Here are some tips I wish I'd known when I was hacky sack beginner.
The number one best way to get better at hacky sack is no secret: play and have fun! Hacky sack is about getting the right motor control of your body and predicting where the hack will be after it is hit. This just takes practice, but I've set out a few tips that would have saved me a lot of time had I known them ahead of time.
Dynamic stretches are stretches that involve limbering a "cold" muscle for activity. If you are about to begin a game or practice, then you may want to do dynamic warm-up stretches like slow lunges, jumping jacks, body-weight squats, etc.
Static stretches are probably what you're used to. They involve stretching a muscle to hyper-extension and holding it there for between 20 and 30 seconds. This can be a little dangerous for a pre-activity stretch. It's akin to suddenly stretching a rubber band—it's more likely to tear. These stretches are best done at the end of a workout when the muscle is "warm."
Balance and Flexibility
It can be difficult at first to maintain balance, and maybe the only thing stopping you from getting more hits is almost falling over. Some people power through and just learn to balance on one leg, and while this can work, it can lead to imbalance in the body and a favoring of one side. This isn't ideal! The best way to play is to utilize both sides equally. Better yet, when starting out, always serve to your non-dominant side.
Typically, the skills you obtain from your non-dominant side can be easily transferred to your dominant side, but the opposite isn't true. However, the number one tip to maintain balance is to tap your foot on the ground after every hit. This helps to align your body and keep you from tilting too much. You might feel like you don't have enough time between hits to tap your foot, but trust me, you do. If you don't, hit the ball higher and get faster!
You will gain flexibility from playing, but you can greatly increase your gains by stretching for a few minutes a day. You may also want to focus on any weak points. Before starting a game, the best way to warm up is by doing dynamic stretches. Following practice, the best way to cool off warm muscles is by completing static stretches.
You should follow a normal stretching routine to maintain and improve flexibility, but I've found there are a few stretches that are particularly good for hacky sack movements. I had trouble performing the outside hit when I first began playing and had to get my legs used to the motion of twisting at the knee.
One thing I did was to stand at the side of a staircase so that I could raise my leg onto a step that made my shins parallel with the ground. I would hold this for 20-30 seconds. Very important: Don't place too much weight on the raised leg. Your joints are not meant to support you in this way. This should be a gentle stretch for the tendons of the knee and shouldn't be painful at all.
For your instep hit, perform butterfly stretches. Sit on the ground and bring the bottom of your feet together so that they're touching and in front of your groin. Place your hands on your ankles or toes and carefully press on your legs with your elbows for a good inner thigh stretch. The goal is to keep your heels close to your body but your knees touching the ground. Another good, passive way to increase instep flexibility is to simply sit cross-legged for part of the day.
For toe hits and knee hits, touch your toes! Make sure to do this while sitting on the ground as touching your toes while standing can compress a disc in your lower back due to the shift of weight and your center of gravity.
The best way to do the splits, at least side splits, is by performing an increasingly wide horse stance. A horse stance is simply sitting in a squat. As you can hold for longer, keep increasing the amount of space between your feet. Eventually, you should be able to perform side splits without stretching.
There are a few drills you can do to make sure you have a firm base. I covered the four hits in my previous article, "How to Play Hacky Sack." For these drills, if you drop the sack, start from one.
- Hit-Stop Drill: Practice any one of the four hits for this drill. For the sake of example, let's use knee hits. Have the hack in your hand at chest level and release the hack over your intended knee. Try your best to hit the hack back into your hand. Just hit it once, catch it, steady yourself, and try again. Do this on the same leg. Once you reach a certain number of hits, 10 is a good start, switch to your opposite leg. Then repeat with a different type of hit until you have completed all four basic hits. This is a good warm-up, as well.
- Metronome Drill: Now that you have the basic hits down and are able to hit the ball in an almost vertical parabola, you can focus on expanding your range to become more flexible and responsive to passes and plays. This is called the metronome drill because the hack will be bouncing from leg to the other like a metronome. Start off with one of the four hits, let's say out step. Self-serve and hit from one out step hit to the other. This particular move is called a "rainbow." The higher you hit, the harder it is to control.
- 1-2-3 Drill: Now you can start doing choreographed tricks if you'd like. The 1-2-3 drill can be any number, it's just a planned string of movements. It's up to you!
Whatever tricks you do like, strive to do it 10 times. Keep up the practice!
Social Hacky Sack Etiquette
There is an unwritten code among hacky sack circles, and now it's written. I'll break it down for you:
- Never self-serve: This means when you pick up the ball, pass it to someone else, preferably someone who hasn't gotten to play much. Self-serving is the number one way to look like a hack-hog.
- Retrieve the hack. If you kick the hack out of the circle, you should be the one to go get it. If someone is really close by, they can, but it's still your responsibility!
- Don't apologize: Don't worry about missing a hit. It's not that big of a deal, just start the next round. Everyone misses sometimes.
- Keep it friendly: Respect other players and keep it friendly! You're all there to hang out and play.
- Names: The ball is called a "hack," a footbag, a sack, a bag, or a hacky sack. Never call it a ball unless you want to sound like a dweeb.
In general, you should be open to people joining your circle, but discretion is up to you. These rules may seem trivial, but make sure you follow them!
Shoes and Clothes
I've covered what I think about shoes and clothes before and how the recommended shoe by the International Footbag Players Association is the Adidas Ron Laver, but here's a trick that can make any shoes with laces better for hacky sack. For any shoe, you want the surfaces to be smooth and wide. This allows for more area to hit and stall. This lacing helps the pesky toe area of your shoes, which usually plagues beginners because of the rounded edge. Adjusting your laces creates a small pocket for the hack.
Impromptu Studio on March 31, 2015:
Great article! Just wanted to point out that shoe lacing video disagrees with the lacing at http://www.footbag.org/faq/show/941276901. That actually laces the long outside part up to the fourth hole and then goes back DOWN through the third. Probably doesn't make a HUGE difference but thought I should point it out since this is an article for beginners!