I don’t know many players who are happy with their game.
We’re inconsistent, we make stupid mistakes, we lose focus, we take low percentage shots, we fail to plan ahead, we choke on the money ball… And we do it again and again.
We’re stuck in a rut of our own making.
Most players claim that they want to get better, but do they actually do what it takes to get better? Some feel they deserve to play better—after all, they have the latest whiz-bang magic pool cue, shaft, tip, and chalk.
They read instructional columns. They play their league match every week. They try really hard. Their results should improve, right?
Often, the very athletic players get off to a fast start and get a mistaken impression of how difficult pool really is. They got pretty good, pretty fast. They didn’t have to work very hard to get that far. I’d say they got to base camp at the bottom of the mountain and thought they were mountain climbers—and that’s where they tend to remain.
We see the players who have put in a lot of time at the table, maybe over several decades.
But that table time was all play, and no constructive practice.
And then we have the players who actually practice, but they practice the wrong things or their favorite things and never improve. The rut gets deeper.
Obviously, if you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting the same results. To improve, something must change. Some of the right things must change. You have to fix the worst aspects of your game, the weakest links of the proverbial chain.
For starters, you have to build simple, reliable, accurate physical skills—fundamentals. If you can’t deliver the cue ball to where you think you’re aiming, all of your knowledge and experience is of little value. Players assume that because they make some good shots and occasionally string together some nice wins, they must know what they’re doing.
In 20 years of teaching pool, I’ve rarely encountered an amateur player whose fundamentals were great. Great fundamentals come from caring enough to do what’s necessary, from being willing to change. Players often arrive at pool school looking forward to seeing themselves shooting our structured video stroke analysis. Because they’ve done what they do thousands of times, and it feels pretty smooth to them, they expect to look pretty good. After a day of building sound fundamentals, we watch the videos and they are appalled at what they now see. “I had no idea I was doing that wacky move. No wonder I’m inconsistent…”
Once you’ve built some solid fundamentals, it’s time to get smarter about the game. Today, the amount of well organized, readily available knowledge about ball behavior and smart strategy dwarfs what we knew in the past.
When I was first trying to learn (in the 1960’s), nobody would tell you anything. There were secrets. It’s clear to me now that they really didn’t know much at all by today’s standards.
Now with books, videos, highly experienced instructors and of course the internet, we no longer have any excuse.
Here’s the thing that’s been troubling me recently (and it’s not just league players).
I’m realizing that a high percentage of dedicated players will never get any better.
They’ve played for years, and maybe for decades. Their league handicap doesn’t change. Their tournament results don’t improve. They always get beat by the same players. They continue to show up and play, continue to be frustrated and humiliated and continue to do what they’ve always done.
What’s wrong with this picture?
I’m coming to the conclusion that they just don’t care enough. That’s fine for the social players who are just looking for a little fun and an occasional evening at the table. But for the “dedicated” players, if we aren’t striving for better fundamentals, not eager to learn new things, not willing to take lessons or practice, not interested in studying the better players, what are we doing in this most precise and demanding of games?
You are not going to get better until you care enough to take action.
Those players that used to play at your level and have moved beyond you have embraced change, sought knowledge, developed skills, focus and fortitude. You can do it too! If you care…
Doing the work has its rewards. Break out of your rut. Separate yourself from the pack!
*Want to see more of Tom Simpson’s tips? Check out his book, Beat People With a Stick.