The following article was originally posted on the rec.sport.table-soccer news group and is re-printed here with the permission of the author, Robert Uyeyama
Chapter 1 - Getting Hooked: No Spinning Allowed
Chapter 2 - Learning that Consistency is the Key
Chapter 3 - So you thought you were good...
For whom is this file written? This essay is is intended for a wide variety of players; there are three separate chapters for three arbitrarily selected levels of play of people who have little or no experience in competition. This ranges from the absolute-beginner to someone who can be quite good, but not "tournament-hardened".
The three chapters are as follows:
Chapter Two is for those who have played for several months to several years, but only on a casual level-- for these people, they rarely have considered practicing, shots are impressive only once in a while, but they certainly haven't taken the game strategy seriously... until now... and wish to learn more.
Chapter Three is a short list of advice for those who have played seriously, even for several years, but only on a very local level. This would include bar-players and college-players who are considered among the best at their respective home ground, but who have not had any "big" tournament experience.
A fact which may come as a surprise (a welcome one) to many is that foosball/table-soccer is played on a competitive (read: "professional") level. There are several "tours" which exist, and these tours organize various regional, national, and even "world" championships! For example, in the United States, there is the well-established United States Table Soccer Association (USTSA) and the nascent American Table Soccer Federation (ATSF). These organizations are manufacturer-based, in other words they are not player organizations, but rather promoting organs sponsored by the table manufacturers: USTSA for Tornado (817 561-0511), and ATSF for Dynamo/Striker (800 527-6054). Contact these phone numbers for more information on regular draw-your-partner events in your area, as well as for upcoming national and regional events-- go see tournament foos today!
The older tours were played on Tournament Soccer (TS), Dynamo, and Hurricane tables in the 60's and 70's, but now the quality of the newer brands of tables has much improved, prompting some players to label the older tables as mere "toys". So if you haven't played on a Tornado or Striker, you really are missing a lot, and perhaps even learning wrongly that some things are not possible on a foosball table. For example, the "modern" balls tend to be made of a very durable plastic (urethane), causing the balls not to dent and therefore they will always roll completely straight. The shapes and even fastenings for the men have changed so that catching, kicking, and tic-tac-ing are much easier; what is tic-tac-ing? Imagine passing rapidly between the men on your three bar for up to several minutes on end-- the sound the ball makes as it bounces between the men gives this motion its name. Other improvements include very flat playing fields, individually adjustable table legs, smoother bearings, lighter rods, counterweighted men, etc. Most people which switch over to these tables do not like them at first, but within a few weeks of playing, the verdict is unanimous: no one would dream of going back to playing seriously on their "old" table, sentimental feelings aside.
So the purpose of this file, and indeed the newsgroup itself, is to promote the sport of foosball. This particular file is important, because by encouraging new players to begin playing, and encouraging the large bulk of non-competitive experienced players to enter competitive play, we will certainly make a great step towards that goal.
This chapter is intended for those who have little or no experience in foosball at all, or for those who wish to "teach" others who have little or no experience.
If you're reading this, you've probably encountered good players, perhaps so good you didn't even dream that this "game" could be taken so seriously. But it is great fun, and you're probably also on your way to getting hooked. This is the most important part; take the sport as fun, and never be discouraged by any silly, competitive attitudes you may run across when playing other "good" players. Whether you want to learn how to beat these people, or simply ignore them and just have fun with your friends, it will benefit you to learn more about the sport.
The main goals which will be discussed are: 1) Discovering what is possible; 2) Learning basic skills; 3) Discovering what to practice (yes, practice). Let us begin with the first concept: what is possible? First of all, the game consists of putting the ball in your opponent's goal, and keeping it out of yours-- that's obvious. But there are good and bad ways of accomplishing this. The most common problem is "spinning the rods." Here are the most often-cited points that are good about spinning the rods: 1) you can hit the ball HARD with little or no effort 2) you hit the ball more often; 3) because of 1 & 2, you probably score more often; 4) this method is fun and energetic; 5) if you don't spin, you miss the ball a lot, hit it slowly, score less, and look lame.
REASONS WHY YOU SHOULDN'T SPIN THE RODS: 1) you can hit the ball about as hard as your spin by practicing a wrist-flick (to be described) in less than a week; 2) you can easily learn to hit the ball more often than a random spin; 3) you can accurately aim the ball and score, while a spin-shot is pretty random or only straight and easily blockable by an alert opponent; 4) you are in position to catch loose balls if you don't spin, creating more scoring opportunities; 5) spinning can damage the table (by breaking men, pins/screws, or damaging the rod itself). The third and fourth reasons are the most compelling since you'll score more often, while the first two are just ways of saying, "you get the same benefits as spinning anyways with very little practice."
So: don't spin the rods. Now as far as offensive play, how do you get these benefits? This is what is important: 1) practicing your wrist-flick, and; 2) aiming the ball. Not spinning the rods also helps you on defense, and that will be discussed immediately afterwards.
WRIST FLICK: if you can't seem to hit the ball very hard (without spinning), how do you do it? First of all, try it with your right hand, since that hand will be doing almost all shooting. Put the ball on the playfield under your front three-man rod, in the center in front of an open goal (lift the defending rods for an open shot). Now, practice hitting the ball as hard as possible straight into the goal from this position-- use your middle man and _don't_ push or pull the rod: 1) Stand slightly to the left of the rod, and away from the table; 2) Hold on to the handle, and don't let go; 3) Now, "forget" about both your arm and your hand, and only concentrate on your WRIST; 4) "Throw" your wrist as hard as you can _straight_ down towards the _floor_, past the side of the handle, resulting in 5) your wrist snapping downward-- since of course your hand is still gripping the handle, the motion stops as your wrist locks abruptly-- this is the wrist flick!
AIMING: set the ball up along the 3-rod as previously. This time, instead of concentrating on speed, consider your control of the aim. Observe that if you hit the ball dead-on, the ball travels straight into the goal. Now change your rod's position, so that if you swing (wrist flick) straight (without push/pulling the rod), you'll hit the left 1/4 of the ball. Swing. Notice that the ball angled to the right. Different distances from the edge of the ball produce different angles. Beginning your swing with the front of the man's toe touching the back of the ball gives you more control than if the toe begins from the air way out from behind the ball. Now try aiming a shot into an undefended goal from every single man on your five-man rod. You can even hit a ball in from the very edge of the table!
Before we go on, let me mention an alternative way of hitting a ball hard, this is called the "open hand", or "fan" technique. Basically, you cock your rod & men backwards to shoot by rolling the handle clockwise up your palm as you open your hand, fingers toward the floor. As you shoot, you reverse the motion and roll the handle back (counterclockwise) to your fingers, which catch the handle tightly. Done quickly, this open-close motion can result in a very hard shot. Control with the open-hand "fan" is more difficult that a normal wrist-flick, but it can be learned.
FUNDAMENTALS OF DEFENSE: Again, don't spin the rods. You can only block an incoming shot if your men are straight down, which they aren't about 80% time when they're spinning; yet it's fairly common for beginners to do this anyways. Why? Because it looks cool, and once in a while, a shot blocked by a spinning rod will immediately become an offensive shot towards your opponents goal-- neither of these reasons are compelling. Even if you're not spinning, don't get eager to shoot the ball: Stop the ball, then shoot it. ;) Otherwise, you'll often lose the ball, resulting usually in a possession and a quick goal from your opponent's dreaded 3-rod.
So, what else do you do? Your opponent can aim the ball just like you can. Therefore, you want to guard both the STRAIGHT shot, and all ANGLE shots. Remember if you can draw a line from the ball to your goal, that shot is open. Never position your two men (your middle goalie and one of the men on the two-man rod) behind each other- if you do, you're just blocking the same place twice, and you might as well just lift one of the men, and your defense wouldn't be any worse for it! Just experiment, placing the ball on _all_ parts along the opposing 3-rod, and positioning your defensive men to block both the straight and angle shots. Remember if you can draw a line from the ball to your goal, that shot is open. (Did I just say that?) Now your opponent either rely on you to flinch and open these holes, or must "race" you, moving the ball horizontally along his three-rod until it reaches a position where a diiferent straight shot (or sometimes the angle) is open. Defending against opponents who try this latter option will be discussed in Chapter 2. Also, be very aware that shots from the opposing 5-rod and 2-rod can also be blocked in this way-- you just have to learn to expect a shot from these areas of the table, and block most of the possible "lines" to your goal. Just being aware of these "lines" and trying to block them will make a big difference. Finally, if you're shooting from the defensive region, remember you can still aim it, and take your time to lift up your 5- and 3-rods (or in doubles, tell your partenr) so that you'll never block your own shot!
WITH WHICH HAND DO YOU HOLD WHICH ROD in singles play? 1) When you're defending against a 3-rod shot, hold BOTH of your defensive rods (goalie & 2-man)-- Ditto for when you're shooting from your defensive region. 2) When you're defending an opponent's defensive-region shot, you should have your right hand on your 3-rod, and your left either on your 5-rod or goalie-rod; the latter may be more effective at first. When the ball is in the center region, you should have your L & R hand on the goalie-rod and 5-rod (maximum defense). 3) Later, when you learn how to pass and you have possession of the ball, you can stop the ball, and switch to holding the 5-rod and the 3-rod (ready for offense or passing to the 3-rod), and when you get much better, you may wish to stay in this position for defense against the opposing 5-rod or 2-rod, so that you are ready to catch any loose balls on your 3-rod.
BALL-CONTROL (or how not to lose the ball): this is especially for those playing on tables which are not Tornado or Striker, and tables which are old, dented, and otherwise warped. Ball control is much easier on the Tornado and Striker, but the skills in this section are still essential to learn for these tables too. To be able to use your growing arsenal, you need to be able to "maneuver" the ball, and not lose it. There are three exercises which are good to do, all on the 3-rod. 1) INTERCEPTION: Try _very_ lightly tapping the front of the ball (with the back of your toe), then as the ball rolls back, tapping the back of the ball (with the front of your toe). Continue to gently tap the ball back and forth; this back-and-forth distance will be less than an inch-- the skill being learned here is to rapidly lift the man and swing it around to the other side of the ball to prevent it from rolling away. You will find the shape of the motion to be a series of "C" shapes around the ball. 2) PINNING: In the second exercise again begin by tapping one side (front or back) of the ball, but this time let it roll further. Move in the same "C" shape as if to intercept it, but leave your toe lifted in the air. When the ball rolls under your man's toe, bring it down forcefully on the _top_ surface of the ball to "pin" it to the playing field, resulting in a sudden stop. Practice both versions (i.e. tap back of ball then front-pin; tap front of ball then back-pin). This develops the reflex to suddenly and confidently "catch" a ball which is too difficult to intercept by method 1). For example, this "pin" catch is very useful for a ball which is rolling away at high speed. 3) BALL MOVEMENT: The third exercise is to pass the ball from one man on the 3-rod to another, steady the ball, and again pass it to the next man on the rod. Continue passing among all three men on the rod. The skill here is maneuvering the ball wherever you wish it to be along your rod. Also try bringing the ball to a stop at various points along the rod. You will find that the skills learned in 1) and 2) are very useful to prevent the ball from rolling away out of reach-- try and develop a feel for when it is better to use 1) vs. 2) to retrieve a ball about to roll away from you. These skills of interception, pinning, and ball-movement are applicable to all rods of a foosball table.
Now that you can wrist-flick hard, aim the ball, know how to act on defense, and know how to maneuver a ball without losing it, you are hereby no longer a "spinner"!
This chapter is intended for players who have casually played the game (and never took it seriously) for many months or even years, and for those who have been seriously playing but only for a few months.
If you're reading this chapter, you may play the game largely to pass time while being entertained-- you may have played the game like this for a few years, even going through a few short periods of "foos-addiction" and taking the game seriously. Now, after all this time, you've finally become tired of that/those "good" players still being much better than you are and would like to know if it's worth the effort to get that good. Answer: The effort required is much less than you think; the keys are knowing what to practice, and knowing strategy. What may seem to be the answer at first is acquiring an arsenal of unstoppable shots; this is untrue! Although having such an arsenal isn't necessarily a disadvantage, all you need on the 3-bar is one good shot... learning all of the other shots will simply make you 2nd-best in all of them, and very good at none. However one unstoppable shot from the 3-rod is not enough either; you need a good 5-rod to pass it to your 3-rod unstoppably. Re-learning your defense is less critical at this point (for tips on learning a moving-defense see Chapter 3). So in summary: 1) choose a shot and learn it well; 2) Learn the 5-rod brush-pass, and use it so you can use your shot; and 3) learn essential strategy so you can put your shot and pass to good use. All of these parts must be performed consistently and effortlessly-- using your best shot or pass once in a while, or having it be inconsistent (i.e. it works great half of the time) will make all of your effort moot. 1-3 are described in turn:
You should choose _one_ main shot. My advice is choose the pull. If you play on a Tornado or Stryker table, you can choose either the pull or the snake; on some of the older tables, snake-shots are often more difficult and less potent. Read FAQ6 for instructions on these offensive weapons-- included are instructions for both beginners and intermediates. Once you have chosen a shot, it is very important to use it strategically... in other words _every single time_ you get the ball on your 3-rod; the point here is that your favorite shot is also your highest-percentage shot. Having a wide-arsenal is fun and flashy, but the "one-shot-player" will win the most matches! Make sure your setup is the best it can be; for example with a pull, make sure your 3-rod is pushed all the way to the wall; if it isn't, the defense has less goal to defend, and your scoring percentage will simply go down!
Why the pull is good: Good shooters can shoot the shot so fast the defense cannot race the shooter to the hole. The pull-shot begins with the ball on the right side of the middle-man with the 3-bar is pushed to the wall; as you pull the rod, the ball moves horizontally, and you eventually shoot the ball in. Remember a good stationary defense will cover your straight shot and angle shot. By moving the ball horizontally far enough you will be able to shoot a straight shot to the right side of the goal; the defense will obviously move his men to the right side of the goal. Therefore for the shot to succeed, you must "race" the defense to that open hole; if you have a slow pull shot, it's useless. If you have a fast one, you can _always_ beat a set defense to the hole!
Some caveats: A fast pull can be beaten by a set defense if the timing of the shot is predictable... in other words don't set up your shot, wait a consistently predictable two seconds, then shoot it-- a blazing fast "2-second pull" is raceable. By USTSA rules, you have 15 seconds on your 3-rod, so use your time and "sit on it"! You will also be able to analyze the defense during this time. Also, practice shooting the straight shot (!) accurately in the case of a good moving-defense.
Why the snake is good: This shot begins in a front pin in the exact center of the 3-bar. The shot is good because it can be as fast as a pull shot, but can be shot in both directions: the pull-snake to the right corner and the push-snake to the left-corner... the defense doesn't know what to defend! If these are both covered, the straight shot is open. For this reason, the snake is most useful when its setup is in the center of the table. Most people think the snake-shot is easier to learn than the pull, and for this reason some people recommend learning the snake to beginners; people can get quite good at the shot in only a month! And once you learn the shot, you will find the soreness of your wrist will disappear. But learning to really master the shot, however, is not easy either.
If you don't want to _practice_ a shot _at all_, but still would like to score better, doing the push-kick or the pull-kick (see definition in FAQ1) _every time_ you get the ball on your 3-rod will improve your scoring percentage. Why? I am not implying that these are bad shots to learn in the long-run; many people have unstoppable push-kicks and pull-kicks. The reason these shots are recommended in this context is that even a medium-speed push-kick or pull-kick can score reasonably against a good defender; a medium-speed pull or snake is much easier to block! This is because where you intend to shoot the ball is more unpredictable-- the ball begins on the inside of either of the outer-men on the 3-rod (left man = pull-kick setup; right man = push-kick setup). The ball is passed horizontally to the middle man, who shoots it straight in. This middle man can shoot the ball straight into either the left or right corner of the goal, depending on how far the horizontal pass is. If the horizontal pass is even medium-fast, it becomes difficult for the defender to predict which corner you are aiming for. So practice shooting the _edges_: the edge of the near corner and the far corner of the goal. The middle of the goal will usually be blocked in any case, but if you always aim for the corners, you will be most unpredictable to the defender! Also, be aware of two more options: 1) a faked pass w/the outer man who instead angle-shoots it toward the near corner, or 2) executes an outer-man push or pull shot toward the near corner.
However, mastering a pull-kick or push-kick shot so that your scoring percentage is very high tends to be more difficult than getting to this same percentage with a pull or a snake shot. So if you are going to practice a shot, make it the pull or snake. If you refuse to practice, but still want to score more, always use a push-kick or pull-kick. And always use your best shot.
Having an unstoppable 3-rod shot is useless if you never get the ball on your 3-rod! A good opponent will do exactly this. Even if no players in your area can keep the ball away from your 3-bar the entire game, learning a good 5-rod pass will still do wonders! You can play someone with a better shot, and if your pass is better, you will get more scoring opportunities, and things will even out in your favor.
If you're going to practice anything on your 5-bar at all, practice the "Brush Pass"-- read FAQ2 and skip straight to the "brush passing" section. The brush pass techniques will begin bearing improvements to your game almost immediately. So the brush-pass is _as_ important as learning a good 3-rod shot. Spend as much time practicing this as your you do your shot.
What else do you need to know about your 5-rod? You should be able to: 1) block opposing defensive shots; 2) block opposing 5-rod passes. The first point is difficult for many people because there are "too many men" on the rod, and the range of motion of that rod is very limited. The following exercise (also described in FAQ3) is very helpful: Lift up the opposing 5-rod. Pass the ball back and forth between your 5-rod and your 3-rod, doing ALL ANGLE PASSES. The straight passes are easy to intercept, but the angle passes are the ones which teach the range of motion for each man on the 5-rod; it may be frustrating but even a few 10-15 minute sessions will help vastly. Once your "intuition" for the 5-rod is improved, you will block more shots from the opposing defensive region. Also, by using this intuition, you can begin using your 3-rod men to block the "holes" in your five-bar (usually the spaces between the 2nd & 3rd and 3rd & 4th men). "Meshed" in this way, both your 3-rod and 5-rod can contribute in the most effective way.
The second point, blocking passes, will be improved just by the intuitions developed while learning the brush pass; also you can block slow-medium speed passes by moving your 5-rod back and forth rapidly, so that you "swat" away any passes. Moving unpredictably back and forth can also make it more difficult for a good passer to choose the open pass. Remember that your wall pass is very open because the bumper on the five-bar prevents your men from actually touching the wall; against very good brush-passers, you can "twitch", pretending to move the five-bar off of the wall (or lane), but actually keeping it stationary-- mix your "twitches" and back-and-forth movements. This advice even should be applied to on a standard moving-defense in the defensive-region!
Finally, if you have practice your brush-pass, a consequence will be that you will habitually keep your 3-rod angled forward, making it much easier to catch loose balls. If the defense is shooting, you can angle it backwards to try to catch a blocked shot. When your 5 and 3 rod are both lifted for any reason, they should swing to the horizontal, the 5 rod clockwise, the 3 rod counter-clockwise. In this way, your 3-rod is ready to catch an incoming loose ball, and the 5-rod is ready to block a bounce off of the opposing 5-rod.
After you learn your chosen shot and the brush pass, you must do two things with these: learn to execute these consistently (19 out of 20 times) and religiously use them in real play.
In addition to your shot, pass, and shot-pass strategy, there are additional points 1) _never ever_ accidentally lose a ball you have possession of-- practicing pinning hard any ball which is about to get away from you; 2) learn to _always_ foos the ball to yourself-- practice this; 3) _never_ repeat bad strategies; 4) _never_ shoot the ball from the 5-rod; 5) learn ball control & pass-catching, and when you lift your 3-rod up swing it up counter-clockwise/toes-forward-- this is so you will learn to catch loose balls like velcro.
In more detail:
Learn to keep your 3-rod either swung up counter-clockwise and horizontally with toes-forward, or down with the toes still slightly angled forward. In either case you are ready or almost-ready to catch a loose ball or quick pass. On a Tornado, this forward-angle can also "auto-stuff" defensive shots when the ball bounces hard off of the 3-man's toe. The uncommon exception to the rule is when your opponent's defensive shots are weak, you can consider angling your 3-man backwards (in this case only) to try to "catch" the shot by blocking it.
But when you lift your 5-rod, lift it by turning the rod _clockwise_ . And when it is down defending against a 2-rod shot, angle it toes-slightly-forward so that any hard shots will bounce hard off the toe, and perhaps into the opposing goal (i.e. "auto-stuff") or at least to you 3-rod which is waiting angled-forward (if you read the last paragraph) and automatically ready to catch any such rebound; hence when you lift both rods, the two lines will "swing away" from each other, 3-rod counter clockwise, 5-rod clockwise.
Never shooting from the 5-rod was explained above. Also, a blocked 5-rod shot may mean a 5-rod possession and therefore a point for your opponent! Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule. These exceptions will be discussed next, but remembers they are only exceptions to fine-tune your strategy, not excuses to have lapses in your strategy.
The most difficult point is the one about not repeating bad strategies. For example, let's pretend your chosen (and best) shot on offense is the pull. If your opponent blocks your first attempt, you should probably stick with the same shot. However, if many more pulls are blocked, you may consider going to your second-shot, or even a trick shot; in this case, although your pull is your best shot, it is not the best shot to use _against this opponent_. You may find the snake works better; you should experiment and find what your best shot is, and stick with that. An unexpected one-time trick shot may also be worth one point here, but no more than that.
The same goes for a 5-rod shot, or a shot or pass immediately upon foosing the ball. If it's unexpected, and you think your chances are high for scoring, it may be justified. Try it once. Remember it's all percentages: repeatedly using these tricks or hacks will only make you score less.
The same goes for defense. Suppose you use a stationary race-defense and it usually works, but if one day you should run up against someone who always scores on you, you should drop the race defense, and experiment with a moving-defense; although if you're not familiar with a moving-defense, you may still block 50% or 25% of the shots, while previously you were blocking about 0% with the race-defense. Now, instead of a hopeless race, the burden is now on the shooter who has to guess which holes you are opening, and when.
Remember, you can also vary the _type_ of moving defense that you use; if the opponent is always scoring on your moving defense when you use your far 2-man, switch to your 1-man periodically-- if the opponent scores too often when you bait the long shot, bait the middle or straight. So switching the 2-man that you use is good, just as long as you don't do it too often-- if the shooter can count on you switching, he can wait for the switch then shoot it in. Also, to increase the unpredictability of your defensive motions, remember to experiment with your mix of several techiniques: 1) a periodically standstill rod, 2) a moving rod, (push/pull movement), 3) back-forth circular movements of the men, 4) "twitching" movements to give the appearance that your men are going to move to another spot in the defense, but actually stay put; 5) switching your 2-man; 6) leaving the straight-shot open.
In summary, when you are using a moving-defense, _think_ about what areas you are blocking-- don't get caught just moving your men back and forth across the front of the goal without being aware of which holes are being opened most, and which hole is likely to look most enticing to the shooter. A moving-defense is _not_ strictly a random defense; there is a lot of subtle "baiting" to be done along with the unpredictability. Be able to adjust your defense for different opponents as soon as possible.
You get the idea: figure out what works, then stick to it. This means using your brush-pass and "best"-shot sequence. Keep the exceptions infrequent, and make the exceptions work toward your scoring and blocking percentages.
Summary: use the tools you have practiced to your advantage!
This chapter will be short, but will also be on the topic most dear to my heart. The chapter title describes me a few years ago, and the only difference today is that I'm still not good, but now I know it...
My only advice is that if you're beating all the players around you, you _have_ to go out and find players who can beat _you_. Then you'll see what great foosball is like, and then you may be motivated to practice that brush-pass, that moving-defense, and all those other techniques that seemed like sheer nonsense to you before.
Probably the easiest way to find good players in your area is to find local Tornado tournaments. Call the Tornado Promotions Hot Line at (817) 561-0511, and they will be able to tell you the phone number of a "promotor" (i.e. tournament-organizer) in your area. Then call your promotor, who will give you all of the details. The Striker foosball tables are starting to make inroads in the foos-world, so you can also contact them at Dynamo at (800) 527-6054. Also, you can find many tournament listings in alt.sport.foosball's FAQ 3: "Playing Locations." And of course you can pipe up on alt.sport.foosball to see if any other players are in your area. Finally, if you're suspicious about these Tornado or Stryker tables you've heard of, give them a good try anyways: go to these tournaments for a few months, then decide what you think... I can almost guarantee you will eventually be a "convert"!
The other advantage to playing better players is that you learn faster... _much_ faster. You'll learn what a good moving-defense for a pull shot or a snake is like; the subtleties are hard to figure out on your own! You'll learn new options from regular shot set-ups that you never knew existed. You'll learn the importance of ball spin, and how quickly you will lose if you don't have a brush pass or stick pass series. You may even learn downright useless things such as how to set up and shoot the flamboyant Rainbow (aerial shot), or the Alien. You get the idea.
So, whether you're the current college champ, bar champ, or a former addict, go ahead and find those better players... although you may lose more games than you're accustomed to, you will probably have a new drive to become better at the sport. And once you attend a Tour event, you'll be hopelessly hooked, and the entire sport will benefit from the widened base of competition players.
As a final word, please read Chapter 2 of this file. It contains some general advice which is valid and useful no matter how good you are at the sport. The sequence of choosing one shot, then learning and always using the brush-pass are key, as is the advice on strategy; even following these instructions will immediately improve your game (i.e. stop hacking from 5-rod and pass, and concentrate on one shot). The one thing I would add is to learn a good moving defense, since you _will_ find that most players have 3-rod shots which can't be reliably raced-- even if your moving defense is still letting shots through, you'll find that the shots-against percentage has at least decreased compared to your stationary race-defense; unfortunately there is not a faq (frequently-asked-questions) file on this topic yet, but it should be forthcoming.