December 29, 2009 9:09 PM   Subscribe

How do you handle doing in public something that you are objectively bad at?

Pool, bowling, bocce...if it involves tossing around balls or sending objects on a desired trajectory, I suck at it. Which is fine, except that some of my friends really enjoy the hurling of balls as a social activity.

Most people are not jerks about it and my usual approach is mild bemusement and light-hearted self-effacing jokes. I only run into trouble dealing with competitive types and with random guys* and their "pointers." Any strategies or even one-liners for dealing with people who seem frustrated by my suckiness even when I'm not?

*MeFites, on the other hand: provided that you are not drunk or condescending, I'm not averse to hearing your pointers. This isn't something I care enough to invest lots of time in practicing, but if there are simple ways to suck less, I'm game.
posted by messica to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much practising is the way you get good. Just go to the park, go in a far away corner where nobody is and practice bouncing, kicking and throwing a utiliy ball, like in gym class.

Once per year in the spring for about 20 minutes will go a long way.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:23 PM on December 29, 2009

My strategy is to treat it like a continuation of a joke; the first part of the joke being my playing. As they give me the pointer I'm thinking, "Here's a person who's trying to help ME bowl at THEIR level. Sweet, but delusional on a scale unseen since Milli Vanilli tried to release a REAL album."

As for the competitive types, I too find most of that behaviour amusing: Either they are unaware that it's not Tournament Time, or they have me confused with someone who cares about performance at this stage. In any case, glad their attitude's not running through my brain.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:25 PM on December 29, 2009

One thought springs to mind - if you are serious about playing with your friends, but you simply lack the skill they have, you could somehow work out a handicap system with them.

Also, practice makes perfect! I bet you'd be surprised how good you could get at the games if you worked at it for a half hour every day, when no one was watching.

One important thing is confidence. You know how good you are! There is no reason to be upset about it. It's not like, if you only tried harder, you could be better. You are not a nuisance to your friends, or else they wouldn't invite you to play with them (at the least, everyone likes to be better than someone). So, try to do your best, keep out of the way, and have fun with other aspects of the game.

I know this isn't really helpful but maybe when random guys give you pointers, you could say something like "Thanks bro but you should have seen me playing yesterday." A lie, but it might get them off your back.
posted by rebent at 9:26 PM on December 29, 2009

Almost every bowling or pool venue that I know of has an environment that's conducive to sitting back and enjoying a drink while others play.

I don't know too much about bocce or pool, but bowling is something that can be coached pretty easily. Just getting your approach steps right is a big part of bowling. Walking through your approach slowly with a friendly coach will be very beneficial.
posted by Locobot at 9:29 PM on December 29, 2009

Best answer: I can't tell you much about how to suck less, because I too suck at these games, and yet, I think they are wicked fun (unlike traditional sports which I suck at and dislike playing). My best advice is to just entirely not give a shit when you play. That doesn't mean you don't try, but as soon as it goes south, your attention turns to what you truly care about which is, presumably, the company and not the activity. Sometimes I make a game out of seeing how badly I can play, and that can be fun, as well.

My big problem is that I run into people who feel bad for me, when really, I'm all good, having fun, and figure my comically abominable skills are actually endearing in some way. A good way to shoot down those who want to give pointers, is to tell them they are ruining your attempt at your lowest score ever. They may not understand, but it will probably shut them down. If someone is feeling competitive towards you and you truly are a bad player, then just ignore them. Whoever it is looks like an ass trying to best someone who is clearly in a different league than them. In my circles, we call that person a bully.
posted by katemcd at 9:32 PM on December 29, 2009

My best advice is to just entirely not give a shit when you play.

This is exactly it. Just enjoy the experience, poke a little fun at yourself if you like, and don't sweat it. I like bowling, but haven't gone much and am terrible at it. Last time I went, I gave it my best shot, had a ton of laughs, and even got my own two-pin spare once, which everyone cheered for.

It's about the experience, and really, nobody is going to honestly care about your bowling/bocce/pool score. If they do, you might need less intense friends.

We always concentrate way more on our own faults and seeming slipups than anyone else does.
posted by cmgonzalez at 9:39 PM on December 29, 2009

There are plenty of people out there who can't imagine you don't want their help (or that their style of 'helping' isn't helpful). Things that can keep them away: not looking helpless and having a raucous good time instead of going all deep into focus planning your next shot, which makes it look like you're concerned with your performance. I also notice that unsolicited advice (especially drunk condescending advice and if it has a chance of being contact advice, as with bowling) happens to my petite, "cute" friends WAY more than it happens to the tall, no-makeup no-nonsense ones. I am one of the tall no-nonsense folks, and I tend to come off as pretty unapproachable when I'm hanging with my friends, so I don't have any specific turns of phrase to recommend... just make sure your friends know you're totally happy with your performance, and if you're having fun with them it reduces the chance of a stranger bugging you.
posted by Lady Li at 9:58 PM on December 29, 2009

OP is not asking how to deal with situation per se. The question is how to deal with competitive types and with random guys and their "pointers." So far, only Hardcore Poser seems to have caught this.

OP, I'm as adept at most games involving balls as you (except that, actually, I'm pretty decent at pool and bowling), and have made an utter fool of myself in front of my more competitive friends many, many times. As Locobot mentioned, sometimes the only way to win is to not play, as you will eventually ruin it for those serious types.

How you deal with these people when you are playing really depends on how you feel about them, and how cool you want to play it. If you're feeling particularly snarky, you can of course act like the complete goof and piss them off. If you're feeling generous, seem earnest and actually try your best. Either way, it'll get the intended message across.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 10:11 PM on December 29, 2009

OhMyGod I suck at pool. It's particularly embarrassing to go over to my boyfriend's dad's house where playing pool is often the centerpiece to social activities. (That, and eating, which I am much better at, thankfully.)

My strategy is to make jokes about how bad I am (you know, beat them to the punch). Even though a part of me is always like, "Another game? What, you didn't humiliate me enough the first two games?" I keep playing until everyone is tired of it. I also play any other chance I get (at a bar or at work--I work with kids--and I've actually improved.

Point in case, if you just want to get good enough to save face, practice when you have the chance.
posted by too bad you're not me at 10:14 PM on December 29, 2009

1. Smile.
2. Shrug.
3. Repeat as necessary.
posted by koeselitz at 11:09 PM on December 29, 2009

Best answer: Ways to get better:

When you're playing, try to be aware of what your body is doing. How are you standing? What's your posture look like? Are your legs both doing the same thing or something different? Where is your weight? What are you doing with your shoulders? Where is the ball when you let go of it? How fast does it go .... etc etc

When other people are playing particularly well, start to spot these little details about how they are playing.

Then choose one little detail that's different, and start to vary that yourself and see how it affects things. Vary one thing at a time, and just note to yourself what happens.

This is a faster way to get better than just practising by throwing things again and again and again.
posted by emilyw at 2:10 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to think it was pretty embarrassing when I played terrible pool at bars. Then it occurred to me: if anyone is thinking "he is terrible," they should also be thinking "he's come to the right place."

Now that I can hold down a table for a few games, I've noticed that all the unexpressed judgment I imagined in others doesn't actually materialize in me. Some people are terrible and like to play anyway. Some people have bad days. What does get on my nerves is poor attitude (winning or losing.) If you kick my ass, you can shake my hand 'good game' and smile. If you lose, you don't need to make excuses or make me feel bad about beating you.

At bowling, however, I am embarrassingly awful. My friends are politely quiet, but when I start talking about that godforsaken gutter and how hard I'm trying to stay out of it, they get to say what's on their minds, which puts them at ease about kicking my ass.

Regarding unwanted tips: it sounds like you're dealing with it fine. Why should your poor play upset them? It sounds like you're trying since you asked us for some tips. (Not trying, but playing anyway, is rightly embarrassing.)

Regarding being good: practice makes perfect, but only if you take it seriously. That means you have to let it hit you in the gut when you miss shots. The mistake has to resonate in you. Then, you'll really learn from it. If you miss and you make jokes about "who cares it's just pool" (which is true, who cares), then you're not going to improve as quickly. Bobby Fischer cried after some chess matches.

Oh, a couple things I've noticed about beginners playing pool (not that I'm advanced):
- it's better to try a difficult shot than an impossible one (happens a lot!)
- bank shots are usually easier than really sharp cuts, but beginners are usually afraid of bank shots.
- learn the 90 degree rule to avoid scratching.
- Focus on the balls that are going to be difficult at the end, e.g., non-centered balls. Strategy often makes a big difference.

And, always play when your heart is in the game. Playing because it's the thing to do kills enthusiasm.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:29 AM on December 30, 2009

I'm also a casual games person, I enjoy the time with my friends but don't really love the game. I also really hate uninvited advice. For me the first step is to decide which type of person I'm dealing with and handle them in different ways.

The ones who are using it as an excuse for unwanted body contact are probably the easiest to handle, just deal with them like you would anyone else who was hitting on you and ignore the surrounding circumstances.

For super competitive types, maybe just saying out loud "hey, relax, it's all about having fun, right?" Also the line about working to achieve your lowest score ever is pretty good.

And I do have one friend who just always wants to help (seriously, he has so far given me unsolicited advice about: hiking, foosball, air hockey, swimming, and frisbee). In this case I just grit my teeth and bear it because he's a friend for a reason, this is the way he's wired, and he's genuinely trying to make me more happy, and remembering all those things helps me put up with him.
posted by anaelith at 4:19 AM on December 30, 2009

Best answer: Mefite advice: Follow thru. When you bowl imagine yourself shaking hands with the pins, and keep following thru with your hand even when you release the ball.

rude people advice: "Hey, I'm just here to make the rest of you look good." Accompanied with a wink.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:55 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm with the 'entirely not give a shit' strategy. I'm also thinking about the way the Cameron Diaz character did karaoke in My Best Friend's Wedding: Throw yourself into it, go ahead and be bad, and make the most of it. Laugh and the world laughs with you!
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:36 AM on December 30, 2009

No good advice for brushing off the "help" but when throwing/bowling/hitting balls, remember that your whole body throws/bowls/hits the ball, not just your hand. Watch someone do it well and watch where the their elbow is throughout the motion. Once you figure that out, move to the shoulders (yes, both of them). Move all the way down the body until you get a sense of the whole motion.
posted by advicepig at 7:01 AM on December 30, 2009

You may also be running into some people who think you are sucking just because you're disinterested and not engaged. If that's the case, you can probably help them not take it personally by making mention of things that you ARE good at.

"But you should see my scores on the competitive editing circuit!" or "Thank goodness I can [debone a fish, spackle and grout, tie 26 different kinds of knots, find magnetic north thanks to this trusty metal plate in my head], otherwise, I'd be a lost cause!"
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:48 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I go bowling, I bet everyone a dollar that I will come in last. Invariably, there's some hyper-competitive guy there who can't stand to lose a bet and will try to "beat" me at losing. I almost always win the bet, but no matter what happens, there's some dude trying his darndest to suck as much as I do, only I'm better at sucking than him.

Also, beer.
posted by decathecting at 9:01 AM on December 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just make sure that you're not going overboard with the self-effacing jokes. It can be done to the point of being annoying to the other people, making it seem like you're not actually enjoying yourself. That might make people want to help you out so you you can have more fun. Make sure that if you're having fun it looks like it!

And there are always the guys who are willing to help out the poor pathetic cute lady*.

*Not implying that you are actually poor or pathetic.
posted by that girl at 10:07 AM on December 30, 2009

When people give you tips, in pool anyway, tell them that you're sharking* and they're gonna tip off your rube.

*Sharking is when someone who is very good pretends not to be so good in order to get their opponent to bet more and more on subsequent games.
posted by cmoj at 10:20 AM on December 30, 2009

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