This article is part of Volume 21 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. After you read it, be sure to check out the rest of the July 2011 edition of PoolSynergy over at PoolBum.
This month’s PoolSynergy topic is about older players beginning the game or returning to it from a long absence. As an older player myself, 58 at this writing, I figure I might bring a different perspective from those of younger writers.
The first and most important thing to remember is that your age is not a handicap. If you begin with the idea that your performance is somehow limited, you’re giving up before you start. Quality pool is not dependent on speed, strength or stamina the way other sports are. As such, it’s the ideal recreation that you can play, and play well until you die. I know a number of guys in their 70s and 80s who can beat most players, so don’t hesitate to set your goals high.
Pool is a finesse game. If anything, your age should give you an advantage. One of the biggest mistakes most novices make is to hit the ball too hard. Technique is what delivers the best results, not power. Smoothness and stillness are the keys, and physical aggressiveness is something to eliminate, not to strive for. Mental aggressiveness is something else again.
Attitude is a huge part of success in life and in pool it’s no different. Whether you tell yourself you can or you cant, you’ll be right. So don’t let anyone convince you that your road to improvement will be any more uphill than theirs was.
The next suggestion I’d make is to take some lessons. It’s not expensive and it can accelerate your progress immensely. A good instructor can help you develop sound fundamentals that will quickly get you on the road to proficiency. Lessons will also help keep you from developing all sorts of bad habits that are hard to break. But don’t just take the advice of the first few players you meet who are better than you, even if they are very good indeed. A person can get good using poor technique if he practices long enough, but you’ll gain ability at a much faster pace if you learn the fundamentals the right way. Seek out a qualified instructor.
Those most important pieces of advice are relevant to everyone equally, not just we geezers. What follows are a few tips that will probably be more useful to older players but have value to all.
Bending over the table can be hard on the lower back, especially if you play a lot. Surprisingly, low back pain is often the result of weak abdominal muscles that cause the lower back muscles to over compensate and get sore. If you work your abs a little you can mitigate this problem. A six pack isn’t required, so don’t be put off. Just improve the balance between back and ab strength and you’ll avoid problems.
If you tense up, stretching the muscles in your neck and shoulders can help a lot. While you’re in the chair, bring your chin close to your chest and then roll your head in a circle, both clockwise and counter-clockwise. You’ll feel the tension diminish right away. Two others you can do relatively unobtrusively are rolling your shoulders by shrugging in a circle, and by first pulling your shoulders up as high as you can, trying to touch your ears with them (while keeping your arms down, of course, we don’t want to look like a dork), and then pulling down with them as far as you can. Do each for 5 seconds or more and you’ll be amazed how much you loosen up.
Eyesight can be a problem, as it usually deteriorates with age. There are glasses you can get that sit high up on your nose and have lenses that rise up higher than normal, When you lean over you’ll still be looking through the lenses rather than over them as with most glasses. Decot Sportsglasses worked for me. I had some trouble with the anti-glare coating, though. Contacts are even more convenient, but I wasn’t able to find a pair that let me focus well at all important distances and I gave up trying. Others have had great luck with them; YMMV.
Pool is a thinking man or woman’s game that rewards mental effort at least as much as it rewards physical effort. Knowing what to do and when to do it are as valuable as accuracy and speed control. You can learn an immense amount by watching good players and figuring out what they’re doing and why. A very useful exercise is to guess to yourself what they will do on each shot, before they shoot, and try to figure out why they chose differently when they do. If you’re playing against the person you’re learning from, and they’re the helpful sort, they may be willing to answer questions about their choices while you’re playing. If you find such an opponent, treat them well for their help, picking up the time or the drinks.
Watching pool on video is even better, because the pros make excellent choices almost every shot, though you can’t ask the video a question. Reading good books with extensive discussions on pattern play and strategy is another excellent way to build your knowledge, and quickly.
As an older player, you are more likely (though it’s far from a sure thing) to be mature in your ability to control your emotions and be willing to forego a short term benefit for a much bigger long term one. When you combine this discipline and maturity with the knowledge to recognize opportunities, you will bump up your overall performance (winning percentage) substantially. This will be true even as your technical ability to execute at the table improves only slowly. You know from all your experience in all facets of life, that doing the right thing is far more effective and efficient than doing something else, no matter how well done or how much effort was expended. Wisdom will make you a winning player faster than anything else.
Pick a game that will maximize your skills. Nine and Ten Ball are the games that most emphasize and reward strong strokes and great shotmaking, and as such are not the best choices while you’re beginning or just returning to the game. Eight Ball, Straight Pool, and One Pocket are games that benefit most from smooth controlled play and knowledge of the game. One pocket, however, is very frustrating for novices, so save it for later when you can savor its complexity.
Lastly, there’s no substitute for time at the table. No matter how much you know, you have to be able to execute, or you’ll be spending your time in the chair. Listen to your coach, practice your fundamentals, and take advantage of your greater amounts of free time to spend more hours playing. You’ll be kicking butt sooner than you believed possible. And the fact that as an older player you’re likely to be underestimated by your opponents is icing on the cake.