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Let's say that you and I decide to play pool. We agree to play eight-ball, best of five games. Our perception is that what follows is a contest to see who will do something called winning.

But I don't see it that way. I always imagine the outcome of eight-ball to be predetermined, to about 95% certainty, based on who has practiced that specific skill the most over his lifetime. The remaining 5% is mostly luck, and playing a best of five series eliminates most of the luck too.

I've spent a ridiculous number of hours playing pool, mostly as a kid. I'm not proud of that fact. Almost any other activity would have been more useful. As a result of my wasted youth, years later I can beat 99% of the public at eight-ball. But I can't enjoy that sort of so-called victory. It doesn't feel like "winning" anything.

It feels as meaningful as if my opponent and I had kept logs of the hours we each had spent playing pool over our lifetimes and simply compared. It feels redundant to play the actual games.

I see the same thing with tennis, golf, music, and just about any other skill, at least at non-professional levels. And research supports the obvious, that practice is the main determinant of success in a particular field.

As a practical matter, you can't keep logs of all the hours you have spent practicing various skills. And I wonder how that affects our perception of what it takes to be a so-called winner. We focus on the contest instead of the practice because the contest is easy to measure and the practice is not.

Complicating our perceptions is professional sports. The whole point of professional athletics is assembling freaks of nature into teams and pitting them against other freaks of nature. Practice is obviously important in professional sports, but it won't make you taller. I suspect that professional sports demotivate viewers by sending the accidental message that success is determined by genetics.

My recommendation is to introduce eight-ball into school curricula, but in a specific way. Each kid would be required to keep a log of hours spent practicing on his own time, and there would be no minimum requirement. Some kids could practice zero hours if they had no interest or access to a pool table. At the end of the school year, the entire class would compete in a tournament, and they would compare their results with how many hours they spent practicing. I think that would make real the connection between practice and results, in a way that regular schoolwork and sports do not. That would teach them that winning happens before the game starts.

Yes, I know that schools will never assign eight-ball for homework. But maybe there is some kid-friendly way to teach the same lesson.

 
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Sep 6, 2011
I just stumbled across this post and found it quite interesting. I think I might agree with your statement had you said "best of nine" or more games but best of five is only a race to three games and on a bar table it can still be a bit of a crap shoot.

It makes me wonder where you grew up playing all this pool where there was so little competition for you.

If winning became meaningless then perhaps you lost sight of why you began playing in the first place. There's something to be said about working hard, and the fruits of your labor, blah, blah, blah, but at the end of the day, if you're playing solely to win, just play against people you can consistently beat (like you have been). But, if you're playing to improve and to enjoy the game, challenge yourself and play against better players.

I didn't mean to give unsolicited advice. I enjoyed your post and always appreciate when people outside of the 'billiard world' are interested in pool. Thanks.
 
 
Sep 25, 2010
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Sep 9, 2010
I believe ppl are already doing that, bookie called it a "spread" and they use it for gambling sports.
 
 
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Sep 8, 2010
@TaxiSlim, if thats how you describe 8 ball, I challenge you to a Snooker competition :P
 
 
Sep 8, 2010
This theory sounds like common sense. But I propose this test.

Two friends of the same age and relative physical abilities decide they want to become good a 8-ball (or substitute bowling or darts or tennis...)

So these two friends become inseparable in their quest to become skilled at 8-ball. The join a league at a bowling alley. They practice together in a basement rec room. They go out to bars together to compete against others.

Let's say they each accumulate approximately 5,000 hours of practice over the course of 10 years (about 10 hours per week). Without a doubt, one of the friends will be better than the other. He will win a clear majority of their head-to-head matches.

At an elite level, I'm not sure the champion is the one who practices most. If that were true, the same athlete would win virtually every match/tournament. As great as Tiger Woods was in his heyday, he has only won 14 major tournaments, of which there are 4 every year. And he started playing golf at age 4, and practiced more than anyone.

Practice will put you at a level where you can beat almost anyone who has not practiced as much as you, and you can beat some who have practiced more than you. But you cannot beat everyone all the time just by practicing the most.
 
 
Sep 7, 2010
I see 2 issues here. First, I agree that winning simply reveals who practices the most. And society as a whole likes to know who is best, hence the want/need for competitive events. However, the second issue is value. When athletic teams compete, and I attend, what do I get out of it? Technically, I get nothing other than some short-term entertainment. But the players have not actually deliverred anything of value to me. Whereas the best farmer provides me with the tastiest or least-expensive food. The best tech company provides me with devices that make my life easier. They compete as well, but not like sporting events.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 7, 2010
A surprisingly good read is Andre Agassi's autobiography "Open". He says that his father made him hit 2500 tennis balls a day because he beleived that someone who was hitting almost a million tennis balls a year could not be beaten. It also made him hate tennis!
 
 
Sep 4, 2010
I'm reminded of something I heard once about kendo

"First you win, then you strike"

The idea is that the match is determined before it begins.
 
 
Sep 3, 2010
Interesting suggestion, Scott, but your problem was that you've been playing the wrong game. 8 ball is either for complete geniuses or complete idiots, since it requires almost no shotmaking skills, just infinite patience and an ability to hold your beer. It's no accident that Elbonia rules the world in 8 ball.

OTOH if the schools required mandatory 9 ball or one pocket, then you'd have a winner. And the pool halls could use an infusion of fresh young suckers, since the old ones are dying off faster than you can say "Fast Eddie."


 
 
Sep 3, 2010
Dingbat - I have an older brother who skated by doing to least possible, with enough natural talent and skills to succeed. I worked my tail off and did fine. My younger brother found both these rolls taken in the family and has struggled mightily in his adult life.
As for practice - Pool is a good example were natural ability brings only a limited additional advantage. I played college soccer at a competitive school (we were ranked second in the nation my sophomore year and were in the top 20 my junior and senior year). You had to be blazing fast. That's genetics. I was helpful to have a good knowledge of the game and decent foot skills - both of which are heavily influenced by practice - but you had, had to have speed which was in the top 1% of the population.
 
 
Sep 1, 2010
one word: fun
 
 
Aug 31, 2010
My son is a member of a generation that has developed skills in hand / eye coordination and reflexes that we never dreamed of. People a hundred years ago were skilled in caring for and riding horses and had a "natural ability" that the current generations do not have. My son's generation was raised on video games which I considered to be a total waste of time until I saw the results. He has very unique abilities in skills such as playing pool, shooting a pistol and shotgun, playing ping pong and racquetball, and other activities, that I attribute to developing his brain with video games. He is an excellent eight ball player and has not spent a great deal of his youth practicing that game. I believe his skills are from training his brain on a whole different set of skills. The military is basing much of its weapons development on these types of skills, such as driving and aiming armored vehicles, flying unmanned drones, piloting sophisitcate aircraft and other weapons systems.
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 31, 2010
Drawing a straight line between practice and achievement has varied impacts on my three test cases (teenagers). My oldest will often not bother to participate if he can see himself winning given enough effort. That is all the reward he believes he needs. My middle son runs track. He is (in his words) an average talent who does a second or even third workout at home after the official practice. That makes him a contender. My youngest *hates* to lose at anything. He checks out the competition. He'll go for it if he can be a top player but if someone else is more talented and works just as hard - he gets mad.

The middle kid is the most consistent. He works very hard and is a straight A honors student and successful athlete. The oldest is the most naturally gifted and manages to put out just enough effort to get where he wants to go. (He was accepted to a top school on full scholarship - but he didn't exactly bust his tail to get there.)

I think the youngest will do well - but it is too early to call that one. A brilliant older brother who doesn't have to work hard to succeed sets a pretty discouraging example for a competitive kid. Thank god for the brother who does work hard. Without him, I think my youngest would self-destruct.
 
 
Aug 31, 2010
I think you misunderstand the concept of "winning". The idea is that you are at a higher level of something than something else, whether it be skill, luck, or whatever it is that helps you it a drink-chugging contest. You don't feel like winning because you win so often or so easily, in a similar manner to your average Joe beating an ant at soccer. If you need to feel like you've won, try entering a tournament on something you're not so good at, like poker. (This would be especially easy with some online site. Anyone want to make a self insert here?)
Though some people do have a natural tenancy toward a particular sport/game. But i still feel that most people can do pretty good at some things if they practice enough.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 31, 2010
Practice will get you to your maximum ability. Some people have more innate ability than others. I could practice sprinting 14 hours a day for 5 years and would never be able to run a 4.2/40, ditto throwing a baseball 100mph. Similarly a person with an IQ of 80 will simply never become a chess master. There are some people I know who have never touched a weight and look like a statue of Atlas. Some of "us" are more equal than others. :)

It's all about beating people within your skill level, or as I prefer, playing those just above your skill level. Somtimes in life when passion abilty time are all at your disposal, great things happen.
 
 
Aug 31, 2010
I'd love to see the experiment done on the scale of a large school district, like Los Angelas. My own experience with sports suggests that practice would be one variable but that an inate and more sport-specific talent (eye-hand coordination?) would account for a lot of the variation in final results. I once bought a pool table, when we first had a house with a basement. Practice didn't make me better.
 
 
Aug 31, 2010
Interesting topic, but I wouldn't dismiss the thrill of victory so flippantly. I contend there is a built in desire to "win" at competition just as much as there is a built in desire to seek the company of the more attractive members of the opposite sex. You can ridicule the illogic of it if you want, but it doesn't make it go away, and it might be condescending to ridicule something so innate.

I think the desire to win at competitions is related to our innermost tribal instincts. The tribe values certain skills, and if you can excel at them, you envalue yourself to the tribe and presumably strengthen the tribe in some tangible way.

If you compare 8 ball win rates for someone who's practiced 5000 hours verses someone who has practiced 5 hours, the results are predictable and any victory is hollow. It is not so much hollow because it is predictable and pointless, it is more because your opponent and any spectators are largely indifferent. Clearly you have not done anything to envalue yourself to the tribe by beating someone who only practiced 5 hours in there whole life. It's like winning the world chess championship and the world Connect Four championship. The former is a coveted title throughout the world and the latter would be a obscure victory over a small handful of people who for some reason didn't outgrow a childhood activity.

But try to imagine the tension and eventual joy for winning the Little League World Series (parent or player). Any contest with much of society watching and both players/teams have dedicated much of their life preparing is going to produce great joy for the winners. It won't matter if the winning team practiced more. Often you hear such contestants saying the years and years of practice are "worth it" when interviewed after emotional wins.
 
 
Aug 31, 2010
Couldn't agree more, at least about pool. Even though it was over 40 years ago, the two summers I spent working in a pool hall prepared me to beat just about any amateur who has ever challenged me since then. Losses have come almost exclusively to those who had pool tables at home.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 31, 2010
Is eight-ball skill transitive? Ok, I don't actually play much pool/billiards/eight-ball so to me it is very much a matter of practice and basic geometry skill. Some sports seem to embody the transitive property in that if player A can beat player B, and B can beat C, then A can beat C too. Others are less transitive, at least at approximately equal skill levels. In chess or in fencing, probably in destruction derbies too, A can beat B, B can beat C, and C can beat A. Naturally luck factors in that as well. In such games, tactics weigh heavily, especially when the general skill level is close.
 
 
Aug 31, 2010
I recommend you read "Talent is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin. His point is almost identical. For example, why did it take Tiger Woods 18 years of practice before he won the Masters? Wasn't he supposed to be a golf savant? Mozart needed 17 years of hard work before he wrote his first masterpiece. Aren't these 2 guys the poster children for savants? The truth is that hard work is the only relevant predictor of success.
 
 
 
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