How do I decide how to select an instructor?
I have met several “instructors” that were great pool players but terrible teachers. I have also met countless great players who would make terrible instructors. An instructor obviously must be knowledgeable and understand all of the intricacies of the game, and certainly have enough experience to appreciate those intricacies. An instructor must also be a good teacher and communicator and know how to connect with various types of people. Also, a great instructor should be a total “student of the game” (i.e., read everything, discuss and debate stuff on forums, communicate professionally and open-mindedly with other instructors and players, etc). Great instructors have too many things on their plate to be great players. To be a great player, one must have sharp eyes, a near-flawless stroke, and near-perfect speed control. That takes hours and hours of practice and play … youth can also help. Only people completely dedicated to playing pool can put in the amount of time necessary to be great.
I don’t think the true value a coach or instructor provides is information. Lots of great information can be found in good books and videos (and sometimes, even on the Internet). To me, the most important value an instructor offers is the ability and experience to work with a player as a unique individual, catering the instruction to best help that person improve.
For more information, see Joe Waldron’s article: “Who is a Teacher?“
FYI, here’s a good place to find well-respected and well-known instructors.
Talk to their former students. Ask them how the lessons were structured, did they feel it was worthwhile, and why. What was good, what was bad? Would they pay this instructor for more lessons in the future? Then ask yourself whether the described style of instruction is what you want.
Talk to as many as you can find, so that you’re not captive to one person’s glowing praise or damning complaint. You’ll also learn how the instructor customizes his agenda to an individual student, or whether he has a “cookie-cutter” approach.
In other words, don’t depend on the person selling you a service to tell you whether that service is good or bad. There’s a huge temptation to tell you what you want to hear. Find the former students and get the story from the perspective of someone who was in the position you’re about to be in. For a well-known instructor, or even a not-so-well known one that is local to you, there should be plenty of discussion available.
I don’t think a great teacher is necessarily a great player as they are two very different skill sets. Someone that is blessed with both is truly exceptional and may still not give a great lesson if the student isn’t prepared to learn but then, that’s the students fault.
A teacher has an abundant knowledge of the game, and knowledge of the mechanics for playing it properly and the willingness to share these.
A good teacher has that plus a methodology (often in the form of drills) for passing the knowledge to the student, for demonstrating the techniques and providing appropriate feedback to the student when first attempting them. This helps the student to build success with the new skill.
A great teacher has all that plus superior communication skills. This allows them to listen to the student, understand what the student is hearing and how they learn and then adapting their communication style to better fit that student. This provides a faster application of the new skill, a better cementing of it in the student’s memory and a higher motivation to perform it correctly. The great teacher also assists the student in defining and developing reachable goals for their improvement. Without goals, there is little chance for long term success and application of what’s been learned.
An excellent lesson, in my opinion, is 50% the responsibility of the student. If the student is anywhere above rank beginner, they should come prepared to learn with at least some idea of why they are taking a lesson, an initial goal, if you will. “I want to get better” is not a goal, it’s a dream. “I want to improve my APA rating from a 4 to a 5” is better but it still is very results oriented. Best might be “I want to build a consistent enough stroke to be able to….”