What does it take to play like a pro, and can anybody become a pro with enough work?
The main things top players have in common:
- have developed a wealth of experience and intuition through countless hours of smart practice and successful play at the table.
- have good visual acuity (good eyes or corrected vision) and visual perception (i.e., they can clearly and consistently “see” the “angle of the shot” and the required line of aim).
- have good eye-hand coordination and they can consistently and accurately align and deliver the cue along the desired line with the tip contact point and speed needed for the shot (even if their mechanics aren’t always “textbook”).
- have excellent understanding of and “feel” for shot speed, spin, and position play.
- have tremendous focus and intensity when they are playing.
- have been around, watched, played, and learned from many top players.
- have very strong desire, dedication, and drive to improve and win.
- are very competitive, hate to lose, and love to win.
- really enjoy and feel motivated to play the game.
- are fearless but they are also aware of their limitations.
- choose shots that give them the best chances to win a game (i.e., they have good strategy), and they learn from their mistakes and bad choices.
- are willing to travel and play often in many tournament (and/or gambling) matches against players who will challenge them to their limits and beyond.
- have played on a wide range of equipment under a wide range of conditions to develop a good feel for how to quickly and effectively adjust to different playing conditions.
The biggest thing they have in common is: they have dedicated much of their life to practicing and playing pool. That’s how they have developed many of the things on the list above. A little “natural talent” or “natural ability” in many of these areas can help also. For many of the attributes above, it also helps to be young. As we age, we tend to lose many of these things.
Pool is not just a game, it is a sport; so to really excel, you must also be an “athlete.” Here’s a good article on this topic.
Concerning “nature” (genetics and natural talent) vs. “nurture” (hard work and dedication), see the books: “The Sports Gene” by David Epstein and “Peak … Secrets from the New Science of Expertise” by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, and the Scientific American article: Can genes predict athletic performance?. Both nature and nurture are extremely important to reach excellence in anything. For certain sports (e.g., anything involving jumping or speed like some track and field events), “natural talent” (nature) can be much more important than nurture and effort. If you don’t have the right muscle physiology (enough fast-twitch fibers), no amount of hard work and dedication can transform you into a world-class athlete in those sports. Also, someone with good eye-hand coordination (e.g., from genetics and/or previous experience with other activities and sports) will have an advantage in many sports over someone who is not very coordinated.
People who have poor eye-hand coordination (part nurture, part nature), and don’t have good fine-control motor skills (part nurture, part nature), and have difficulty mentally focusing and concentrating (part nurture, part nature), and don’t have excellent vision and visual perception (mostly nature) would be at an extreme disadvantage concerning becoming a top pool player. For them, you could easily say that nature is more important than nurture. However, for the majority of people, training, hard work, desire, dedication, and focus can lead to excellence in pool. However, not all people will have the ability, desire, or time to do what it takes to reach excellence. And some might improve faster than others, even with a similar level of effort. The most important attributes for success in pool are dedicated and purposeful practice combined with desire and motivation.
Regardless, to play at a top level, one must have all of the following skills and traits:
- accurate and consistent aim and alignment
- excellent speed control
- excellent position play strategy and execution
- excellent safety play strategy and execution
- accurate and consistent aim compensation when using sidespin
- strong mental game
- willingness and dedication to improve one’s game
Bottom line: Some people can never excel at pool, but many could if they had the desire, drive, focus, and intensity … and if they worked hard at it for a long time. And playing at a top level most certainly requires BOTH some “natural ability” AND hard work.
from FeelDaShot (in AZB post):
Fundamentals are super important but there is so much more to the game. [Here] are a few additional qualities that separate the great from the outstanding:
Shot Selection: Once you get to a certain level, anyone can and should run out the table. The trick is to choose the path that will give you the absolute best chance of getting out. Even if it’s only a 1% difference it’s important to diligently weigh all options and choose the correct shot. Getting slightly too flat on a shot can turn a simple run out into a tricky situation where you have force shape which lowers the odds of success.
Endurance: Lots of players can play a good set or two but it’s rare for a player to maintain that same stamina at 2am when they’ve played five consecutive nail-biter sets and haven’t eaten much while fighting back through the loser’s bracket. This also applies to the opposite situation where you win a match and then have a four hour break until your next match without an opportunity to hit any balls and stay in stroke.
Adjustment: With all things being equal, the player who adjusts to the conditions the fastest has a huge advantage. The conditions are always changing. Cloth speed, cloth cleanliness, cloth age, ball type, ball cleanliness, lighting, and so on. From watching pros, I’ve noticed that they will often use one extra rail than necessary when playing position. Using the extra rail provides them with extra information about how the table plays which allows them to adapt faster.
Mental Perseverance: No matter what the score is, how well you’ve played so far, or how bad you’re winning or losing, you need to always have the correct mindset and give 100% effort on every shot.
Outcome Acceptance: Bad rolls are inevitable. Misses are inevitable. You won’t always play your best. You won’t always win. The quicker a player accepts and moves on from negative thoughts the better they will perform.
Confidence: Confidence is a paradox in a way because you need to play great to develop confidence yet you can’t play great without confidence. One cannot exist without the other. With two closely skilled players, I’m betting on the more confident one.
Pace: Every player has an optimum pace/tempo/rhythm that is unique to them and allows them to perform at their best. It’s important to know your optimum tempo and find it quickly in a match. The quicker you get there the better you’ll do.
Capitalization: At the top level you don’t get many opportunities to pull ahead. Once an opportunity arises, you must capitalize on it. That’s one of SVB’s major strengths. He always amazes me with his ability to break and run the final rack in a hill-hill match. At the most high pressure moment of the match he finds a way to stay composed and capitalizes on the opportunity to win.
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