If you happen to be a parent or aunt/uncle to youngsters, you have a personal responsibility to introduce them to the challenges and pleasures of the Green Game. You cannot allow them to grow up without at least knowing how to hold a cue stick and hit the cue ball without miscuing. When you teach pool, think of it as an intervention program to save them from the horrible early experiences of ignorance and stupidity that you suffered.
When is a child old enough to start learning? It happens as soon as he (or she) expresses any kind of interest with the balls. You might notice the kid hand-rolling balls around the table. Or, during a casual conversation, you hear about experiences on a friend’s home table or at a youth center.
A note of caution about working with a young person (or when you teach pool to anyone): do not attempt to teach everything you know about playing pool. When you attempt to teach pool to a person, you must keep a careful eye on their attention to your words. One of the problems of being knowledgeable about pool is that if anyone seems to be interested, you are tempted to explain far more than the person is willing to absorb. This is even more so with young people. So, far warning, DO NOT teach more than the individual is willing to learn at the time of the lesson. Forcing information down someone's through is guaranteed to kill any interest in pool.
As with any opportunity to be a teacher/mentor, especially when you teach pool, start by asking if your potential student wants to learn. Begin the teaching process only on a positive response.
Provide information in small doses. Teach one little activity, followed by the pleasure of shooting the balls into the pockets.
The real key to getting a young person started right is in holding the cue stick and stroking the cue into a ball. If this is all you can do, it will be enough to save the kid years of bad habits.
When you teach pool, use a simple step-by-step process (if this is all you ever do, it will be enough):
- To teach a simple open bridge, place hand flat on the table with thumb pressed to forefinger. Raise the knuckles to adjust the stick height.
- To explain stance, draw a triangle on a paper to show the placement of the back foot, front foot, and bridge hand with a line for the stick.
- Get your kid into a rough stance and make major adjustments only according to the triangle. (Force yourself to ignore chicken wings and elbow pumping.)
- Get a slow forward and backward stick movement going.
- As the stick keeps going back and forth, you move around to the front with a bunch of balls.
- When the stick moves backwards, place a ball in front. On the forward movement, the ball is hit.
- Repeat until the young student becomes bored (about 10-20 times).
- Allow unsupervised playing.
Every lesson or playing situation turned into a lesson must follow this simple routine. Review what was learned from the last couple of times. Then introduce an easy to learn expansion on that base of knowledge. You general process at the beginning of every lesson is to make sure that all of the body parts are roughly in the right position. What should move, moves correctly. What shouldn't move - doesn't. Remember how LONG it took you to realize that the back hand doesn't need to grab the butt of the cue stick? Little by little is the correct learning process.
Keep the pool lessons to a few minutes at a time. Basically, teach pool as one little thing based on the previous lesson. Setup a few shots to help gain some experience, and make sure it concepts are understood. Then turn the kid loose to have some fun.
When you teach pool for any setup, start with slow speeds only. Only when you observe confidence in the stroke, allow medium speeds. Do not teach high speeds - EVER. These are hard to control and confuse the learning process.
Encourage as much practicing between lessons as possible. Advance knowledge and skills progressively. Start with simple, and slowly increase the difficulty. Everything must be from the general to the specific.
If enthusiasm is high, this is an excellent opportunity to teach pool for left and right hand shooting. At this level, it is not difficult to learn both. If only mildly interested in pool, just teach right-handed (or left as appropriate).
There is a transition point that must not be missed. It occurs when your young student starts getting bored with shooting ball in hand shots. That is when to introduce the concept of position play. When setting up practice shots for the latest lesson, also setup an easy second ball to be pocketed. This allows the experience of practicing the new shot and considers position on the second ball.
When there is the passion to learn, you can coach the greater complexities of the game - table analysis, shot selection, cue ball control, position play, and all the other stuff that makes the game so interesting.
When you teach pool, don’t be disappointed if your young student’s enthusiasm for pool is replaced by another hobby (i.e., ping pong, street hockey, chess, etc.). Eventually their interest will return to the Green Game. You will be remembered (even decades later) as the person who got them started right.
Do not abandon the younger generation to video games. Those do not teach the necessary interaction between players who honor sportsmanship and the competitive spirit of competition. You have a duty to help your younger family members when they express an interest.