The Gender Gap: Should It Exist?
A topic heavily discussed in pool halls across the world, there's no doubt that the top male billiards players are miles ahead of the top female players. I have watched local amateur males play some of the top women pros (worldwide), and fare well playing even. The subject of this article is not to debate this fact - there is a gender gap in pool. Many in billiards forums like to "chalk" it up to male superiority, but I would like to offer a different perspective.
When it comes to sports such as soccer or tennis, there is an understandable gender gap due to physical advantages. However, in a sport that requires finesse over strength, the explanations must run much deeper than pure physiology. There are very few shots in pool where strength wins out - the most notable being the break shot. Even in this case, players such as Corey Deuel have mastered the soft break, eliminating this advantage altogether. Additionally, the majority of the professional men would not exactly win an ab contest (outside of Europe, which overall seems to place a greater emphasis on athleticism in the billiard sport…a profound concept to the American players it would appear…but I digress). Additionally, women have a much better touch and finesse game, which would seem to offer an advantage over the men. Finally, women are a lot more flexible…given some of the random positions we sometimes contort our bodies into in order to just hit the ball, it would seem this would represent another potential advantage.
The Social & Environmental
However, the differences run much further than physiological in nature. While constantly in flux, social conditioning and gender roles have a major impact in the pool hall. It is only until recently that women were accepted in pool halls or even as capable of playing pool. At one point in time, women were forced to use a mace (as opposed to a cue) because it was thought that they would rip the felt. And while it is very difficult to handle losing gracefully for anybody, some men have some serious issues with losing to a woman, so much so that they will berate or just quit on them. In the social hierarchy of the pool hall, a winning male represents the king of the castle, while a winning female represents a threat that must be eliminated. While this is not the case in all locations or with all people, this is a general standard that I can attest exists (especially living so close to some of the rural country boys in the south).
Social acceptance and conditioning extends far beyond the pool hall misfits. Friends and family can subtly deter their female counterparts from pursuing their pool hall passion, no matter how skilled they may be. While an athlete's success is a result of their own hard work, no athlete is an island. Social support plays a major part in an individual's ability to handle stress, recover from a slump, and overall health, while a lack of it can play havoc on one's mental game (as documented by this study, among others). When your peers are pushing you to get out of the pool hall, it becomes difficult to find that extra edge to get over your slump, or talk your way through some of the mental anguish this game can bring.
Social support plays a major part in an individual's ability to handle stress, recover from a slump, and overall health, while a lack of it can play havoc on one's mental game
Social acceptance and lack of existing female competitors is another potential reason why there is a gender gap. Champions breed champions - they help pave the way for future players' success. Additionally, a female mentor or coach is found few and far between, especially in many rural areas across this country. This is not to suggest that a woman cannot be taught by a man, but they do offer an idol for up and coming players. It is much easier for a young girl to draw similarities between herself and Jasmin Ouschan, versus Efren Reyes.
Another variable, albeit one not specific to the pool industry, is the amount of attention a female pool player receives due to her looks versus her skills (The facebook page "Pool Hotties" should sum this statement up quite nicely). On the flip side, I have never seen a male player put on a pedestal due to his looks The result of this comes down to basic Pavlovian psychology - if a female pool player is rewarded for her looks over her skills, she will focus on her looks versus her skills.
It's all in the numbers
In addition to psychology and gender roles, statistics has a huge impact. There are simply more men playing the game. In a tournament of 64 players, if 2 of them are women, they stand a very low chance of winning…by simple mathematics. If, however, 32 of them were women, they would stand a much better chance, again, based purely on odds. By having more women in the pool hall, not only will more women be attracted to play, but more women stand a chance of performing well.
What the Future Holds
Overall, things do appear to be changing, and as more women enter the pool hall, I do believe we will see some closing of the gap.
Carolyn NewsomeI have this debate all the time ... I also challenge that its the advice and coaching that makes a difference.... I call a time out contemplating a touch cut or trick band or something that requires a little something something on the cue ball and the male coach immediately starts talking me out of it and into a safe.... would he do that if I were a guy and said hey I see this shot and I feel good about it... How may guys won't match up with me or ask me to play for money ( NOT THAT I WOULD CAUSE THAT's IlLEGAL ;) not a lot.... they want to play my husband. before tournaments when I'm warming up in a predominately make group, how often do I have my table to myself when guys are doubled up on other tables. There are a lot of social aspects to why women play like girls.... I am shooting for the day the guys say she plays good... not good for a girl personally. Keep up the good work Dana.
Dana AftI used to think that when I went to a new pool hall or bar, I should try to hide my stroke in order to make sure people didn't know how good I was - to get a better handicap or whatever....I recently watched a Jeanette Lee interview where they asked her if she ever hustled anybody...and she said she didn't need to, because she was the hustle - can't tell you how true that rang. I don't hide anything anymore because I know I don't have to...I know I have to work ten times harder to get any amount of respect from my male opponents (and sometimes even the female ones)...I know I already am the hustle because I'm a girl....And I wish I had a penny every time I heard that I play good for a girl....occasionally, though, I'll hear "Shoot, she plays good for anybody"...that makes me smile...I have to work ten times harder to get the respect, but it does feel good when I get it....especially in light of how often I get disrespected...but alas, the world is changing...one day at a time ;-)
Richard AndrewsDana, "You play good" PERIOD! Looking forward to seeing you and the other top US/Canadian players perform at the US Amateur Championship finals in Tampa in a couple of weeks. I arrive that Tuesday and will be able to catch your entire event before ours starts. Play Well... Richard Harvest (Huntsville), Alabama