What is the difference between “knowledge” and “skill,” and do they go hand in hand?

“Skills” include things like: accurate and consistent aiming and alignment, a straight and consistent stroke, accurate and consistent speed control, ability to consistently generate power and accuracy with the break shot, ability (not knowledge) to execute skill shots like jump and massé, etc.!!! Skill comes easier to some people based partly on natural abilities (good 3D perception and visualization, good eyesight and vision, good eye-hand-coordination, good fine-motor control, etc.). But “skill” comes mostly from putting in lots and table time working on drills, practicing, playing, and shooting thousands of shots. A good instructor can also help a person work on and improve their skills. “Knowledge” can help some people develop some skills “faster” because “knowledge” can help somebody practice more efficiently, and better see and understand certain trends and ball reactions. A knowledgeable instructor can also help with providing this sort of insight. Also, with knowledge, some skills can be learned the “right way,” possibly helping to reduce wasted time, frustration, and loss of confidence.

“Knowledge” includes stuff like: knowing the recommended “best practices” for technique (e.g., stroke mechanics); understanding the basic principles of position control (90° rule, 30° rule, think 3 balls ahead, leaving angles, cheating pockets, coming into the line vs. crossing a line, etc.!!!); understanding the basic principles of english (what type of english to use on different shots, the effects of outside vs. inside english, how to use english effectively with rail cut shots, the effects of squirt/swerve/throw and how they vary with speed, angle, and spin, and when these effects can help you and knowing how to compensate for them when they can hurt you, what back-hand-english is and when it works and when it doesn’t, etc.!!!); knowing about all of the creative options that exist in different situations (e.g., knowing all of the ways to play safe and when, “seeing” carom and billiards opportunities, knowing when and how to use kiss-back and double-kiss shots, etc. !!!); knowing how to aim kick and bank shots and knowing how to adjust for the effects of speed, spin, angle, distance, conditions, outside vs. inside cuts; knowing how (even if you don’t have the skill or physical ability) to execute various types of “skill” shots (proper jump shot technique, how to aim massé shots, how and when to use after-collision massé, understanding when and how to use quick-draw, etc. !!!); etc. !!!

Some players have incredibly “skill” but don’t “know” that squirt can vary from one cue to another, or that throw exists and that it is more for a stun shot than with a follow or draw shot, or how to control the CB with a rail cut shot by hitting ball-first vs. rail first, or that maximum slow-roll CB angle-deflection occurs with close to a half-ball hit, or how to aim two-rail and three-rail kicks using the Plus-2 and Corner-5 systems, or how spin-transfer affects bank shots, or how to aim a massé shot, or how elbow-drop affects a draw shot, etc., etc., etc.!!! This is important “knowledge.”

Having said all of this, “knowledge” cannot make you a better pool player if you don’t put in time to develop the “skills” necessary to apply the knowledge. However, “skills” can sometimes be developed more quickly and with less frustration if a person has more knowledge. Now, once a certain level of “skill” has been achieved, knowledge can still help that person improve (e.g., by learning about advanced strategy you might not appreciate, or by learning how to make certain types of shots you still might not be aware of, or by better learning how and why you might be missing certain shots, etc. !!!).

In summary, everybody can benefit from “knowledge,” regardless of their “skill” level, if they are open-minded and appreciate the value of the knowledge. However, some people will always have the mentality: “If you don’t play ‘better’ than me right now, how can you teach me anything?” These people probably can’t benefit from new knowledge, because they think they already know everything.

Can knowledge alone make somebody a great player?

Obviously not. Knowledge alone is not usually a deciding factor in a match between two really good players. They already know what they need to know to be top players (i.e., they already have lots of “knowledge”). Knowledge doesn’t make somebody a good player, but it can dramatically speed up the learning process for many beginner to intermediate players. For example, if someone learns the 30° rule peace-sign technique, he or she will immediately know where the CB will go for many shots. The alternative is to spend years building intuition to serve as a substitute for the knowledge. Most top players “just know” where the CB will go; but most beginner and intermediate players don’t know, and they can benefit from the knowledge.

I remember when I first started using english many many years ago, every once in a while I would miss a shot even though I was sure I hit where I was aiming, and I would be shocked that I missed the shot. In hindsight, I think I missed many of those shots because I didn’t fully understanding or have good intuition of the effects of squirt, swerve, and throw (especially throw, when playing on bar tables where the ball conditions were less than ideal), or I wasn’t experienced enough to make better decisions concerning when and how english should be used. I personally think many players (at all levels) can benefit from improving their knowledge and understanding of the game.

Now, to get to the point where you can consistently run racks, you need to have lots of skills that can come only with lots of practice and play. To consistently run racks, one needs a repeatable stroke, great visualization and aiming, great speed control, good planning, good judgment, good mental focus, determination, etc! “Knowledge” and “understanding” alone do not provide these things.

Bottom line: Knowledge is useless without skill. But sometimes knowledge can help you build skill faster.

See also:

from Tin Man (in AZB post):

People don’t always have the same goals, and while we all enjoy pool, we enjoy the game in different ways. Some people enjoy the competition of the game and put an emphasis on developing their skills. Others love the study of pool and just enjoy collecting interesting tidbits like nuanced scientific properties involved. I agree it is important to understand those aren’t the same thing, and that the quest for a conceptual understanding of the physics of pool doesn’t necessarily translate to a high level of play on the table.

But the two do overlap, and Dr. Dave is a great example. He has two hobbies, he enjoys the study of pool as well as the actual pursuit. He clearly is an industry leader when it comes to the analytic side of the game. But he also enjoys playing the game and putting those theories into practice. I really, really enjoyed watching the racks he put together in the video with Rollie Williams. And even though he gets many takes in his instructional clips, many of the shots he demonstrates would be beyond the realm of anyone that doesn’t play strong. And his stroke is really solid, I’m a bit jealous. Bottom line, I’d take him on my AZB pool team anyday!

As for the utility of this knowledge, I too start a bit skeptical. There is a danger to having too much stuff in your head trying to chime in when you’re trying to play. An example of this is my best friend who pockets balls so well it brings tears to my eyes. Anytime someone starts talking about aiming systems or sighting or anything like that he excuses himself and leaves the room because he doesn’t want to think about it. He just looks at a contact point and sends the ball towards the hole. So keeping your mind clear and playing with feel can definitely be done and is a standard path for many of the elite.

The problem is most professionals also sacrifice their lives to play full time and trek around sparring with world class opponents on a weekly basis. If you play 5-10 hours a day six days a week and follow the tournament trail, great, go ahead and use feel. But for those of us who don’t, we have to find another way. The ‘hit a million ball’ method doesn’t work for those who can’t hit a million balls! So then it falls on us to find a best approach for ourselves. This is why things like technical knowledge, instruction, drilling, and other things many pros don’t prioritize can be beneficial to non-professional players.

I am in the middle. I am definitely not as booked up as Dr. Dave on the science of pool, but when it comes to the strategic side of the game I am extremely analytical. I have put a tremendous amount of thought and study into pattern play for example. Now, every now and again some fearless straight shooter can come along playing mediocre patterns and still climb past me to the top through brute force, at which point their patterns and safety play usually evolve with experience for those who make it to the very top. But those again are the full time players. When I play anyone not at the elite level the study I have put in absolutely does come out in game play and gives me a strong competitive advantage. Dr. Dave is absolutely in that camp, and as he has more time and head space to devote to pool I expect him to show how powerful it is to be armed with a full set of tools and tactical understanding when you go to battle.

In short, yes, you have to be careful of distracting yourself during competition. And yes the world’s best put in the hours to replace systematic study. But for those who aren’t prepared to sacrifice their entire lives to the game but still want to play their best I would encourage them to take advantage of the resources available.

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