Pool Players are Athletes
By: Peter G. Brown
The basic term of an athlete is a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise. When you read the definition, you’ll instantly think of a sport that has running in it. Nobody would blame you. I did. Mostly because of the two words “physical exercise”. Which we associate major physicals feats of Strength and Speed. And here I am, telling you that pool players are indeed athletes. A Sport that the average person would say is just a game, a hobby, a non sport. Mainly because the average person thinks of heavy drinking, gambling or hustling, and eating greasy foods when they hear the words pool player.
Please, indulge me the time to explain how Pool Players are and should be considered Athletes. What I will be doing is breaking down the abilities of an athlete in comparison to the pool player. I will also, occasionally, be comparing the cue sport to other sports where the individuals are considered athletes. I feel I need to preface that I’m not going to compare a pool player to a baseball player, or basketball player, or track ‘n field competitor, in the sense of physicality. Instead I will compare certain functions, movements, and other fundamentals of these popular sports to prove my point. I will say this, the competitive drive of a pool player is, absolutely without a doubt, no different than that of a player like Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, or Serena Williams.
The First Ability of an Athlete is Strength. There are three types of Strength. Absolute, Relative, and Optimal. The first two refer to moving a large amount of weight. We are not focused on those two, unless we are trying to bench press the pool table before every shot. We want to focus on the Optimal Strength.
Author of the article, *The 8 Abilities of an Athlete by Matt Marchant, wrote Optimal Strength is the amount of strength needed for maximal performance, any additional strength will not improve performance. When shooting pool many players will say “you’re hitting the ball too hard, you’re forcing the shot, it’s a game of finesse.” Stroking through a shot, to make one ball contact another to get a desired reaction and successfully pocket the ball requires a smooth consistent motion. In order to do so you need good muscle memory. This is built up by hours of practice and shooting to get the same result every time. The best example of comparison is to that of a golfers swing. A slow controlled back swing with an accelerated forward swing to drive through the shot to control elevation, spin, distance, speed, and accuracy. Only replace elevation with contact of the cue ball and you have everything a pool player is doing in just one shot in pool. Let’s not forget a good stance, foundation, and balance all require strength. Not just for one shot but, to be consistent throughout the whole match or tournament.
Next on the list is Power. Not to be confused by strength. Time is the difference between the two. There’s no time requirement for strength. If you move 1000lbs, in any amount time, you still moved 1000lbs. Power is a matter of time, how quickly did you move the weight. Just like Strength, Power is broken down in three categories. First is Starting
Strength/Power. The ability to generate maximum force at the beginning of the movement. This could be compared to the long drive of a golf club to the breaking of the rack in pool. Then there is Reactive Strength/Power. We’ll skip this one as it doesn’t necessarily pertain to this sport. The Third is Optimal Power. Optimal Power refers to stabilizer muscles. In pool those muscles are back, hips, and legs which are needed for a solid foundation when bent over to take the shot. Any improper stance can cause an unbalance that could throw off the stroke or worse it can cause muscle strains/injuries in the neck or hips.
The Third Ability of an Athlete is a big factor of pool players, Endurance. Now I would bet you thought of an Olympic Runner or a Soccer player and you may even be chuckling at the thought of a pool player physically running around the table but, that is not the endurance I’m talking about. A Pool Player will be in competition in a tournament or singles competition up to or over 12hrs. Sometimes it can be days. A Pool Player needs the endurance to maintain top level playing during that time. If a player has low endurance they will start to fatigue, their form will breakdown, they’ll miss shots, miscue more, and have mental errors that cause them to lose.
Fourth on the list is Speed. There are many types of speed. To save time, we will focus on Situational Speeds. As most of these abilities, there are three forms of Situational Speed. The one that matters is the second form Situational Speed, which is Reaction with Equipment Speed. Every pool table doesn’t always play the same. Certain cloths play naturally fast. Other cloths play slower. Some can be adjusted based on how tight the cloth is stretched. This also alters how the balls react, making them spin faster or slower, or roll further or less. A player
will need to adjust his stroke under these circumstances. There are many other factors that effect speed of the equipment, such as weather and temperature. Are the pool balls new or old, clean or dirty, and what material are the balls made from. Let’s not forget what we are actually using to play pool, the cue stick itself. How much does it weigh, how is it balanced, what kind of tip is on it.
Think about a tennis player when they play on grass or clay courts. A golfer choosing the right club for a shot. A baseball player choosing a bat on certain type of wood it’s made of. All these things affect the outcome of the reaction speed.
Coordination is Fifth on this list. Now, I don’t believe I need to define coordination but, the short answer, for those that would like me to define it, is a series of small muscle tasks to compete one large task. A prime example is Hand/Eye Coordination. How many sports can you list that require that? It’ll be a much shorter list if you think of the sports that don’t require hand/eye coordination. Now add in a proper stance. The list becomes a little shorter but, not much. You still have a Baseball players hitting stance, a QBs throwing stance, a Basketball Players free throw stance, and how can we not even mention a the stance of a golfer. Just to name a few references. If any of those three are off the slightest, the result can be embarrassing. Having coordination may be natural to some athletes but, to others it takes practice and understanding of the basics to acquire the necessary coordination to be competitive.
On to the Sixth Ability of an Athlete, Flexibility. Let’s keep this definition simple, flexibility is the ability to bend as far as you can without breaking. Being flexible is necessary in pool. Think about it, a pool player is bent over for every shot of the game. The basis is to be as low as possible and be consistent in every shot to achieve the same results. This is kind of flexibility is called Optimal Flexibility. On occasion some shots require a longer stretch to reach a shot. Other shots require an awkward stretch to complete a shot. For any reason if you’re not able to be flexible or flexible enough, the players performance and ability are reduced substantially. Certain injuries can affect the players flexibility performance, such as shoulder, neck, knee, hips, or back injuries. I think we can agree that those injuries have a major effect on all athletes being able to compete.
We have just two Abilities of an Athlete left. Agility, the ability to combine coordination, acceleration and deceleration in the performance of a task or series of tasks. Normally, this a major ability of a boxer, a fighter, or a soccer player. Most other sports it’s involved a few plays or series. Like a baseball player trying to avoid being tagged out or football player trying to lose a defender in a pass play. But, like in golf, pool doesn’t require agility like that. It would and does in Speed Pool. However, speed pool is not nearly played as much compared to standard pool competitions.
The Eighth and Final Ability of an Athlete is Balance. Like Coordination, Balance shouldn’t need a definition. Balance is a big factor of pool players though. A narrow stance or even an extended stance can leave a player unbalanced and will throw off a shot tremendously. Being off balance will effect visual abilities that can cause imperfections in a players stroke that creates bad habits and ultimately bad performance. Just think of any sport and how the slightest adjustment can be the cause of a result being great or awful.
At one time, pool was just a game but, times have changed. Pool players are taking the Cue Sport more seriously. Actually they have been since the late 90’s. Especially at the pro level! Spending hours at the table practicing. Not just playing rack after rack. They are shooting the shot they missed, in the last tournament they played in that got them eliminated, till they don’t miss it repeatedly. They spend all day, one whole day, working on perfecting their break (speed, where they contact the rack, power), to get a specific result for better run outs to get an advantage over the other players doing the same thing. They are setting up schedules and regiments for a better use of their practice time. They set up drills that improve their strokes, pocketing balls skill, kicking skills, jumping skills, and much more. They are improving their health by eating properly and exercising to have more stamina to out last the other players in competition. The game is mentally draining just as much, having to strategize and think several shots ahead, so a healthier lifestyle will only benefit the player to avoid getting fatigued.
There are countries in Europe and Asia that have actual pool schools training their youths. America is not quite as organized as these other countries but, we’re not far behind either with our Junior Divisions. Plus kids will watch training videos, go on social media, and matches continuously on YouTube picking up proper techniques. Just how a little leaguer will go to baseball camp or follow their favorite player for tips.
Pool is growing. The Players are evolving. It’s not just a game anymore. Pool is recognized as a Sport by the **IOC since 1998. It’s played in the World Games and with perseverance it will be in the 2024 Olympics.
My conclusion to prove Pool Players are Athletes. Most Sports, like baseball, football, basketball, soccer etc… are more like a sprint race. You tend to play one game, against one other team, and at high intense speeds for a couple of hours. Then you’re done for a few days or a week. Whereas pool, billiards, and cue Sports are like a marathon race on an incline with obstacles. ¹You can spend all day, maybe two or more, playing multiple players. (Us Open 256 players, International Open 256 players, Derby City Classic 4 Tournaments at once with up to 500+ players each). Competition gets tougher with every match. You need to maintain the same level of intensity for over 12hrs, sometimes longer. In between you may have to deal with a cool down period for a couple of hours, just after you’ve been playing at a peak level. Only to play another player who hasn’t had a break yet and is currently playing at his/her peak level. So a pool player needs to physically be ready at any moment to compete at the highest level for their next match as they did their last match, just like any other Athlete. Because Pool Players are indeed Athletes!
¹Some high profile one vs. one matches have been races to 100, played over 3 days, and (Best of 199) playing a third of the races each day for 5+ hours straight.