In this month’s article, I will address many questions I have been receiving from you. I want to start with an addendum to the coaching article I recently wrote. I have been getting a lot of questions from team captains and coaches about how to coach those who refuse coaching or get upset while being coached. This is a real problem. I have heard about this many times during my APA experience. I am also going to include replies to other FAQs, so they help those that wrote me as well as anyone else having the same issue.
The following is a recent member question regarding coaching:
“I just read your article on the APA website about coaching and giving timeouts. I thought it was a good article and it is something that I struggle with on my team. I’m a SL7 and the captain—well, officially co-captain—but everyone comes to me with their timeouts, that is, if they take them.
“I have always tried to encourage the lower level players to use them, especially the SL1s, 2s, and 3s. They always seem to take a timeout one shot too late, only asking for help when they are totally stuck and there really isn’t much that can be done. My SL1 will not take a timeout. When I call one she tells me that it only messes her up and she turns down my offer to help. I want her to be as good a player as she can be, but without taking some advice she has a long road ahead of her.
“A SL3 has been on my team for several sessions and she asks for advice—only it’s usually too late. I always ask her what she is thinking first and then I offer other ideas. Many times her plan is not physically possible. Not just because of her skill level, but because of a little thing called physics. I try to detour her from those ideas. My problem is if she takes my advice and misses she always turns to me and says, “See, I knew I would miss it and I should have done it my way.” I would never intentionally steer her wrong, and her comments frustrate and anger me. I don’t show my emotions to her, but believe my advice was good—it was her execution that was poor. Do you have any advice to offer?”
First, you have to take a timeout when you know the shot a player is attempting is going to get them in trouble. For example: A player is trying to pocket the 3-ball, and you can determine by how the player is cueing that he is going to end up right behind the 6-ball. As the team’s coach, you need to explain the shooting consequence to the player and offer a better shot/solution.
If calling a timeout “messes someone up” then they could either mess up on that shot, or they could mess up anyway by taking their ill-fated shot. Mess up now, mess up later, still a mess up! You really have to explain to lower level players—either one-on-one or as a team—that their lower skill level implies they do not know everything about the game. You (the coach) are there as a helper, a crutch, to teach them a way to play better pool, a way for them to be a more successful member of the team! Ask the player to change his/her way of thinking about a timeout called by you. Remind the player that his/her performance affects the other members of the team, and the player needs to be OPEN to suggestions—not half-heartedly listening to or trying your suggestion. If every effort has been made to make sure the player is comfortable with your timeout/help for the shot, the player should attempt the shot to the best of his/her ability. It is NEVER appropriate for a player to throw your help back in your face if it doesn’t work out. That is as rude as you coaching a player into a shot, and the player tried very hard and didn’t pocket the ball, or didn’t make the hit, and you were visually upset or yelled at them for a failed attempt!
For the teammate who only wants help when they are in the worst jam (that could have been prevented), it may be helpful to talk with him/her after the match. Set up the balls or show the player on paper how you would have helped coach the shot to prevent the problem situation they got into. Ask the player if he/she will let you help by showing the benefits of what that help would have provided. Try not to do this right after a match that was lost. Wait a while, and then move the player off to the side, or to another table away from everyone else.
I have had players that no matter what I said to them, they didn’t want any help; they just want to have fun doing what they want to do. You don’t see too many teams do well in the NBA or the NFL with players that do not do what is best for the team. There are teams out there that do not care; they let the players shoot however they want, but not the ones that I play on. I know that banking that ball full table is more fun then just playing the roll up safe. Everyone loves to shoot the flashy shots. The problem is that most of these “flashy” shots are complete sell-outs if you miss them, or there is no shape for your next ball. The safe is the better shot for you, the win, and the team.
When I am playing, I will ask for timeouts from members of my team. I don’t always see everything all the time and, when I am in a jam, I welcome help from anyone to give me his or her opinion. That includes my SL3s. I wrote in the coaching article that you cannot assume that they are incapable on any given shot to see a good solution. The best teams, and the ones that make it to Vegas, are those that work together! These are teams that listen to each other and truly want to contribute fully, have a good attitude, and perform the best they can while they are playing. That means being open and taking suggestions from other members of your team—no matter who you are in order to play your best game.
One of the questions I get most often is: How do I get from my current skill level to the next one? What kind of practice do you recommend?
“Love the tips on the APA website. I’m a SL5 in 8-Ball and a SL7 in 9-Ball. I’m only 24 and have been playing in the APA since I was 21. Do you have any tips that would help me get to a SL7 in 8-Ball and a SL9 in 9-Ball? Thanks.”
“Do you have any recommendations on how I can improve as a player? In other words, what books, videos, instructional materials, training routines, etc., have you found helpful that might lead me, a SL7 amateur, to play better pool?”
Syracuse Area APA Member
A lot of times when someone is shooting good pool, but doesn’t get any better, the first thing to look at is fundamentals. Spend a little money on someone in your area that is a truly great player—someone who has either done well in pro events or is a good shortstop speed player on the regulation 4 ½’ x 9’ table.
Be sure you are addressing the ball properly! In golf, one would never haphazardly approach or step into a putt or swing. Why do people do this so much in pool?! So many times a player is walking around the table, and just slides into their next shot. Each time in your pre-shot routine, you need to make sure you know what you are going to do—i.e. , what english, speed, end goal, etc.—and then get down straight on a shot. Your approach should look the same every time. I will write more on this in a full-length article in the future. The point is, make sure you are doing everything in your power to ensure you are playing correctly. In the previous two articles I address the mental part. Getting better is not just fundamentals, but attitude. Do not get mad! Stay even!!!!
I was never really big on the instructional materials myself. This doesn’t mean there are none that would help you; I just didn’t use many. The only books I ever read were books on how to improve my mental game. I read books like, The Inner Game of Tennis, Zen and the Art of Archery, Psycho-Cybernetics, A Mind For Pool, etc. I got better mostly by spending a lot of time playing on the big table (4 ½’ x 9’). I hit many, many balls to do this. A long time ago, I vowed I would be “that girl with the stroke.” I worked on having a stroke that could get my cue ball wherever it needed to go. I guarantee you, it is powerful and envied. I play as good as I do not because I am the absolute best ball maker, but instead it is more centered on my ability to either super spin or super draw, or “drag” or stun the cue ball where I need it to go.
Make sure that when you practice, you perform the “un-fun” practice. Practice on the big table!! This means that practice is not throwing up nine balls and seeing if you can run out and take ball-in-hand when you miss. Repetition is the key to becoming a better player. I am not talking about hitting a lot of balls in repetition; I am talking about hitting the SAME ball repetition. It is setting up either that shot you had a problem with, or that one that helps you develop that super stroke, and shooting it over and over and over. I tell my students the best way to make sure you don’t quit before good practice is achieved is to have 14 balls off to the side of whatever shot you are shooting. The first shot of the 15 is set up. If you are practicing to cut a ball up the rail with bottom outside spin and you make the first ball, then the second, great. If you miss the third, all the balls go back up on the table and you start again. If you can get through all 15 balls without missing, you can move onto the next shot that is giving you trouble. It gets even better when I get to number 12 or 13 because it builds a little pressure. I better not miss, or I would have to bring out all 15, and start over. This prevents you from shooting a shot about seven times and making it, and then moving on. Seven times isn’t enough! Get through all 15 without missing, and you’re definitely closer to mastering it, owning it. This will only appeal to players who are truly interested in playing better pool. Being a part of the upper echelon of this game is reached by these long, hard practice sessions.
There’s an old saying that goes: An amateur shoots the ball until they make it. The professional shoots the ball until he can’t miss it. Which do you want to be?
“Hi Tina! I coach a Ladies 8-Ball team and since the skill level max is only 19, I have to have a lot of SL2 and SL3 players. They all have different versions of hitting the ball soft, medium and hard. What’s a good way to get everyone on the team shooting at the same or similar speeds?”
Grand Rapids Area APA Member
Hi Kolleen! I’m not sure that I would try getting everyone on the team to hit all the same versions of soft, medium and hard. As the coach on my team, I am in tune with what a soft hit is to Nicole and what a soft hit is to Rebecca. When you coach them, you have to be able to vary your verbiage. I use other descriptives such as, “I need you to do just a little tap here,” when advising them to play a delicate safe. Sometimes when you tell them to hit something soft that only needs to travel a couple of inches, it is the same stroke to them that they would use to hit something that needs to travel a distance. There are definitely differences between the two. After the match, I will show my player really quickly when they hit something too hard or soft. For instance, on a delicate safe where they hit it too hard, I’ll show them, “This is what I was looking for when I said this was a tapper,” and I will shoot the delicate shot so they can see the speed. Remember how the balls are setup, and always take time after the match to demonstrate the shot. Merely saying, “Yeah, that was too hard,” isn’t going to help them. They need to see a successful version of the shot to take it in fully.
“How do I get past my own head? I think I am tending to over think things. How is it that I make all the other balls leading up to the 8-ball, but when I get to that one, I miss?”
San Diego APA Member
There are two things to say to you. First, in my own experience playing 9-Ball years ago, I used to be frustrated because I would run out the hard part of the rack, the first five balls or so, and then continuously miss the easy last three balls on the table. What I figured out was that I would really concentrate because I perceived it to be harder to run out the earlier balls, and then when I got to the last three balls, I wouldn’t focus as much, I mean, they looked easy, right? It was like I said to myself unconsciously, “All right, the easy part is done; I’m all set!”
You can’t think that way! Just because you got through the hard part, picking apart the rack, getting through the opponent’s balls, that last ball whether it be straight in or at a slight angle, is every bit as important, or should be considered on par at least with the others. I used to do that so much with 9-Ball, it was ridiculous. Run it out, then dog it, run it out, then dog it!
The other thing that could be happening in your head is that you are treating your out ball, the 8-ball, as a “special” ball. “Ahhh, if I don’t make this, I’m going to lose!” The trick is that you must treat all the balls the same. Pocketing that stripe two balls before the 8-ball is just as important to the run as the last ball. You have to quit differentiating the last ball from the rest. Each are important to shoot well, each when missed will cost you the game. I always believe when I play, if I miss, I lose. This is when playing ANY shot, especially when I play the higher skill level players. But I try to have the discipline to treat everyone—3s, 4s, 5s, etc. with this same tenacity. I never assume I am going to get another inning at the table. This keeps me from not playing smart.
That is also why I really dislike it when people get up during my out. They see they are in my line of sight as I am shooting the out ball, either the 8-ball or 9-ball. They get up to get out of my line of sight. They didn’t move when I was shooting that stripe three balls before, but they did then. They are separating this shot from the rest for me, ascribing more importance to it. I will actually tell them with a smile after they do that, “No need to move, you’re okay where you are!” And then they don’t move.
In the end, treat all of the balls the same. Shoot them all with the same quiet focus, all the way to the end. Do not get worked up about being on the last ball, just keep shooting. Don’t stop and think about such things. I know it is natural to get nervous as well. I wrote a whole article about things you can do to overcome the nervousness. Those things I wrote helped me, but sometimes there is no substitute for just playing a lot of matches, and getting in that good match seasoning. Play in as many tournaments as you can—get in the heat of it. You’re nervousness will lessen the more you are engaged in it.
“Now we (in the APA) are just out there having fun.” Tina, I have heard this phrase or something similar time after time. Do I have the wrong idea? Yes I want to have a good time WHEN I’M SITTING AT THE TABLE WATCHING MY TEAMMATES SHOOT, but when I’m shooting, I’m COMPETING. I want to go to Vegas! What do you think about the expression, “It’s just a game, have fun!”
Jacksonville, Florida APA Member
To answer your question, I do not have fun normally while shooting. I look at the outcome of all the good and bad shots after the match is over and, if I played well, then I had a good time. If I played poorly, I didn’t. It has always been annoying to me for someone to say to me, “Relax, have fun, it’s just a game!” To me, whatever I am doing with that moment in my life is a serious endeavor. I want to perform to the best of my ability, and that doesn’t mean just going easy on a shot because I’m supposed to “have fun” when shooting. I never endorse people getting mad either when they shoot. This doesn’t help you play your best pool. I also wrote in one of my articles that a SL2 or 3 should be having fun at this game. I write that because as a SL2 or SL3, it is obvious because of the skill level, that they haven’t put in the time and practice it takes to get good at something, or even to get mad at it!
Now if I went to a tournament and played poorly after practicing every day, I would probably be mad at myself. It is more in line for me to feel that way about it, than a SL3 who plays barely once a week. Just as I wrote that I have fun playing golf. I really, really try on every shot to hit as perfectly as I know how in the moment I am doing it. It is a very serious thing. However, if I completely miss—hit a ball and it goes not even close to straight and outside the trees—I’m not cussing at it. Why do that? I haven’t spent the amount of practice it takes to hit that ball perfectly or even straight at all. I can only laugh, take a mulligan (he he) and continue playing.
I do not usually have fun while playing pool; of course, there are exceptions. For the most part, play seriously, disregard comments like that and do the best you can. You’ll know whether you had fun or not after you’ve played, and that’s all that matters.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments! I’m happy to help you with any facet of your game!