I’ve spent the last four days in London watching nine-ball pool at Alexandra Palace at the Mosconi Cup, which is an event comparable to the Ryder Cup in golf. It’s an annual tournament contested since 1994 between teams representing Europe and the United States. Organized by the Matchroom Sport, five players for each team are selected to play based on e.g. their performance in major tournaments. Last night, team Europe won their fourth consecutive Mosconi Cup 11-3 after dominating team USA for the whole tournament. As a part of my profession and background in sports psychology and pool, I observed the expressions and gestures of the players and their interaction with each other throughout the tournament. The difference between the teams could not have been more noticeable.
Let’s face it: for professional pool players, playing pool is work. It is a purposeful effort or activity that is directed toward achieving a specific outcome to ensure the players income. There is a Finnish concept in occupational health-psychology that is relevant for analyzing why team Europe was so superior at the Mosconi Cup this weekend. The concept of ”työn imu” translates to ”work engagement” or ”work enthusiasm” in Englis and it refers to a positive emotional and motivational state at work. It goes beyond mere job satisfaction and reflects a sense of passion, absorption, and dedication to one’s tasks. There are three dimensions associated with work engagement: dedication, vigor, and absorption. Dedication is the experience of meaningfulness, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and the challenging nature of work. Vigor is the experience of energy, a willingness to invest effort in work, as well as persistence and the desire to try your best even in challenging moments. Absorption is deep concentration and engagement in work, accompanied by a sense of pleasure.
Team members body language can offer insights into their mindset and emotional state. Based on observing the teams, I’d say that their level of work engagement was very different. I have no doubt that both teams were motivated but I do feel that team Europe was way more energetic and immersed in their performance and co-work. This was most evident on how they all together encouraged the player on the table after every game by walking to him. He was never left alone. In their interaction, they were supportive, smiling and offering encouragement and constructive feedback. While brothers in pool, Francisco Sánchez Ruíz and David Alcade were discussing after every game when either one was playing, Jayson Shaw took the audience with him to cheer for team Europe. It’s clear that positive reinforcement contributes to a healthy team environment and boosts individual and collective confidence. It also helps to maintain team morale.
One can criticize the selection of time given to individual players, particularly now that there has been so much discussion on Russian-born Fedor Gorst playing for team USA. Trust among team members is foundational for good team performance. In order to perform well at this level, players need to trust each other’s skills, decision-making abilities, and commitment to the team’s success. Trust fosters a positive team dynamic. That’s why it is so crucial. With many people in the crowd singing loudly “Not born in the USA” it may have been a tough case for team USA.
Team Europe do know how to celebrate success. In TV, we see these players playing highly focused, determined and often serious. For me it was a joy to see, how for example Joshua Filler started dancing and jumping into the arms of his teammates after a co-team member won a game, indicating his joy and excitement. Celebrating every win strengthens the team’s sense of unity, creates a positive atmosphere, and fosters a sense of collective achievement.
Research from work and organizational psychology clearly shows a positive connection between work engagement, vigor, and performance success. Applied to sports, this became evident in nine-ball pool this weekend.
Congratulations team Europe, for a superb job performance!