower will improve your consistency and even power. One of the coolest things about footbag is that there is room in the rules for everyone to have a unique spiking style. So try to learn as many spiking motions as you can. And don’t forget your weak leg! Practicing your weak leg can lead to a mental breakthrough with your strong leg. Some of those weak leg spikes can even appear at good times in game play!

From here you will need as many net bags as possible. They need not all be in perfect playing condition, but should also not be rocks or total mush. Set up the net on your own and hand toss sets to yourself. All different positions, leg motions, contact surfaces, and movements (standing, running, jumping) need to b e practiced over and over. For example: back to the net both sides and center, facing the net both sides and center. Again, try everything. Toes, insides, outsides, soles (both sides!). There are so many ways to kill the bag in this game. You should be able to hit a spike 90% of the time over and in when you toss to yourself. Then, expand your windows. Toss the bag and run after it in order to simulate game conditions. Next, kick sets to yourself. This is good setting practice and will force you to adjust spike distance and timing as in real play. If you are struggling to hit a shot, just start with over and in. Still hitting the net? Shoot for the back line. Power comes with improved timing and confidence.

This brings me to one of footbag net’s dirty secrets: most spikes aren’t hit very hard! It just looks like the spiker is swinging hard. In reality, most are little flicks or redirections that come off with good speed. This took a long time for me to learn, coming from a martial arts background. This is not kickboxing. There are no knockouts. One big kill usually means little in the course of a match, so focus on consistency over power. Power comes with improved timing and confidence.

Next, have a partner toss sets for you. It will take some training for your partner to learn to toss the bag high and towards the net, but not over. Use your partner to toss sets from far away, because you can practice the close ones yourself. Spike angles and timing change quite a bit when the set is coming from far away or falling fast (particularly reverse toe spikes and most standing spikes).

There is no substitue for spike drills. Unless you play with terrific setters, you simply will not get enough good looks at sets just playing in the park. To be an effective spiker you need to have an arsenal of spikes from a variety of positions. Each contingency needs hundreds of repetitions (at least) in order to build the consistency you need to minimize unforced errors and maximize kills. You will have more fun in games if you are spiking more consistently!

Finally, Learn to spike serve! Aside from the benefit of developing a strong serve, spike serving will force you to learn to hit a consistently good spike from far off the net. This will prove to be very valuable in real matches. It will probably take you years to develop a strong spike serve, but it’s worth it.

Conan’s Commentary #5


The Original Text was Posted in the Net Forum.
See the corresponding Post for comments and discussion.=

This article will focus on Learning How to Win.

“Footbag net is addictively difficult.” This is what I tell people when I describe the game. Most people simply can’t play. And it’s not just a matter of people not being exposed to the game. At this point in our history thousands and thousands of people have played at least a little over the net. The game is just not easy, and this combined with the lack of teaching pros makes footbag net not very accessible for most. It takes a huge commitment of time, energy, and resiliency to see even small improvements in tournament play. But, if you are reading this, you just might be crazy enough to get good at this game.

Is footbag net all about winning? No, it is possible to have great fun in the park without winning. But, if you compete in tournaments, you will probably not have much fun unless you win some matches. Is winning important? Sure, it is nice to get some positive results as payoff for hard work. Plus, if you are winning, it means you are doing something right. Just remember that each event only has one winner. Losing is a major part of competing. It does not make you less of a competitor.

Why, then, does it take so long to learn how to win in footbag net? Why are the veteran players able to consistently post good results while younger (and perhaps quicker) players often struggle to break through? It takes even the “prodigies” in this game 3-5 years to achieve a consistently high level of play. It is not simply a matter of years of experience, although experience is a big plus in this game. Rather, it is developing the mental, physical, and emotional tools you need to win matches and tournaments.

Here’s what I have learned in 12 years of “open” tournament play and 26 footbag titles:

Train enough to get better. This is the single hardest part, as we all have busy lives. Very few of us can practice more than 1-2 times a week. There are people out there playing 5-6 times a week, but don’t let that scare you. If your skills are stagnating, it doesn’t matter how much you are playing. Focus on maximizing the time you have. Do lots of drills to increase your reps. Stay in shape. As tournament time approaches, your practice sessions need to be higher intensity and maximum quality. So that is when you need other good players to practice with. Otherwise, the burden is on you to improve.

Treat your practice sessions like tournaments. This is most important in the weeks leading up to a tournament. Focus mentally and visualize specific plays you will execute. Spend extra time thinking about how you will correct some of your weaknesses. Kick consecutives and stretch the day before. Don’t party too much the night before (blasphemy!). The margin for error is very small in this game and even losing .02 seconds of reaction time will cause you to miss some shots. There are very few athletes who can play at their highest level with a hangover.

To be consistently successful at tournaments you need to develop a consistent schedule and routine for everything in your footbag world. All the little things – sleeping, eating, warming up, even putting on your shoes – can be seen as rituals you go through in order to be at your best when your next match starts. Remember that if you are winning there is always a next match to prepare for. Be ready, not by over-thinking what you need to do against your next opponent, but by confidently going through your preparations and being emotionally, intellectually, and physically prepared to win.

Emotionally – Don’t get too far up or too far down, you need to go a looooong way to win. One point rarely makes or breaks a match. Stay grounded and confident.

Intellectually – Adapt defensively to your opponent’s style (WAY easier said than done, but the best defenders don’t get beat by the same shot repeatedly). Play efficiently – use good shot selection to keep your consistency up and the burden on your opponent. Know how to keep the speed of the game comfortable for yourself (e.g. timeouts, time between points, choosing serve or side)

Physically – Knowing what your body needs to play at peak: hydration food sunblock shade rest physical endurance (train enough to play well on last day of the tourney) recovery (can you really play every event at your peak?)
Tournaments take tremendous focus. A tiny lapse in concentration can make you miss a shot, which can make you think too much about the next shot, and suddenly you are in a slump. But this is footbag, and everyone misses shots. So focus also means the ability to control yourself and maximize your percentages:

There are lots of books available on sports psychology. One book that helped me is “Toughness Training for Sport” by James E. Loehr. One of his basic arguments is that a winning athlete must achieve an Ideal Performance State. One way to do this is to think of yourself as an actor. When you step onto the court, you become the ideal footbag athlete that you know you can be. All of your movements and interactions with other players and the crowd are products of the character that you are playing. The best footbag actors can win almost through sheer force of personality alone. Chris “Gator” Routh is probably the best example of this I ever saw. I personally watched him win many matches against equally skilled opponents by wearing them down with his talk and personality. He was something to behold! Think about the demeanor of Manu or Kenny on the court. You can feel the drive to win coming out of these guys. Quieter guys like Florian Goetze, JF Lemieux, Andy Ronald, and Danny Borsky also assert their personality on the match through their cool in stressful situations.

OK, how about some specifics? Well, as I said at the beginning, this is a very difficult game. So, the question “How to Win” is more easily answered by asking “How to Lose?”

How to Lose: 1. Miss serve receptions (this will end your match in no time!) 2. Overset (setting your opponent is bad) 3. Miss spikes 4. Be consistently inconsistent

How to Win

Scoring points:

1. Serve aggressively 2. Dig (over and in is good, up on your side is better) 3. Hit your shots

Siding out:

1. Get that serve up in the air! 2. Limit unforced errors 3. Win every point, don’t get discouraged

Consistently solid defense is what it really takes to win. This is why the veteran players still win. Maybe they aren’t making the diving saves they used to, but they are making the routine plays, and that is what it takes – confidence and consistency in the face of adversity. See my article #3 Defense for more ideas on how to improve.

Serious athletes utilize a year-round training schedule broken up into different training cycles. This is called periodization. This will be the topic of one of my next articles.

Finally, remember to be philosophical: For some of us, winning feels nice, but losing eats at your very soul. Try to maintain balance. Exalt in Victory! And try not to beat yourself up too much for losing. Use it as motivation to train harder and get better!