By a show of hands, how many players reading this play in a pool league? Now, keep your hand up if you play outside of your weekly league area. I’m betting that a majority of you didn’t keep your hand up. Every day, players go into their local bars or pool rooms and compete against the local competition. Depending on the organization, some will go on to compete at a state, and national level.
As you read this, you will notice I’m going to focus on two pool leagues. The A.P.A. ( American Poolplayers Association ), and N.A.P.A. ( North American Poolplayers Association ). Many other leagues exist but these two are the most notable and recognized across the country right now, so I will use them to help this make a bit more since to everyone.
The next statement is going to shock, confuse, or put some players in denial. I have said this many times, and believe it 99% of the time. “Your skill level is based on the level of skill in your area.” What about the 1%? I do not think this statement applies to professional pool players. First, and most importantly, I am NOT talking about your skill as a pool player, more defined as your ability to play the game itself.
So let’s break this statement down and really see what it means, to you, the pool player.
Your skill level- A number assigned to a given player to determine his or hers ability in a specific league organization. In the A.P.A it’s going to be between 2-7. With N.A.P.A, the range is a bit more being 20- 150+.
Level of skill in your area- The average skill level as a whole given to players in your “home” location. This definition is my own, so searching it on a league site is probably just going to cause you to throw things at the screen in your attempt. Stick with me here, it will make more sense.
Number 2 is really what matters in my statement. In its simplest form, it’s the idea that will make all skill levels complain in any league organization. Complain about what though? The ability of the opposing player? Well, yes. Here is the kicker, this is when you take your skill level beyond your local area of play, your home location.
You really have to thank the national leagues for this one, I mean, you really do. They took a game and gave the average pool player a way to match up with anyone from across the country. It was, without a doubt one of the biggest advancements to the “game” of billiards, amongst the many technical advancements made to equipment, etc. By no means, am I trying to diminish any league organization here. As a matter of fact, I think they are great to have for the game as a whole. So let’s not take this the wrong way at all.
And. Here. We. Go…………….. So let’s say two players start playing in a N.A.P.A. League at the same time, they both played for one year, and won 70% of their matches played that year. Now, for the sake of argument, we are NOT putting in break and runs, snaps, etc. just games. They are from two different “home” areas, and shoot ( by their numbers) the same speed. So what would make one player have to spot the other a game at a tournament using their N.A.P.A. Skill levels? First, what is their skill levels? Player A is an SL70, player B is an SL60 . Wait, given all the information you was given, how is this mathematically possible? Everything was the same, right? Wrong, I forgot to mention that player A started out as an SL60 just like every other player in his home location and Player B started at an SL50 respectively.
Herein lies the one fallback, and also the reason I say that my statement does not apply to professional pool players. It is possible to unintentionally “sandbag” your ability based on skill level type of systems. At the same time, it is an easy system to take advantage of in some cases. Not everybody starts at the same number, many factors can dictate this, but that is another book all its own, we are keeping this at the very basis of the idea.
Location A vs Location B. The numbers get harder to figure out when you apply them to the A.P.A. Now, you can only go so high or so low. Add in the fact, that player A never plays outside of his home location ( never leaves the city limits), his skill level never adjust outside of the “skill level” of his home location. Making any sense? If you’re playing the same 20 people week in and week out, at some point, your skill level is going to start to become stagnant. Let me put this another way that may help you, put 20 pros in an A.P.A. 8-ball open division league. They all have a team and you guessed it. They all will be SL7s right? OK, now take a player from each location above, both SL7s, do you think they compete against the pros? I’m betting not.
Pros are on a Phenomenal skill and ability level all of their own. It’s amazing to watch some of the best in the world play and try to put a number on it. Pros, in fact, would be their own “home” location nationally so to speak. So again, my statement really can’t apply.
When I make the above statement, really think about it. When you play your local competition, but you never leave your local area, what happens? You end up with a “Local” Skill level. You haven’t done anything outside of your area that puts you up against anything different. Add on the fact that you may have started at a different skill level for your home location, and I bring you to the unintentional problem.
The unintentionally low or highly ranked player and the consequential problem. When you do travel outside of your home location, finally, you’re either given an unfair advantage or disadvantage at the event. This is no one’s fault, per say, just a consequence of circumstance. Makes it really easy to sandbag though.
I want to leave you with a few more thoughts just to make sure you don’t get the wrong idea here.
When you play your best, win or lose, your skill level will honestly reflect your ability against your local player pool over a given time period.
If you surround yourself by honest and knowledgeable pool players, you are bound to become an honest and knowledgeable pool player yourself.
Some locations start at a higher Skill level intentionally due to the above average skill of the local player.
The above statement goes hand in hand with the second one right? Play better players, bound to become a better player.
I write this not talking about the ability of pool players to play the game. You know how you play, I don’t. I’m an SL6 (for the moment) in the A.P.A. And currently a 95 in N.A.P.A. And some information on why. I played N.A.P.A. For two sessions in Parkersburg, WV. Everyone started at 90s due to the ability of the area, and I will tell you, as a whole, it’s a tough area. By the numbers, the two leagues don’t match up for me, but does not change my ability to play in one nor the other. I play A.P.A. In Lancaster, OH where there are more players across a low to high ability to play. Being the A.P.A. Though, skill levels are based on a smaller spread. Spotted games are only a few at most. I’m guessing I will be an SL7 (in Lancaster) in the A.P.A. Soon, If I was playing the same league in Parkersburg I would probably stay an SL6 or maybe even be an SL5 just because of the level of competition in the area.
This is where I make my point in this writing. Do I have the same ability from city to city? yes. Will my skill level assigned for a given league reflect my ability? Yes, but it will only reflect my ability in that location. Unless you travel outside of your home location regularly, Your skill level is really just a number, not your ability.
I hope this hits home for a lot reading this, and maybe open some eyes to the issues of not getting off your butts and going to tournaments outside of your “home” location. Travel, meet players, visit that room you wanted to. It’s worth it to you, and the sport in the long run.
Author: Dustin Crowe
Editor: Shaylyn Troop