Foosball and the Surprising Power of Imperfection

By Steve Fisher

The other night at a bar on Saigon’s Bui Vien St. my friend Angela and I were playing foosball and I was losing badly. Angela was landing shot after shot and I quickly lost the first game 10-4. While she is the same sort of infrequent, casual player I am, as I reflected on my humiliation I noticed that there was a loose detachment to her playing style – again and again, without overthinking her shots, she knocked the ball in the general direction of my goal, and – through some mix of luck, ability and the helpful looseness of someone who’s had a drink or two – some of those shots hit their target!

This and all photos in this post are from a motorbiking trip in the mountains near Dalat, Vietnam, early April, 2016

Noting the benefits of my friend’s style, I adopted a more extreme version of this approach in our second game. Putting little thought or effort toward setting up good shots, I knocked the ball again and again in the general direction of her goal. More from the basic principles of Newtonian mechanics than skill – that ball’s gotta go somewhere! – I quickly racked up a big lead and won the second game by the same margin I had lost the first. We diplomatically stopped play there and ended the evening of great Indian food and less-than-great foosball tied 1-1.

This experience, I think, offers some interesting insights for the world away from the foosball table. In life as well, sometimes we should just take the shot! Rather than trying to create the perfect circumstances – for, say, a professional opportunity, a new personal project or a potential new relationship – maybe we should just go for it! A lot more often than we do. With new opportunities big and small, there are lots of reasons for hesitation and delay, but perhaps the biggest is fear. “Maybe that new project for my business won’t work out.” “Maybe the intriguing person on the other side of the party won’t want to talk to me.”

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