Tony Spredeman is widely considered the best foosball player on Tornado nowadays and in the multitable format he certainly is one of the strongest players in the world as well. His five bar series is not only unique in the world of foosball, it also seems almost unfairly unstoppable on regular basis. The intensity, focus and heart he brings to the table could be an inspiration to almost everyone. He loves the game more than anything and his passion for foosball is seriously infectious while being around him. But despite his numerous victories over the past years he still is humble, polite, down to earth and takes a lot of time to help younger players improve their game. Therefore, I am more than happy, that I got an interview with him.
How did you start playing foosball and what was your main motivation to keep playing and improving?
First I started playing in 1996 when I was 11 years old at a recreational centre for kids. Somehow I was naturally better than the other kids, just hand eye coordination and basic things. When I told my father that I started playing foosball, he was really happy because he also played at the tournament soccer tour. Over foosball we had a shared passion that we could bond together over. My first big tournament was the Wisconsin State Championships. I remember exactly the situation when I first went into the room with all those tables, my eyes completely lit up at that moment. Right of the beginning I started competing against adults which were sometimes two to three times older than me. Being able to beat those players was a big confidence builder for a young kid.
My motivation for improving came by itself, because I am a very competitive person. It is like a natural drive for me to get better and win against other players. Furthermore, it was something I could do together with my father and this was a big motivation as well.
From which players did you learn the most in the beginning of your career?
First my dad got me started with the basics of foosball. After that time, I got better by watching a lot of matches of top players. One of the most inspiring players for the general attitude and game style was Tommy Adkisson. Apart from that he took a little bit from local players like Dana Mar.
In singles, I became a great player naturally. I find it much easier because you don’t have to worry about the mood of your partner. In doubles however, Todd Loffredo helped me a lot to understand the dynamics of playing and winning together with a partner. One of the most important things in doubles is communication with your partner. It is important to develop a game plan with your partner together.
Talk about what mode he is going to be in. For example, if the forward struggles, he has to shoot more on goal. Otherwise he can just feed me the ball over and over again. During a game, you should learn how to dissect everything your partner is going to do. You have to know every available option of him and read the holes with him together. You can think of it like a doubles team should be one person with four hands.
But all these are more like general concepts I learned from other players. When it comes down to specific technical options, my game style is much different than everybody else, so it is hard to translate sometimes. A good example is my five bar. When I started playing I was too short to look over the table and I had to pass at the far wall to be able to see the ball. A lot of top players told me, that this is not consistent and will limit my game right from the beginning.
The top player at that time was Terry Moore. He had a very methodical and slow brush series at the near side, probably the most opposite series to mine. They said, that if I want to be like the best, I had to play like the best. So, I tried this a couple of months but it wasn’t fun for me and this always was the most important thing in foosball. So I stayed true to myself and I developed the tic-tac series. I have never seen this anywhere else, it developed right out of a practice drill for ball control, that Ron Greenwald gave me. This brought me to the belief, that there is no right way to play the game. Do what works for you, what makes fun and develop a potent system out of it.
Are there players that you admire?
I always loved watching Tommy Adkisson play. Even if you are only in the crowd, he makes you feel, like you are in the game by interacting with you or his opponent. Tommy is just a unique player. At the table, he could be such an asshole but at the same time you just have to like him. I guess you just love to hate him and he is very entertaining. One of my first big tournaments was in 1998 in Kempton Ohio and at this tournament I asked multiple pro players, if they would play pickup games with me. But everybody turned the little kid down except for Tommy. He was the nicest guy and played 45 minutes with me. This had a big influence on me, as it is one of the main reasons why I try to spend so much time with younger players.
Another great character is Robert Mares. I play doubles with him on a regular basis and respect him very, very much. No matter what kind of situation you are in, he is always fully present and you can rely on him, that he has got your back. He has got more heart than anybody else I know.
My biggest success without a doubt was winning Open Singles 2003 at the Tornado World Championships as an 18-year-old. It was my first major title and that is always the sweetest in your memory. I dreamed about it and envisioned it for 5-6 years before it actually happened. As I finally achieved that goal, it was the most rewarding feeling in my career by far. Especially because I beat a tough line up with Dave Gummeson, Frederic Collignon, Luiz Cartwright and Terry Rue.
My worst defeat was exactly one year earlier in the Open Singles final at the 2002 Tornado World Championships. I lost to Fred in the final, but what especially hurt was the way I lost. I was down 1:2 in sets and had the ball on my three bar at 4:4 in the fourth set. I hit a pull side snake shot and it went off the post directly into my own goal. I had nightmares about this situation.
However, this was an extra motivation for me and for the next year I was on a mission. So, I went online and searched for the ugliest picture from Fred I could find and made it the background of my computer. That gave me a lot of extra motivation. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Fred as a fantastic foosball player and he knows that. Beating him was just the ultimate goal for everyone, so this is more a compliment to him than everything else.
Another tough defeat was at the 2005 Tornado World Championships. I played Open Doubles with my father and we could have gotten to 3rd place in that tournament, which would have been huge. We beat Dave Gummeson and Tracy McMillin but lost to Billy Pappas and Fernando Darosa. Winning the Open Doubles Worlds with my Dad is a dream of mine and maybe we can accomplish that in the future.
Do you have any practice drills or strategies to cope with pressure situations?
There is one thing I do, that might sound a little crazy. I used to practice for hours and hours a day alone at the table. But even if I was training alone, I was imagining myself in specific game situations. I was envisioning the match with the opponent defending my passes and shots and really feeling the emotions form being intensely in a match. I think because of this practice I was more ready, when the match actually came. I also did this in my head away from the table during other activities or school. But let me warn you, that your grades could suffer through that practice. (laughs)
Except for that playing those situations over and over again helps. As I am playing for 21 years now, I have probably been in every imaginable situation at a foosball table. I was up 4:0 and lost and I was down 0:4 and won. I had countless match balls at 4:4 or 7:7 in the last set. Over time you kind of lose the nerves and it is much easier to deal with this kind of situation. But also before that point, I was very confident in my abilities. As a kid, I would lose against some top player but in my mind, I was upset, because I thought I should have beaten him. I believe as soon as you have 2-3 consistent passes and 3 shots that look the same, you can beat everybody, because after this it is only a question of decision making and confidence in your game.
Do you have a general offensive concept and how would you describe it?
My plan always is to dictate the game. Force your opponent to certain holes and make sure that he stays there and feels uncomfortable leaving those holes. For example, you can freeze your opponent on one side of the goal by choosing your shots intelligently. As long as you dictate the battle you have a big advantage. Of course, there will be opponents, who are going to be stubborn right along with you. In those situations, you have to find the point to switch, but this comes with experience.
A very important element of this is, that you are flexible within your time corridor. My standard time corridor for shooting is between 5-7 seconds. However, I look at the goal from the moment I set up the ball. If I can see a pattern within the first 1-2 seconds a couple of times in a row, I will capitalize on it. I am an opportunist and don’t worry too much, if some quick actions don’t work out. Therefore, I am constantly a threat to pass or shoot. This habit might take a lot of concentration in the beginning, but there are so many free points and passes if you just pay attention.
Are there general defensive concepts in foosball and how would you describe them?
It helps to know your opponent. Watch them play, watch videos and find out their strengths and weaknesses. In my opinion, experience helps your defence a lot. However, defence is a bit difficult for me, because my game style and nature are offensively oriented. I do not care as much, if you pass or score on me. I just want to have the ball, pass and score. In the defence, I try to make it hard for the opponent by good man positioning and an aggressive style. If I focus too much on defence, my offense suffers. But when my offense works, it is hard to cope with it.
Still there is some general advice I would give to younger players. First, go into a match with a plan. It almost doesn’t matter what kind of plan. Create a plan and build off it. Don’t do random things and wonder why nothing works.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to get scored on! Defence is about learning and adapting. Every defensive concept is about finding out when and where the opponent passes and shoots. Try to find timing, tendencies and patterns in the decisions and act accordingly. As long as you learn and try to adapt if you get scored on everything is fine. Even if you lose by doing that, don’t blame yourself. Just don’t waste an opportunity to learn out of those situations. Putting out the effort is everything you can do defensively. In the end the opponent has the ball and therefore the initiative.
Are there general mistakes you see at the amateur level repeatedly?
The biggest mistake I see is, that people play too fast and don’t take enough time for their game. They rush shots, don’t take timeouts at good moments etc. Another thing is, that a lot of players let the opponent affect the way they play. Those things like retaliation or demonstration of superiority are just dumb in my opinion.
Except for that amateur players are often not as good in conserving their energy for the important time in the match. Some players would start into a match with an insane intensity and focus. But if you start at the very top of your capacity there is no other way than to go down later when it matters the most. A perfect example would be Terry Rue a couple of years ago. In the meantime, he learned how to preserve his energy for the important parts of the game and got a lot of good results by doing that. During long tournaments, foosball is a lot about longevity and you have to adapt accordingly in how you approach the different games.
A different thing I don’t understand are players, who are not giving their best effort while playing. I think if you play the game, you should go all out and hide nothing back. If you don’t give 100%, why would you do it at all? Some players have amazing talent, but they are afraid to really try and lose. So, they don’t give it their best and hide their losses behind this excuse. I feel better losing and knowing that I gave everything I had in the tank; you can’t judge effort. I am not the most talented player in the world, but I have the most heart. I am all about hard work, discipline and awareness for the moment. That is the key to my game and something that everybody can try to accomplish.
How do you prepare for an important tournament?
In the past I practiced every day several hours before a big tournament. Nowadays I don’t train as much. After 21 years, a lot of things just become muscle memory. Regularly I arrive one day early to the tournament and get used to the brand-new tables. If they are new, they always play a little differently. I spend time on every main table (in the US the Pro Players usually play only on the first 10 tables during the tournament). At the most tournaments, I play against the same 5-10 guys. Therefore, watching videos and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of those opponents is the key. Watching videos can help a lot for that matter.
A tournament is about stamina. Therefore, during the tournament I try to stay as much off my feet as possible. I almost constantly eat something to get energy without getting to full. Coffee helps to prevent becoming lethargic after eating. If I have a somewhat bigger break, I will go to my room and take a 20-minute nap or just relax on the bed. Even if you don’t sleep, this recovery helps a lot. When I have to play, I will do a short five minute warm up and I am ready to Play.