35 Hours for a 10-Second Clip: The Art of the TikTok Trick Shot

There are nights when Michael Shields lies awake next to his wife and thinks about Ping-Pong balls. He muses on their arcs and speeds, the ways they bounce off a wooden plank or roll down a Hot Wheels track. In the mornings he often turns his visions into reality, and millions tune in to watch.

Mr. Shields, 33, is a creator of trick shots, among the more popular armchair athletes who seek out ever more elaborate and challenging ways to, for example, sink a Ping-Pong ball in a cup or land a CD in a disc tray after bouncing it off three basketballs. If, as in Mr. Shields’s case, the trick shots garner enough views on social media, talent agents begin to call, and money and corporate partnerships help to keep new content coming.

For one of his most popular shots of 2023, Mr. Shields, who posts under the account name That’ll Work, attached a small cup to a clothes hanger perched near the ceiling, looped to a string that reaches the floor. His brother-in-law, Trent Golz, tosses an orange Ping-Pong ball and Mr. Shields releases the hanger, which slides toward the ground while the ball ricochets among five meticulously placed tiles.

On the fifth bounce, as the hanger nears the end of its path, the Ping-Pong ball, miraculously, lands and stays inside the tiny cup. The two men scream with joy (and relief) and clench their fists. The sea of Ping-Pong balls across the floor testifies to their many failed attempts.

“I try to post two or three times a week, because it takes hours to hit a shot,” Mr. Shields, of Urbandale, Iowa, said. “On TikTok they say, post every day or three times a day. I’m lucky if I make one or two of these a week.”


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