Practicing something for hours on end does not make you perfect at it. There are several reasons for this. When practicing something for extensive periods of time, you get in a groove that you will never be in at a tournament. Moreover, stimulus conditions vary greatly. You will never be in that same mental state at a tournament. You will be focused on playing your opponent, not on ledgedashing. Doing things in tournament is different than in your room. You aren’t going to get nervous and choke in your room. It’s best to practice things frequently in short bursts, for ~10 minutes a day, or 10 minutes a few different times in a day.
Copying the best players doesn’t make you one of them. In other games, you can fake it until you make it. It can be ok to just emulate top players and let the understanding follow as your execution improves. This does not work well in Melee. Even if you think you are copying top players, what they are doing is probably different from what you are doing. They have extensive understanding of situations and their opponent’s mental state. If you try to do what Norwalk players do, you are probably just going to look stupid. If you are still bent on copying top players, pick ones that play standard, optimal styles, e.g. Wizzrobe.
Striking to bad stages can be good. If your opponent has 2 counterpicks in a BO3 and you are confident he will pick the one you don’t ban, consider starting on that stage. Often, the way you play on bad counterpicks doesn’t say much about your overall strategy. You might learn your opponent better there than he can learn you. You also might prefer losing game 1 and having a winnable game 3 over having to play on their best CP game 3. Similar logic can apply to BO5. You can still opt to strike to something more neutral in any case but don’t neglect the possibility of striking to a bad stage if you are going to have to play on it later in the set anyway.
Longer dashes aren’t always better. Having a character that can crouch out of run quickly offers them options that characters with longer dashes don’t have. Cactuar dash offers a similar movement option to dash dance for these characters. It lets you implement crouching into your movement very nicely. Even if your character has a long dash, be sure to work on dash dancing different lengths, because sometimes a good tight dash dance can be indispensable.
Sometimes it’s better to not hit someone; sometimes getting hit is good. In doubles, hitting someone out of the corner with a move that doesn’t hit them far off the other side of the stage can be really bad. Sometimes hitting someone lets their team regain stage position. In singles, sometimes hitting people ends up with you in a worse position as well. You can go off with a weak knee, then let your opponent recover before you. Sometimes hitting people lets them DI and slide to the ledge, so it might have been better to do something like let their shield decay more instead of going for the poke. Not all openings are equal. Be calculated about how you want to hit someone. Crouch canceling really comes into play here, because sometimes the person who lands the first hit can immediately be punished, even if they try to do it safely.
Guaranteed followups can be worse than not guaranteed ones. Opportunities are fleeting in Melee. Sometimes you have reads and you can be confident that you are correct. In these situations, going for what’s guaranteed can be squandering an opportunity that you might not get again. If you always go for a regrab, you are giving your opponents extra chances to DI to safety. Seize opportunities when they are there, and end your opponent’s stocks when given the chance.
Not approaching can be good even when you’re losing. Melee has 8 minutes on the clock. Taking 1-2 minutes off by forcing the game to be played at your pace can be extremely helpful. By slowing the game down, you can make the opponent play at your pace, not theirs. Most people get frustrated and approach. Unless your opponent is actually going to wait out the clock (I’m one of the only people in NorCal who is disciplined enough to not get cheesed by people like Laudandus who try to abuse this), you can get away with camping when you’re losing.
Doing things that “should never work” can be super good. Top players, especially ones from WC like Shroomed, S2J, Mango, and Lord do all kinds of things that “shouldn’t” work. But they read their opponent, sensing either their habits in game, or their mental state outside of the game, and know they can get away with things. You can even condition your opponents to expect something standard and sensible, then flip the situation on its head by doing something really stupid that they don’t expect. This works really well if you can sense that your opponent is nervous or choking. You can actually read that someone is choking or that they are going to flub an input. Sometimes doing something that “shouldn’t work” leads to the best possible outcome. If you are unwilling to do things because they shouldn’t work against some TAS bot, you are squandering opportunites. No Melee player is perfect. Look for the imperfections of your opponent and take advantage (but don’t do this habitually when playing friendlies against noobs because then you’ll develop numerous bad habits).
Sometimes doing moves extremely slowly is good. Delaying moves to the last possible frames often looks stupid, but if you get good at it, the rewards will be huge. People have timing windows where they expect their opponents to throw out their moves. This is only natural because things like dash dances and jumps have a rhythm to them. Play outside the conventional rhythm and you can make people look stupid . They end up getting caught or baited by unexpected timings. Even something as stupid as missing the dash dance or “Gould dashing” can lead to a timing mixup, where something that looks retarded ends up getting rewarded (RIP Kalamazhu https://gfycat.com/WeeSelfishArchaeopteryx). If you are skeptical about this point or the previous one, just remember that Mattdotzeb beat Leffen.
Not all kills are equal. Emotional damage is a thing. You can cause people to crumble by ending their stocks in painful ways. The mental game is a thing, and you can gain mental advantages by devastating opponents in unexpected ways. Have you ever seen someone SD and then fall apart right after that? Or how about that time Darkrain phantomed his kill move, then was unable to regain any footing for the rest of the match? It’s possible to intentionally cause these decisive moments in the match. If you see a way to get a particularly humiliating kill, or a chance to kill your opponent in a way he may have never seen before, go for it. Getting into your opponent’s head is a serious advantage.