Robert Atha is one of my favorite foosball players. His ballhandling skills are breathtaking and his playstyle has a smoothness and elegance that you just have to admire.
In recent years, he participated in numerous European tournaments as a goalie and as a forward and collected multiple titles. For example, he won open doubles and super doubles at the Leonhart WCS 2015 in Berlin, open doubles at the P4P Weltmeisterschaft 2014 in Bonn and the open doubles World Cup 2009 in Nantes.
In addition to his impressive records he is just a great and approachable guy. For all those reasons, it was an honor for me to get the chance of interviewing him.
Who is the player you learned the most from?
I had a lot of favorite players when I started playing which helped me develop my game, I was always asking all the top players for advice and watching the stuff that worked. On Tornado I learnt a lot from Billy (Pappas), my game was like his but 30% worse. (laughs) But it was enough to get some good results.
In terms of different styles, I loved watching Laszlo Teke, he came to England in 2001 and played on an old style Garlando table and killed everyone (including fred) shooting a slow tic tac. I had to learn it and it gets me so many free points in matches now.
My 5 bar was based on a mix between Terry Moore and Scotty Wydman. Wydman killed everyone with a runner pass, so I had to develop it into my game which is a great pass to use if you’re struggling.
Do you have an idol in foosball? Who is your favorite player and why?
Billy can do everything on a table and that’s the stuff that impresses me more than someone that will pass and score with the same stuff all the time. When I lived with him in the states about 12 years ago I learnt how to treat your opponent like a bitch, he showed me that nobody was that good and every player has weaknesses that are obvious if you pay enough attention. That gave me the confidence to mix it with the top players.
Fred is by far the best ever though, he always finds a way to win and his hand speed is incredible. His defence (about 3 years ago) was the best ever, now it is not as good anymore, as he doesn’t play as much. Sometimes I would just watch people want to die as they couldn’t score on him. It’s just good to watch.
What advice would you give to your 18 year old self?
Don’t rush everything and be confident in everything you do. Don’t change anything if it’s working. Only change after the opponent starts blocking it rather than doing the option just to show them.
What was the biggest success in your foosball career and why?
The biggest success was my first world title at the Tecball WCS in 2007. I and Tom van de Cauter had to beat Fred (Frederic Collignon) and Jamal (Allalou) twice in the final. I played goalie the whole tournament until we played Szüle/Perrin in the losers bracket final. Tom played amazing the whole tournament at forward until this match.
We had to switch and we drilled them after losing the first game and down 2-0 in the 2nd. Then I started forward in the final, we won the first match 3-1. Then in the 2nd match we were losing 2-1 in sets and 4-1 in the 4th set. I changed to a pull shot as Jamal was blocking me good. I then shot 4 straights in a row and Tom blocked some shots and we won that game to take it to a 5th set, and in the 5th I scored 4 more straights and then tom scored 2 banks to win 6-4!
My other favorite win was with Joe Hamilton at the 2009 Multi Table Worlds in Nantes, he was my best friend and only playing a couple of years and we had such a good time playing and laughing.
What was the worst defeat of your career?
I have had a couple. A few years back I was playing to get to 3rd in OS at the Tornado Worlds. I lost a game against Dave Gummeson that I had shots to win in every set. I felt that year if I won that match I would have won the tournament as Fred lost early.
Are there underlying principles for offensive / defensive play, how would you describe them?
You need to commit to each play you do. If someone blocks your pass or shot, give the opponent credit for making the play rather than getting angry that you missed. If you do this then your frame of mind will stay a lot calmer and won’t affect your next play. You then need to find out why they blocked it and learn and adjust. Keep adjusting.
Defending is the same: If they are scoring then they have a read on your defense. Try and work out if they are waiting for you to move and timing your defense or they see a hole and shoot it quicker so they are beating you to it. The more you think the easier it is to set up your opponent on a big point for a steal or a block.
How important is decision making in foosball and what is your approach to it?
Every time you make a play like a pass or a shot you have decided to do it. With the top players they can do every pass and every shot and it’s the players decision making that wins the game. If you ever watch a game on video you can see everything and think go push side or pull side, do a runner pass, it’s because you are watching and analyzing the game rather than playing in it.
When I’m playing I try to do both, so in my head I see everything in slow motion which allows me to make quick decisions. When reading a defense or 5 bar, are they racing my pass or anticipating it, does he look twitchy so every time I do a fake he is jumping. You need to figure out early what kind of strategy your opponent is using against you so you can adapt and do 1 or 2 things throughout the game which will work every time.
On the 3 bar, on the first possession don’t even think about shooting, just watch the defense and see how it is early, after 7 seconds and after 10 seconds, see if it gets worse or notice any patterns. You should make a play 80-90% of the time due to a read or a previous read and then 15-20% as a guess or a risk play. This will keep your opponent from working you out. If you are confident enough to analyze a game while you’re playing it, then you will notice it will be a lot easier to figure out what is going on and see lots of simple plays that will work.
How do you cope with pressure situations? Do you have specific strategies or do you prepare for those situations away from the table?
Practice it! It’s only a game of foosball, pressure only comes from the pressure you put on yourself, nobody else. Visualizing what you want to do really helps. Use time outs to aid the moment. Don’t be afraid to lose and have the inner confidence that you can do it. The most important is to be aggressive in the big moments, not a pussy.
I’ll tell you a story about Philip Pauli. We played the final of the P4P OD Worlds in 2014 against Szüle/Müller. We won against them 3-0 in the winner’s bracket and in the final we were up 2-0. Philip had 2 shots to win I think in game 3 and missed and they won the 3rd set. During the break between sets he said I’m so nervous, I can’t see anything bla bla…
I said ‚bull shit‘ we are dominating them. Don’t be scared, this is your moment. You can either be a mouse or a tiger, which one are you?? He said ‚I’m a tiger‘ so I told him to say it again… he did. He felt a lot better and killed them the next game.
So it only comes from your head. It’s the same game you know how to play, it’s just sometimes you forget how good you are and panic. You need to know how to change in those moments to get your confidence back.
What are most frequent mistakes you see at the amateur level?
Amateurs are pattern players; they play on auto pilot. You can do the same thing over and over and they won’t learn. Sometimes they can be good for a game but they can’t sustain it.
How do you prepare for an important tournament? How do you „find“ your technique at the beginning of a tournament. How do you warm up etc.? How do you keep prepared for play during an important tournament?
I don’t prepare. (laughs) I have practiced my whole life so now when I get to a tournament I will check what works and what doesn’t, know my limitations and enjoy the game. I don’t play much anymore as my business is more important but I do miss competing and I love winning! The Tornado Worlds is the only tournament I care about anymore; it still has the most prestige. I will practice before that, just making sure all my options are sharp. You can practice all you want but nothing beats tournament experience as that is the best practice.
What are your favorite wraps?
Master wraps are my favorite; the light green color.