Aging Well Billiards

Splendido residents enjoy impromptu games of billiards for the mental challenge and socializing. Shown: Elaine MacDonald and John Bond.

If you’re looking for a hobby that offers interesting challenges, keeps your brain active (and your body, to a lesser extent), and provides social opportunities, head for a billiards table!

Billiards—which includes a variety of “cue sports” including different games of pool, snooker, and more—is a pastime that’s perfect for those who like solving problems, games of concentration, and socializing around a sport. Plus, it can provide unique benefits for your cognitive and physical health:

Those who play billiards frequently often have sharper minds. The mental stimulation of the game is impressive, as each turn at the table requires calculations, visualization, and problem-solving.

Playing billiards requires close concentration on your target balls, the angle of your cue, and more. This ability to focus intently can translate to attaining goals in life. 

Research has shown that people who play cue sports regularly are more levelheaded in a crisis. The practice of concentrating on the game allows them to think clearly, sort out pertinent details, and act calmly.

The bending and stretching involved in planning billiards shots means that regular players will become at least moderately flexible, with good balance. 

There is even a physical component to playing billiards, based on the amount of walking done during a game. Experts calculate that a typical two-hour game of 8- or 9-ball easily involves 100 trips around the table. This adds up to nearly three-quarters of a mile!


Cue the Learning Opportunity

Splendido, an all-inclusive community in Oro Valley for those 55 and better, is home to a growing number of billiards players. That’s because the resident-led Splendido Intellectual Pursuits Program (SIPP) includes a hands-on class called “8-Ball for Ladies and Gentlemen.” Held twice a year, the class is currently taught by Dr. John Bond as a four-session, hands-on course. “I limit each class to four people, but if I get more than that who want to play, I’ll just add a second class,” John explains. 

“As I tell my classes, unlike basketball, football, soccer, and the like, billiards is the only sport that makes that more difficult by having you hit a ball into another ball. There are two angles to calculate with almost every shot.” 

A clinical psychologist who taught as an adjunct and clinical professor for more than 40 years, John enjoys preparing for and leading multiple SIPP classes each semester. “I love teaching, and this class is even more fun than the lectures I do,” he says.

Playing the Table

Splendido’s billiards table gets quite a bit of use from residents. “There are at least three husbands and wives here who I’ll see playing—I like that,” says John. “I myself will stop by and practice even if I just have 10 or 15 minutes before dinner or something.”

“I just enjoy it,” says Splendido resident Elaine MacDonald. “It’s me against the ball, not against the other person.” Elaine had barely played before she took the 8-ball class at  Splendido. She ended up co-teaching it for a while with John, and still enjoys the game. 

“I probably play three or four times a week,” she says. Like John, she’ll stop by Splendido’s billiards table to hit a few balls by herself when the opportunity presents itself. “And Wednesday nights are ladies’ pool nights,” she explains. “Those are friendly games, and I try to encourage anyone to drop by. We’ll play ‘any ball’ and we don’t even keep score—it’s just for fun.”

Elaine enjoys games a lot, though she admits she is not athletic in the standard sense. “I always got Cs in gym class,” she says. “But I really enjoy things that involve eye-hand coordination. For instance, I also like pool volleyball, chair volleyball, putting, and bocce ball.” And she can vouch for the physicality of billiards, saying, “You walk around that table all the time!” 


Take a Shot at Learning

If you’d like to give billiards a try, you can pick up some basics online or in a book. (Elaine recommends Ewa Mataya’s books.) But the best way to learn is from a patient teacher, and then by hitting balls around the billiards table. As John points out, “It’s a nice relaxing thing you can do with someone or by yourself. It’s always interesting.”

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