It was my goal when writing articles for the APA to write specifically for players with higher skill levels, while in another part of the same article write directly for players with lower skill levels. How and when to coach may appear to be only written for the higher skilled player. Advising the higher skilled players to ask questions—emphasizing the importance of coaching to one’s skill level and reminding coaches that they are merely helpers in a match that is not their own— ultimately helps both skill levels involved.
The ability for a player not shooting to be able to call a timeout is one of the reasons I like the APA over other Leagues. Many of the lower skill levels that play on my team try to learn something from me by observing my play and getting instruction during timeouts. For these players to learn the most—and for you as a coach to learn the most about them—the following things should always happen.
One of the most important things I do is wait until I see what the player is going to do before I call a timeout. Many times the higher skilled player sees a problem situation that the player is in and immediately calls a timeout. When I join a new team, I tell my teammates that when I call a timeout, it may be when they are down on a ball. It is wasteful to call a timeout before you give the player a chance to look at the layout. Many times, they will come up with the right shot. It may not occur as fast as you may have seen it, but they can come up with it. It is wrong to assume that because you are a SL6 and they are a SL3, they are incapable of seeing what to shoot.
I didn’t start playing in the APA until I was a higher skill level player myself, so my experience with timeouts comes from when I used to play scotch doubles events with men that were champions. I used to hate when they would come over to help me before I even looked at the table. I would get so frustrated because in many cases I would have figured the shot out without help. I carried that experience with me when I starting coaching APA League members. I will call a timeout before they are down on the ball, only if I see they are going to shoot the wrong ball. Typically, I will wait until they are shooting at the right ball, but are cueing at the wrong axis of the ball. I know it can be startling at first, but when they know why I call timeouts the way I do, they understand it is because I am truly trying to give them every opportunity to shoot assistance free and be their own player.
Next, whether they call the timeout, or I do, I always ask them what they were thinking and planning to do. Do not just start saying what you want them to do! You lose the perfect opportunity to understand your player and how they approach the game if you just start talking. Telling them something like this in the middle of a match is much more powerful than trying to set up balls later for them. In the middle of it, while they are still thinking and seeing it, lasts longer than trying to recreate what occurred before. You know what? Sometimes, just sometimes, they have a better idea then I had.
When they tell me something that wouldn’t have worked, I use that coaching time to tell them shooting that ball would have resulted in a scratch, or shooting that stripe could have resulted in the cue ball knocking in the 8-ball, etc. I then quickly show them the tangent in that case so they see it. I then move on and tell them why I want them to shoot my shot. I don’t just tell them what to shoot, I tell them why. I then ask if they are comfortable with the shot I have suggested. If they are, great! If they aren’t, I really try to find another option for them. The greatest suggestion of the right shot makes no difference if the player cannot execute it. That brings me to my next point.
Do not ever, ever, coach above someone’s skill level! I cannot tell you how many times I have heard coaches telling SL2s or SL3s, and even some SL4s, to spin this ball with left inside english, and come two rails over there. Are you kidding me? Invariably it is a coach who gave his timeout loudly enough (like he/she is on stage) so everyone can hear it. This person wants others, including the player he/she is coaching, to be impressed with their knowledge of the proper shot. The shot is only proper with a higher skill level shooting it. It becomes the wrong shot when you tell a SL3 to shoot it. You make the lower skilled player feel like a failure for not being able to execute your shot. We are here to make their playing experience more successful—that’s it. I have always found a shot during a proper timeout for a SL3 or SL4 by having them use the top, bottom or center of the cue ball. The only time I may have one of these skill levels use a sidespin is if they are kicking at a ball, and they have to widen the angle or shorten it. Using english this way is simple because you do not have to account for deflection in pocketing a ball. All that happens here is that you hit the cue ball on the side and the ball goes to that side.
Coaches need to understand that this is ultimately not their match. The suggestions we give for what shot to shoot should be in the end, just that, a suggestion. I always tell players when I join their team that when I give a timeout, the shot I am telling them is the shot I would have them shoot. It is still their match, and if they want to try some other reasonable shot, then that is their decision. A timeout is about communication, and not the one-way kind. The player getting coached should always be able to reject a timeout or voice when they are not comfortable with a suggestion. One of the only exceptions is if you know the shot they want to shoot is impossible. I will not allow someone to shoot something I know is impossible, because they do not know it is. This person is still playing on my team, and even though the match is his own, he is playing for the collective.
In the end, timeouts should help both skill levels. The higher skilled player should gain an understanding of the lower skilled player at almost every timeout. And the lower skilled player should truly be helped by the suggestion given. The shot suggested needs to be the right one for the player getting coached, not the right one for the coach.
I love to hear your questions and comments! Please send any you have to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.