Coaching with Empathy

By Jim Meador

Team captain: "Man! that was stupid, why'd you take that shot?"

Team player: "Well, coach, I'll tell ya. I had the choice of taking that shot, or coming over here and smacking you upside the head with my cue stick. So, How'd I do?"

I don't mind being criticized, but please chill out when I'm in the middle of a match. It's difficult enough trying to be optimistic and confident in my game without some jerk telling me I'm stupid while I'm playing.

Many leagues feature handicapped competition that allows players with different skill levels to play each other. A beginner might play an advanced player and still have a chance to win. It is a great idea, and exposes weaker players to the wisdom of stronger. It is good for the sport, in that it will raise the level of competition across the board. But there is a catch. The captains and stronger players on some teams go spastic when their weaker team mates are shooting. Some come absolutely unglued, and feel compelled to humiliate the poor souls, when they should be offering encouragement and praise . There is a time to share your impressive knowledge of the game, and your incredible ability to see the mistakes of others. But, if you're not smart enough to offer constructive support for your team mates during a match, your advice is probably suspect as well.

Most leagues have time out rules, which allow shooters to get advice from their captain before taking a shot. It is another great idea that will help beginners learn more about strategy. A good coach or captain will suggest that inexperienced players call time out before a critical shot, especially if winning or losing the entire match is at stake. That's okay. It is team play, and that's what coaches are for. However, team strategy should be articulated and understood before the games begin, not during a match. Many new players are embarrassed about calling time out, not realizing it is good team strategy. Even strong players will ask for advice, if for no other reason than to feel more confident in a choice they have already made. Unfortunately, inexperienced players may not know they are taking a bad shot, and their coach may not see what they are planning until it is too late. But, that is a mistake a coach must expect, and learn to live with. It is not good "coachmanship" to exacerbate the mistake by going ballistic and humiliating the violator.

I can usually tell when I am up against a good player long before I get up to the table. They are gentlemen. Good players are confident, and they understand that it wasn't always that way. They love the game, and are usually very supportive of those who are learning. They are experienced enough to understand the mental part of the game, and how important it is to offer positive encouragement as a means to help others develop confidence. I have noticed that the best team captains and coaches are excellent shooters who are justifiably confident of themselves (with emphasis on justifiably). They teach by example, and are ready to help when asked, not before.

If you are a coach or team captain, remember that your advice must be attainable. Do not - I repeat, do not tell an inexperienced player how you would shoot the ball. That is useless, even harmful information to someone who lacks your skills, or can't visualize the ball action. If it is a tough shot you've suggested, they will be concentrating on your advice and not on the ball. So, if you must give advice, be sure it is consistent with the player's skill level. Before making a suggestion, ask what they were thinking, and unless it is high risk choice, tell them to shoot it, and possibly advise them on speed.

Most important, if your player misses, keep in mind it was not deliberate. Offer an encouraging remark, and let him or her know it's okay. Help them focus and concentrate on the game, not your attitude. Not only will it help them, it will help you remain focused on your game. In short, be a nice guy and you'll reduce the risk of someone wrapping a cue stick around your head.

If you are looking for a team to play on, and you are not an advanced player, look for a team that has a captain you and the other team members respect. It might even be best to start out on a team that doesn't expect too much. As your game improves, you can handle more stress and might join a stronger team. Most important, Just have fun.

Happy Shooting! Jim & Pat

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