The halfway point of any project gives you the chance to think back on what you’ve done, revel in your successes, and shake your head at the miscues that seem obvious in hindsight. As such, the winter holidays are always an interesting time to be part of a fall-to-spring sports league.
There’s no doubt that London Seaward FC, the East London-based women’s football club my company sponsors in Division 1 South East of the Women’s National League (Tier 4), has performed well in the first part of the season. They currently sit fifth in their eleven-team division after earning 13 points from four wins, one draw, and two losses.
If you throw in solid performances in cup competitions where they were eliminated by clubs a league higher (Tier 3), it's been quite a good year. The wild card has been the weather. At least five matches have been moved or postponed due to waterlogged or snowy pitches that were unplayable.
I got bitten by one of those cancellations when my wife and I flew to the UK in November. Seaward had an away fixture scheduled for the afternoon of the day we landed at Heathrow; I figured there was no way I could get to the venue and planned to continue on to Manchester with Ginny until I noticed that the match would be played at a stadium literally half a mile south of the airport. It was a sunny day so I changed my plans, only to receive a message just as I walked past security saying the pitch was still a bog from several days of rain and the match was off.
Bad news: no game. Good news: a day in London, albeit one where I was worn out from flying. Fast forward to Wednesday when Ginny and I took the train back from Manchester and I got to attend a training session and hand out the Oregon chocolate Ginny and I had brought for the players. (Note to self: bring some for the manager and coaches when we return.) After a meet-and-greet with the players where they gifted Ginny and I signed jerseys, we spent the rest of the week seeing shows, speaking with the club’s management, and getting to know the East London borough of Waltham Forest where the club plays.
On Sunday, two committee members drove us to Folkestone, a small English seaside town near Ipswich, for Seaward’s cup tie against Ipswich Town. It was a two-hour drive each way and, even though we lost 3-0, the players gave a good account of themselves against a side that is in third place in their league and has a realistic shot at promotion to the Barclay’s Women’s Championship (Tier 2).
London Seaward FC (left, in seafoam green away shirts) vs. Ipswich Town. Photo by the author.
At this point Seaward are about one-third of the way through their league matches, with seven played and thirteen to go. Earning promotion would be a stretch, but the club is well ahead of the pace to exceed their point total from last season even though they will play fewer matches. That’s good progress.
As a sponsor, I’ve continued to stay back and let the club work through the season and plan for the future. The social media team promoted my LinkedIn Learning courses that were published in November and will do the same for the independent releases coming early next year, but I didn’t want to generate artificial traffic when I had nothing new to offer. I’ll develop my plans for promotion in 2023 and begin creating material in earnest in the new year.
Seaward have taken several steps forward and are improving by the week. It’s time for me to match their work rate.
I’ve learned valuable lessons from playing all kinds of sports and games, but one stands out among the others: snooker. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s what the starting position looks like.
DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 4.0
The angle of this photo hides the true size of the table. A typical bar pool table in the U.S. is 6 feet long and 4 feet wide (6’ x 4’), 8’ x 6’ tables are common in pool halls, but a full-sized table is 9’ x 6’. Snooker tables are 12’ x 6’, which means 33% more surface area than even the largest standard pool tables for eight ball, nine ball, and straight pool.
Snooker combines straight pool, where you sink the object balls in any order, and a rotation game such as nine ball where you must target (though not necessarily make) the balls in numerical order. In snooker you pot a red for one point and then nominate a color. After sinking all 15 reds and the nominated color, with the colors being respotted after they’re made, players must pot the colors in order without replacement. Color order is yellow for two points, green for three, brown for four, blue for five, pink for six, and black for seven. If you run the table and make a black after each red, you’ll score 147 points.
So, yeah…this game is hard. The balls are heavier than standard billiard balls, the pockets are tighter, and they have rounded edges instead of points. As a long-time eight ball and nine ball player that difference took some getting used to.
I played snooker a couple of times when I lived in Canada and at odd intervals since then but hadn’t stepped to a table for over 20 years. Last month I was in London on a business trip and had time to sneak away for a couple of hours. A friend of a friend recommended Cousins Snooker and Pool in Holloway, between Seven Sisters and Finsbury Park on the Victoria tube line. Excellent choice. The club is open and friendly, there’s plenty of space between tables, and the membership fee is quite reasonable.
Why was I keen to play snooker again? In part because it’s challenging and fun, but also because it reinforces the need to mix tactics, strategy, offense, and defense in your approach. There aren’t many places to hide when you’re playing eight ball or nine ball, especially when there are just a few balls left on the table. Safety play is certainly possible and at times necessary in those games, but snooker’s vast distances and higher ball count early in the game put a premium on maneuvering and safety play. Once the first red goes down the nature of the game changes a bit, but there’s always a chance you won’t have a clear shot on a red and will have to play safe.
If you’re not familiar with snooker, I encourage you to watch some matches on YouTube. The ease with which professional players maneuver the ball and make long-range shots hide how difficult the game is for amateurs. A friend and I played for two hours and finished two frames, which gives you an idea of how much time to set aside if you do get to play.
After you’re done playing, or have watched some matches on YouTube, take some time to consider how your experience relates to life and business. The lessons will be different for everyone, but I personally gained an appreciation for when it was time to go on full offense, make shots with offensive and defensive components, or play it safe. You can also challenge yourself in friendly games to go against your natural tendencies. I’ve done so and gained valuable insights.
I hope you get a chance to try snooker—it’s a marvelous game. Be sure to watch the clock, though, so you’re not late for dinner!