2018/11 – Does Caudron need a coach?

There is a short and easy answer to that question: no. He’s the number one player in the world, and in the past ten years, he has won more major tournaments than anybody. He’s pretty good at what he does, right?

There is also a longer and more complicated answer to that same question, and it starts with: maybe. But let’s first look at the current situation in 3-cushion. Not a single top player has a coach. We find that normal, but it’s strange. Every top tennis player, golfer, skier, skater, boxer, gymnast has a coach. The obvious, daylight reason that 3-cushion professionals don’t, is this: they never made enough money to be able to afford one. The deeper, more hidden reason: it has never been part of our sport’s culture, and many players would be afraid to be viewed as “mentally weak” if they admitted to being coached. The 3-cushion universe is rather “macho”. Have you ever noticed how few openly gay 3-cushion players there are? We are worse than soccer, I think. And you can’t bring up the subject of sports psychologists without invoking jokes or sarcasm. Our sport, I am sorry to say, is a bit old fashioned in that respect, and a bit dumb. We need to catch up with the rest of the world, and stop pretending we are MEN and we never need any help with anything. 

So, when I say “Caudron”, I mean all professional 3-cushion players. And most of them have been their own coach for the past 10, 20 or 30 years. It’s not that the coaching work does not exist in 3-cushion, or that it wasn’t done. They simply did it themselves. And being a gifted player is completely different from being a good coach. The ones that rose to the top and stayed there for a long time, were talented enough at both jobs. It’s pretty easy to fill in the names: Zanetti, Blomdahl, Jaspers, Sánchez, Caudron, Merckx and a few others. We’ve also had players with tremendous talent who were horrible at coaching themselves, and their careers suffered as a consequence. You can fill in the names if you like. 

What could a coach possibly do for Caudron, you ask? Isn’t his technique perfect, his knowledge extensive, aren’t his tactical decisions spot-on? If you ask that question, consider this: Ronnie O’Sullivan, widely considered to be the most naturally gifted cue player on the planet, recently announced that he’ll be joining the SightRight team, a specialized coaching unit that helped revitalize the career of Mark Williams. A specialist named Steve Feeney will help O’Sullivan with his alignment and aiming, and sports psychiatrist Steve Peters will help him work through the mental issues of the game. 

If a multi-million-pound prize money winning genius like Ronnie O’Sullivan is humble enough to admit that specialists could improve the quality of his game, why wouldn’t 3-cushion players? Not all of them would need the same type of help. Coaching can be many things. Some players could fine-tune their stance and cueing with the help of a specialist. Others could benefit from tactical analysis, and work on their balance between offense and defense, to make better decisions at the table. And finally, but most importantly, some players could learn how to handle stress, nerves, anxiety during the match. Learn how to “get across the finish line” in tense matches, instead of choking.

Before you can do that, you have to admit that these skills are not in your DNA, but can be learned. Again, the macho culture of 3-cushion gets in the way here. We have a tendency to “label” players as either mentally strong or mentally weak, and they often carry that label for life. Sometimes it’s true: some players keep repeating their mental mistakes year after year. But sometimes it’s untrue and cruel: there are players who grow into mental strength as they mature, and a coach can nourish and speed up that process.  

Today, there is more money in 3-cushion than there has ever been. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks and I would not suggest that the 50-something champions of today visit cueing coaches to reinvent their game. That’s not going to happen. But for the new generation: they would be foolish if they tried to create their career the way TB and MZ had to do it. Instead, they should show some of the O’Sullivan humility, and look for expertise where it can be found. Spain is leading the way, with its billiard academy. I recently watched young mister David Martinez play a match, and I was impressed, mostly with his decision-making. It was instantly visible that he had been helped along the way.

The recipe for national federations is quite simple: make the best possible use of all the knowledge and experience of your former top players (Quetglas for Spain, Burgman for the Netherlands, Kühl for Germany, Stroobants for Belgium, just to name a few who have proven that they can teach), and prepare your talents for the tough arena they are about to walk into. And before they even get that far: make sure the basics of their game are correct. Thirty years ago, you had these self-taught players with an “individual” technique, a peculiar stroke, an unusual stance. Today, those players would never even make it into a World Cup pq. Thirty years ago, you had these hard-drinking, partying guys, who swore they played just as well with a hangover and three hours of sleep. It wasn’t true then, and it certainly isn’t now. Three cushion billiards is a sport, and a demanding one.    Want to be a 3-cushion star in 2018? Want to be able to compete with Myung Woo Cho? A lot of practice hours are involved, and not many tequila shots. If you are young and talented, find a coach.

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