Willie Mosconi and How Pool is Like Life

Quote of the Day

A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill.

Frank Borman, Astronaut

Figure 1: Willie Mosconi (Ron Moody, Find-A-Grave)

I was talking with my neighbors yesterday about motivating students. They are both teachers at a local community college and are finding it difficult to motivate their students over Zoom.  While I am not in education, many of the companies I have worked for have struggled to motivate staff (local and remote). My employers have occasionally brought in motivational speakers to try to fire up the workers, most of which were good but not great (Lou Holz was great).

As I thought about it, the best motivational speech I have ever heard was during a pool demonstration at North Hennepin Community College (NHCC), which is where I received my first two years of post-high school education. NHCC would bring in guest speakers on various topics and one day they brought in pool legend, Willie Mosconi (Figure 1).

Willie was not your typical speaker. He did not stand in a lecture hall and speak. Instead, he gave a demonstration at the pool table in the recreation area next to the cafeteria. I decided to watch the demonstration while I ate lunch. I am so glad I did.

Willie spoke with a cue in his hand at the pool table while setting up various trick shots, which were fun to watch. After a few trick shots, Willie then set up a typical game with a clean break and showed how he would approach clearing the table. During this demonstration, Willie talked about how every pool break was different and how you have to play the balls as they break. He talked about how you need to look at the whole table and decide which balls you are going to try to sink and in what order. You need to plan your shots so that you can make your goal step-by-step, not just take the easiest shots as they come up. Sinking an easy shot first may leave you with poor shots later. Plan where your cue ball will end up after you sink a shot so that you are set up properly for your next shot. If you have to make a tough shot that may fail, make sure you have a recovery plan – or at least leave the cue ball in a spot that makes it tougher for your opponent. Willie spent quite a bit of time discussing how to plan each shot so that each shot sets up the next shot.

As I thought about it, Willie was really talking about life. Everyone gets a different break. You need to look at your break and decide what your plan is to achieve your objective. Taking easy shots first may leave you with a bad setup for the rest of your life. Don't assume everything you try will necessarily work. Make sure you leave yourself options if things don't go as you plan.

That was a lot to learn from watching a guy shoot pool for an hour. I am now sufficiently motivated to start setting up a pool table in my garage (aka man cave).

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4 Responses to Willie Mosconi and How Pool is Like Life

  1. Ronan A Mandra says:

    Also, Willie sounds like a very skilled pool player.

    • mathscinotes says:

      Hi Ronan,

      Willie was incredible. He was such a nice man. Typical grandfatherly-type person. He had a small part in the movie called "The Hustler" with Paul Newman. He also worked with the actors on that movie to make them look like they knew what they were doing around a pool table.

      Besides Willie, they had a number of exceptional folks stop by and give demonstrations. One standout demonstration was by Viktor Korchnoi, a Russian chess grandmaster. He was really interesting because he had defected from the Soviet Union and had many interesting stories. He played a large number of students at once. I think he beat them all!

      • Ronan A Mandra says:

        Marc, this gives a human touch to life. I bet your grandkids if they're old enough, enjoy them also.

        • mathscinotes says:

          Hi Ronan,

          I hadn't thought about it, but I hope they enjoy them. I am not the kind of person who would keep a diary, but I must admit that I wish my father had kept one. I didn't have him long enough to get many tales of his youth. I probably should write more stories like these for my kids and grandkids.

          I hope all is well with you and you are keeping safe. I am quarantining and so far, so good.


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