This month, I'm the host for Volume 15!
Even as I originally proposed this month's PoolSynergy topic back in September, I knew that it'd be best to reach out to someone else who had more experience and success with pool in a team environment. The plain fact was that I didn't (and still don't) have a whole lot of experience with pool from a team perspective.
Through my own observations and experience in several other team sports, I was well aware that a coach (or captain) can make or break a team. We've seen time after time that some coaches manage to mold a group of average players into a championship team while other coaches fall short... despite having more individual talent available to them.
Being the leader of a team is more of an art than a science. You need to know the sport well, of course... the rules, the strategies, and so on but I think that's the easy part; the part that many people can learn (although it's clear some don't put in the effort to do so). The hard part, in my opinion, is to bring the players together as a cohesive unit to properly execute the strategies. This is where psychology and sociology come into play. Team dynamics.
As a coach or captain, you need to know your players' personalities, capabilities, and needs. Every player is different. Some like to be cheered on, some don't. Some perform better under pressure than others. Some play well against players of the opposite sex and some don't. Some will openly tell you when they're not confident with a situation and some won't. Some of the players who tell you they're not comfortable with a situation will kick butt in that situation anyway... while others will leave you wishing you heeded their warning. Some players need more warm up time than others. Some are fine with going up first, some aren't. These are just a few examples of the many, many factors that a good coach or captain will be 'tuned' into - and don't expect your players to tell you their thoughts or even the truth about some of these things. I'm not suggesting they'd intentionally lie to you (although some might in certain situations), but their perception can differ from reality. By all means, get their input as appropriate, but that alone will rarely be the only factor on which you base a decision.
I believe the 'art' side of coaching is very difficult to teach or learn in the usual sense, but developing an awareness of subtle factors like the ones I mention above is a good step in the right direction. Great coaches often know their players better than the players know themselves and use that knowledge to lead their team to success. The very best coaches extend this 'sixth sense' beyond their own team to players on opposing teams as well.
Anyway, back to my original point about wanting to seek out wisdom from others who have been successful with pool teams, I'm very fortunate to have access to a few folks in the local Las Vegas area that fit that description. I was extremely fortunate that a real gem amongst those folks, Sondra Friestad, agreed to spend some time discussing her thoughts on the care and feeding of a championship team:
Be sure to check out all of the other great January PoolSynergy articles!