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.)
Concerning “nature” (genetics and natural talent) vs. “nurture” (hard work and dedication), see the book: “The Sports Gene” 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 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.
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.