Todd Loffredo is widely considered the best and most successful foosball player in the world. Even Frederic Collignon, his long time partner in doubles, refers to him as the best player he has ever known. His pull shot is legendary, and it is probably the most picked role model among pull shooters. No matter how high the stakes are, Todd seems to stay calm and collected. Even under the highest pressure, he is able to execute difficult shots and makes it look easy and natural. He almost always finds a way to make the important block or shoot the important goal from the back. In addition to that, he has a very relaxed and friendly radiance and talks in a very clear and comprehensible way about foosball. For all those reasons, I feel more than privileged to get an interview with this legend.
How and when did you start playing foosball?
I first started playing foosball in 1972 in Denver, Colorado, because my neighbour across the street had a table. It was only a cheap plastic table, still it was fun playing in my free time. Then after one year my brother took me to the local arcade room, we played, and I was good already. He could not understand why I was good at this game right from the beginning. So, I told him that Butchy (Neighbour) had a table across the street and I was already playing for some time at this point. A funny thing was, that in this arcade room I was able to stick my arm into the table to get free balls, for which you usually have to pay. That made me popular really fast! (Smiles)
This way I got to know the better players quickly and I was just playing for fun at this point. When I was 15 I ran into Mike Bowers, the world champion from this time. I did not know that there had been something like the world championship in my home town twice. Not to mention that they gave $ 25.000 away on that tournament. So, Mike asked me, if I want to play and he also said some nice things about my game. Luckily, two weeks later my family moved across town one block away from the new game room that Mike had opened. The rest almost explains itself. I was going there every single day and played as much as possible.
What were your idols and from whom did you learn the most about the game?
Mike Bowers was my idol. He was also like a big brother to me or a father and I used to play him for a Dollar a game but then he stopped playing against me on a regular basis. Other good players from that time were Tim Burns or Doug Furry, also all the Minnesota players. There were two Mecca’s of foosball at that time. One was Minnesota and the other was Colorado, were I grew up. These players had their different styles about playing the game. At that time a player from Minnesota moved to the neighbourhood so I could learn the most out of those two styles.
But those players did not teach me anything in particular. I just learned a lot just by watching and playing against the local players over and over again. When I saw a certain pass or shot that I liked, I just copied it and so my skill improved more and more. I played three tournaments a week, all on different tables. One was the Deutscher Meister, one was the Dynamo Table and one was the tournament soccer. I didn’t realize it then but playing on all those different tables taught me a lot of different things. So, I regularly stayed up all night to play and in this way, I guess I figured out the game on my own.
What was the biggest success in your career?
The biggest success was the world championship 1977 with my partner Gil Jackson. It was a very big tournament which was publicized a lot beforehand. The first prize were $ 25.000, and nobody knew who we were except for Mike Bowers and some other locals from our home town. We were young and had nothing to lose. We played with will and fury and performed really well in that tournament. When we were playing the final two thousand people were watching. I still remember hearing the questions out of the crowd: “Who are those kids?” We only had white T-Shirts because we could not effort anything more expensive. That was fun.
Another big success was a Warrior Tournament I won with Fred (Frederic Collignon) in 1990, where the first prize were $ 30.000. But although the money was a big motivation in the beginning it is not driving me today. The main reason I go to tournaments is because I like the people.
How did you meet Fred?
I played him in singles on a tournament in the USA. It was the last ball and he called a third time out. At this time all the US players were not good to the European players. I thought it is not right to win that way, only because he got a little nervous and flustered, that’s why I kicked the ball back to him and said: “It’s ok, don’t worry about it.” After that, he beat me and won the game.
Six weeks later Ingrid (she is the Partner of Fred) called me and asked if I want to play with him. I told her, if she brings him to my house for a couple of weeks, I can teach him how to pass and then we can play together. In the beginning he was not passing very well. The first three years we played together, we regularly had to switch, because he had no possessions on his three. By the third year his five was almost the best. The reason that made me team up with him, was his shot. I knew it was special right from the beginning. So, I sat down with him and told him: “In the past, my partner and me kept secrets from another. This will not happen with us. I will never lie to you and if I see a weakness in your game, if will tell you. So as long as you do the same, we can become a very good and successful team.”Of course, I did not know how successful we would become. Actually, I was thinking about quitting at that time and that was like a new beginning which showed me, that I can play the game until I am dead.
What were your toughest defeats?
I do not really remember tough defeats. I would say the first 20 years of my career I was known for one thing: If I reach a final, I will win it. I got never double dipped in my career except the last couple years. But that is because I run out of stamina when I get older, but I still try to do my best.
Painful is a defeat only, when I get cheated. One time we played Ryan (Moore) and his partner in a mixed event and his partner was cheating us pretty bad. Also Ryan was pretty pissed at his partner for that. But this more for my partner than for me. I do not get an ego rush because of it like other players.
One time I played with the same mixed partner the open doubles New York state championships. We won $ 2.000 at that tournament and she had never won so much money. It was $ 1.000 in $ 20 bills.
She looked at all the money and said: “I can’t take this” and tried to hand it to me. But I said: “No that is yours we are a team and everyone gets his share.” Then she started crying. I like stuff like that. That is why I am better in a doubles competition. I am always better when I am playing for somebody. The responsibility for my partner drives me. I am not driven like Tony (Spredeman) or Fred who can motivate themselves for other reasons in singles.
What are the most important offensive and defensive principles in foosball?
The most important thing is ball control. You cannot stress this enough. Every practice that gives you ball control is a good one. This is what we (the US Players) have to face every time we have to switch between tables like Garlando or Bonzini.
An important offensive principle on the three bar is, that I pick my shots. I do not let the opponent tell me, what I have to shot. I look at it pretty basic. First you have to be fast enough, so that the opponents cannot race you. If you are fast enough, they have to move, so you can pick one hole and wait for it to open. In this way, I dictate what I want to do until they make me do something else. And when they do make me something else, the defence has to neglect something else. This strategy can get difficult, when your five bar gets pressure, because you have to invest some balls to force the opponents to certain holes. But that is the way all the good players play. They dictate the game to a certain degree. They make you expose a certain hole. For example, if I want to shoot long and a guy leaves a decent middle hole for me on the three bar and I see that the man in front of the long hole moves just a little I go for the long. Everybody would say: “But the middle was wide open” and don’t understand, why I went for that hole. But establishing this option is the way to go.
The second important element is timing. If you are fast enough you need to be able to time the shot on a moving defence. You should practice this with someone who moves the man on and of a hole in a regular pattern. In the beginning it can be very slow, so that you trigger the shot, when the man is away from the hole. But in the end, you should be able to shoot on a fast shuffle. Then you have to be able to trigger the shot, even when man is in front of the hole so that is moves away during your shot is released. This practice will get you a good feeling for timing.
Another important thing I learned, when I got older was ball distribution. I play with the best players in the world. Fred and Tony can grab the ball so well I just have to try not to lose the game for them oftentimes. And then when they do need me to score a goal or put pressure on the other team, I will have a couple of options figured out over the course of the match. For example, in the beginning of a match I will try different set ups just to watch how they react in the first 3-5 seconds. This knowledge can be very valuable late in the match. When I get the ball on an important ball like 4:4 I can alternate my set up and already know which option is going to be open and make an important point.
Something else that gets overlooked by a lot of players are easy points. For example, when you set up the ball on the three bar, oftentimes the opponent does the same pattern before you are really ready to shoot. You can exploit that in a moment of distraction with a short dink or a quick shot. This gives you a lot of free points, it is just a matter of concentrating on it.
What are common mistakes you see players do?
The first thing would be to prevent easy goals. Always keep your man in front of the ball. Don’t give away easy points, because you got lost in a pattern or got surprised by a quick shot etc. Another thing is how people grab the goalie rod. Most people grab it from the top. This prevents you from rotating the road, when the ball gets behind your man from the side and you will concede a lot of unnecessary goals. Do not grab your goalie rod from the top, instead grab it from behind so you have the freedom to rotate it if necessary. I learn this one my whole life, because I get lazy and forget it sometimes. (laughs)
Another common mistake is, that the different options from a player do not look the same. Those can be pretty small things like opening the hand a bit wider for the wall pass than for the lane pass. They give away the pass beforehand and/or the passes do not look the same. This is the reason why Fred is so good on his fivebar. He does not open his hand while passing so you cannot see his swing. He learned to play a set pass on Jupiter so you cannot race him. A lot of tornado players slap the ball which is not good because it telegraphs too much of your next action.
The same applies to the three bar. A lot of players give away things. For example, they move on the three bar a certain way before they shot a certain shot. It is very hard while shooting a pull shot to role the ball over wait for 10 seconds and not move. I mean no adjustment of the guys, or certain movements with your shoulder or the rest of your body. When people get blocked a lot, there is a tell in their shot. In the 90’s I really worked on that. I had somebody stay next to the table and watch me shoot a pull shot. And my shoulder was moving just a little bit before I shot the shot, without me noticing it. So, my partner stood right next to me and touched me the moment my shoulder moved. After a while I started noticing and could remove it from my game. It was not that much practice actually, maybe a couple of months. Once I got it down I could come back to it. Nowadays, when I see a long and the goalie is blocking it, I know I gave it away in some way, because they are not fast enough. Then I will focus on a solid and clean execution the next time and feel, what gave me away.
Finally, I think a lot of people practice the wrong way. They think a lot about how they hold the handle or how they stand or how much pressure the apply to the ball etc. The key is not thinking about the practice, but doing the practice. I believe in the 10.000 hour rule. If you want to be really good at something, you have to practice over and over and over again. You have to practice something until you do not have to think about it anymore; until it becomes second nature.
How do cope with pressure situations?
I do not have trouble with those situations. I just let my instincts take over. Sometimes I try not to be too reckless in those situations, but I do not really feel the pressure like other players do. I think this is, because I won quickly right in the beginning of my career. Those early victories took a lot of pressure from me.
What are your favorite wraps?
Master Wraps because I created them with others. (laughs) Especially, I like the thin ones that are very sticky when they are new. My hands don’t sweat very much, only in very important matches. In this case thin wraps are better for control. When I do sweat however, the wraps sometimes get insanely sticky. At this point I sometimes feel like I can’t move my hands around freely on the handle. This feeling made me feel so clumsy for a while, that I carried a bag of potato chips with me. Whenever I had that feeling, I would stick my hand into the bag so that it gets a bit greasy. This made the feeling for the handle way better. However, if you sweat a lot, thick masterwraps are way better.
What is your training regiment, when you prepare for an important tournament?
I cram like in school. For 2-3 weeks I play every day 6-7 hours and try to win as much as possible. I don’t need a break a couple of days right before the tournament, like other players do. Once again: In my opinion, diligent and repeated practice is the most important thing, if you want to be a good foosball player.
During a tournament I usually train, when I have a break for 2-3 hours. However, nowadays I am often too lazy for that and so I will warm up during the first balls of a match, which is not optimal. (smiles)