Cristina Instruction: Coaching Coaching is a great tool that can help players of all levels develop their game. Many times coaching can be the difference between winning and losing. You can have great players but if they don’t work well together and you don’t have good coaching, you can only go so far. (Here comes my Texas reference) The season the Dallas Cowboys had this year is a perfect example. They had an embarrassing losing season until their coach got fired and now, under new coaching, they finished the year strong, just short of qualifying for the playoffs. Jason Garrett found a new way to motivate the players and noticeably changed some of their strategy and play calls. Obviously pool is not football, but the same principles remain. Even Tiger Woods has a caddy that helps him decide on shot and club selections throughout his tournaments.

 There are two main components to being a good coach: technical and mental. Most coaches are more focused on one or the other and it’s rare that you find someone that’s great at both.

 For most APA teams, the coach is usually the highest rated player on the team, a skill level 6 or 7 (in 8-Ball). These coaches obviously understand the technical side of the game because it takes a certain level of skill to become a 6 or 7.  Translating that knowledge to other players is the tricky part and many times it has more to do with the way the shooter learns and thinks than it does with how the coach thinks. As a coach, you really have to understand your players. You need to know what types of shots they’re comfortable shooting, understand the limitations of their knowledge of spin or angles, and know what motivates them. 

 One time, I played in a scotch doubles tournament with Shane Van Boening as my partner. Our opponents left me a kick shot and I didn’t see any clear path to hit the ball. Shane, who is arguably one of the best players in the U.S., tells me to kick off the rail and then massé the ball around a cluster to hit our ball. Naturally, I think to myself, “How the heck am I going to do that?” When I ask him for more help with the shot he just repeats, “Kick off that rail and massé it.” But I really needed to know how hard to hit the ball, where to aim on the cue ball, what type of stroke I should hit—much more information than he was giving me.

 Just because you know how to shoot a particular shot doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to explain how to shoot that shot in a way that other skill levels on your team will understand, and more importantly, explain it in a way that they’ll be able to execute successfully on the first try.

 The important part about that last sentence is the “execute successfully on the first try” because when you’re coaching, your player only gets one try at that shot. And many times, you’re only called upon to coach them on a “make or break” situation. If they make the shot successfully, they’ll likely win, if they miss it, they’ve probably sold out the game and left it open for their opponent to win. Being a good coach means helping your players make the best decision based on their abilities and helping them understand how to execute it. Sometimes this means taking a different shot than you would choose to shoot in the same situation.

 You’re successful at the technical side once you’ve determined how to help your players choose the right shot, but what about the mental side of coaching? Being a good coach is more than simply giving instructions and having your players understand. It’s also about being positive and knowing how to motivate your players and recognize that each of your players is different. Some players like you to stop them before they take a shot that could potentially leave them in a troubled position. Others only want you to coach them when they call on you for help. Some players want you to explain in detail exactly how to shoot a shot—how hard, what type of spin, exactly where to aim, exactly what the outcome should look like. Others just need your help deciding between two different shots that they already know how to shoot, so they don’t need full details. As a coach, your job is to help your player do the best they can. If they tell you they’re not comfortable with a particular shot, don’t stress them out and make them shoot it, just be supportive and help them find something that they ARE comfortable shooting. Be positive and help them have confidence.

 During my play in APA Leagues, even when I was a skill level 7, I would often call time-outs on myself. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I could play the shape I needed to on a shot, other times I needed help deciding between one shot or another, and sometimes I just needed someone to reassure me that the shot I had in mind would work out.

 Coaching and learning is not just limited to your match play. One of the best ways to improve is to make note of what happened leading up to the shot where you needed to call a coach or make note of what you didn’t execute correctly and work on that with your coach after the match. Sometimes those situations can be avoided if you played a different shot leading up to that and other times you just need more practice on how to shoot the shot your coach had in mind.  In most games, especially with fairly equally matched skill levels, the difference between winning and losing is one make or break shot. Recognizing that shot and how to avoid making the wrong decision is key. Being a good coach can be tough, but above all, it means helping your players make good decisions and ultimately helping them improve their overall game.

Read more