League play has done more to advance the cause of pool than any other one factor, including ESPN events. Without league play, there would be fewer players, and fewer players means fewer people tuning in the TV events. Leagues also provide a spawning ground for new talent, many of whom may not have otherwise picked up a cue stick. While there are still downsides to league play, such as the environments in which players find themselves, the benefits far out-weigh the drawbacks.
Building a Strong Team
Because of the handicapping system, it is very difficult to put together a team of heavy hitters who can blow away their opponents. In the APA every team must include lesser skilled players to keep the team handicap within league limits. I believe this is one of the best features of the APA. It means there is a place for everyone. With this in mind, if I had to put together a team, I would worry as much about the mental attitudes and dependability of my players as I would their shooting skills. Frustrated, anxious players do not perform well. Players should be able to concentrate on the table and not worry about if their team mates are going to show up to play. It is also difficult to focus on the balls if the team is constantly bickering about the line-up, or complaining about the play or conduct of other members of the team.
Obviously, the team captain is the backbone of the team: or should be. But all too often team captains cause most of the problems by not "taking charge" and providing solutions to potential problems before they surface. It is not necessary for the team captain to be the best shooter on the team. In fact, it is probably best if the captain is relieved of the pressure of anchoring the team. The team captain has to be a good administrator, a strong but compassionate leader, a peace maker and negotiator. Coaching should be left to other members of the team.
I sometimes wonder if coaching should even be permitted. But it is a factor in every other sport, so why not pool? At the professional level, coaches scream, shout obscenities, and apply whatever motivating force necessary to make the team and individual members perform. But the APA players are, by definition, anything but professionals. Many have never been involved in any kind of team sports, and are totally unprepared for the type of criticism professionals are paid to endure. Team members and coaches who constantly criticize a poor shot or ball selection do absolutely nothing to improve the teams chance of winning. Top players are strong because of confidence. It is no different for weaker players. No one wants to lose or miss a shot. So missing is not stupid. Criticism is stupid, and reflects more on the critic than the player. When asked to coach, and the player wants advice, I first ask what they would do. I might then whisper in their ear, "That's fine. If you use top english with a medium stroke, you can avoid a scratch in the side pocket. Don't worry. You'll have another shot."
My assumption as a coach is that the player selected the shot he or she feels most comfortable with. I whisper my advice because I don't want the player to believe everyone is second guessing them. My job is to increase their confidence and remove as much pressure as possible. I will also admonish other team players for vocalizing their opinions. I am the coach, and I expect the others to offer encouragement, before and after the shot or game.
Many players do not like to ask for advice. They seem to think it reflects on their confidence or competence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Top players ask each other for confirmation, because sometimes an easy safety, or a better choice, goes unnoticed by the player shooting. If you are uncertain about a shot, don't be afraid to ask for help from your coach. Just tell him or her your intentions and ask for confirmation. Remember that the other team is being coached, and refusing to ask for help is giving the other team an advantage.
I have noticed that teams that know how to relax and enjoy each others company are more relaxed at the table. Being focused and being relaxed may be mutually exclusive, but not incompatible. If I am focused and up tight, I am prone to choking. When I am relaxed and unfocused, I get sloppy. When I am relaxed and focused I shoot my best pool. Remember that pool is a game, not punishment (unless you are a sicko masochist.) No one likes to lose. But get over it when you do. Remember your mistakes, and work on them during practice. But don't beat yourself to death with them (as I often do.) Don't let a previous loss cause another (as I often do.) That habit can create a "slump".
If you want to shoot pool for the pure joy of it, find a team that shares your attitude. If winning is your only consideration, find a team that eats nails. Regardless of your reason, if you join a team, at least show up on time and be ready to shoot.
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