Monday, January 17, 2011

The Agony of Defeat

(PoolSynergy: Team Play Epilogue)

I found it interesting that the PoolSynergy "Team Play" post was released on the weekend of one of our APA 8-ball Classic Tri-Annual team tournaments.

For those who don't know, the APA has three 'seasons' per year - Spring, Summer, and Fall. At the end of each season, tournaments are held for the best 8-ball and 9-ball teams from the season. These tournaments serve as a nice close to the season and are also used as part of the qualifying pipeline to determine which team(s) will be representing a given area at the National Team Championships held in the fall. I imagine there are some regional variations on the theme, so keep in mind that I'm describing how it works here in the Las Vegas area - your mileage may vary.

As the name suggests, tri-annual tournaments are held three times a year. Each team making it to playoffs in their respective divisions earns a spot in the tri-annual tournament. The winner of the tri-annual tournament advances to the annual cities tournament, which is the tournament that determines the team(s) going to team nationals. The first place team in each divisional playoff also earns a berth in the annual cities tournament.

My Monday 9-ball team as well as my Wednesday and Friday 8-ball teams made it to tri-annuals this season. Unfortunately, all three teams lost in the first round.

My Wednesday night team (the one I'm captain of) was the most recent loss so it's freshest in my mind. It was a heartbreaking loss that literally went down to the last match, last game, last ball. My player was left with a very difficult cross-over bank shot into the side pocket. He appeared to have executed it perfectly and the 8-ball headed towards center pocket. Unfortunately, the cue ball rebounded off the end rail with perfect timing, speed, and direction to deflect the 8-ball from its original path just before it reached the pocket... resulting in a miss and leaving his opponent a fairly easy shot for the win.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this particular loss was that I honestly think we were the better team... and I'm not saying that just because it's my team. I think anyone who has been playing this game for awhile can tell the difference between flat out being out-gunned and losing a match that you really should have won. This one, in my mind at least, was clearly the latter situation. We started off in good shape with me taking one of their top two players out of the equation... and then we struggled. Scratches, poor positions at critical times, etc. Uncharacteristic things that wouldn't happen 8 or 9 times out of 10... but they happened with regularity that we couldn't overcome in the end, and all added up to an eventual loss for us.

It's human nature to walk away from something like that wondering what we did wrong - and I think it's healthy both as a team and as individuals to do a little self-evaluation to figure out where improvements can be made for next time... as long as it's done constructively. If you're not careful, you can "what if" yourself to death and lose confidence as a result... confidence in yourself, and in the team. Don't do that unnecessarily! Perhaps the worse thing you can do is to contribute to teammates losing confidence in themselves, as Melinda pointed out in her PoolSynergy post.

It's one thing to recognize and deal with a problem if you really have a problem. Yes, sometimes that's necessary, and it can be a fine line at times. But a loss doesn't automatically mean you have a problem. You will always lose... at least once in a while. Obviously, the key is to keep those losses to a minimum.

Like most sports, pool is a game of percentages. If you have the data available, you can assign probabilities to every match, every game, every shot, and every safety. I live in Las Vegas and work for a gaming company. I'm very familiar with odds making and probability. All you can do is play the percentages to give yourself the best chance of success. We've all heard it: choose and shoot the highest percentage shots, play safe when you don't have a high percentage shot. With a team, go with the highest percentage match ups (if the format allows, of course). Problem is, there is pretty much nothing in pool that carries a probability of 100% and sometimes things just don't go your way.

I had and still have full confidence in the lineup I chose today. I feel we had good odds with every single match up, and I'd be perfectly comfortable using the same lineup tomorrow against the same team. That said, this is the first time I've ever seen our opponents play so there's a possibility I'd use the newly-gained knowledge to make an adjustment or two next time around... but nevertheless I stand by my assertion that I'd be comfortable playing them the exact same way.

We have a strong team, and we'll do well in the long run as long as we keep things positive and continue to grow together as a team. We're already qualified for the annual cities tournament as a result of taking first place in our division last season, so we didn't need the tri-annual win for that reason. Sure, it would have been nice... but the tournament experience was good and I'll consider it a warm-up for the cities tournament.

Onward and upward!

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