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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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November: Put Me In, Coach!
November 2019

If you’ve been paying attention, you could see all of this coming.

Two years ago, it certainly felt as though American pool players were drifting…and not in a good direction. Team USA’s performances in the Mosconi Cup were listless, literally pointless and threatened to render the annual transatlantic team event worthless.

Let’s be honest. While Team Europe struggled to narrow its list of quality players to five, Team USA struggled to find five players that could compete on an international level.

And American players on the world scene? Other than Shane Van Boening, no U.S. player struck fear into the hearts of top players from Europe and Asia. America’s track record in international tournaments was abysmal.

Fast forward two years and Team USA is waiting to defend the Mosconi Cup, four U.S. players have won significant titles in 2019 and the country now boasts young players with real promise.

What happened?

Coaching happened. Purposeful coaching and purposeful training.

No, I’m not launching a Hall of Fame campaign for Team USA captain Johan Ruysink. This is not about one person, although the famed Dutch coach has proven himself to be a guru of sorts and would make the perfect poster child for his profession. This is about the development of talent. Ruysink just happens to be a great example of how true coaching works.

Yes, Ruysink is a coach by profession. That is how he earns his living. He spent many years coaching in Europe, helping develop Dutch players into some of the most technically solid and successful players in the world. He famously captained Team Europe to dominance in the Mosconi Cup after years of failure.

Two years ago, Ruysink took over the reins of Team USA and, after a disastrous start, convinced American players to follow his lead (with American Jeremy Jones at his side). The result was an epic victory over vaunted Team Europe in London last December.

Did he teach Shane Van Boening how to shoot? Did he change Skyler Woodward’s aiming system?

No. You don’t change veteran players’ styles. But he did teach them about drills to increase consistency and about having a strong mental game. He corrected a few kinks in their games. He got them to buy into each other as teammates and to trust their abilities. It’s fair to say that each player from the 2018 squad is playing better today than they were last year. Of course, the players themselves got credit for the bulk of that success. But coaching helped.

Beyond coaching already proven players, Ruysink has also proven to be a great molder of talent. His two primary personal coaching pupils in the past year or two are Russia’s now-19-year-old Fedor Gorst and America’s Tyler Styer. Pool fans scratched their collective heads last year when Ruysink named the unproven Styer to Team USA. But he saw in Styer good mechanics, an astute student and solid character.

Both Styer and Gorst have enjoyed great success in 2019. Each has won a significant title. Both would admit that coaching played a key role in his success.

The point here is that there is once again hope for American pool on the international stage, but structure is needed to take the next step.

I am aware that the U.S. already has instructors and an industry-supported instructors association. But there is a difference between instruction and coaching. Instructors are great for teaching people how to play and helping create lifelong participants, and the Professional Billiard Instructors Association (PBIA) is a great organization. The industry’s support and marketing of a group of certified instructors is critical to the growth of the game and has a trickle-down effect to the entire industry.

But true coaching is about taking serious players to the next level, and we can develop a better program for that. Before we can get our players to the next level, we must get our coaching to the next level. I’ve watched Ruysink work and his approach isn’t radically different. It’s just more structured and focused. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering he received formal coaching certification from the Dutch Olympic Committee.

This is the Land of Opportunity, right? Well, here’s our opportunity.

To their credit, the Billiard Congress of America and several key billiard companies have already had discussions with Ruysink and Jones about the development of a coaching program. In fact, the BCA, Predator and CueSports International provided support to Ruysink and Jones and their Team USA program for 2019, with an eye toward future expansion of coaching to include juniors and women pros.

We can do more. Success begets success. If we help create more heroes in the U.S., more will want to follow. And that will help everyone in this sport and business.

To me, that journey must start with an industry-supported structured coaching program. The pieces are here. We just need to put them in place.

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