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Allowing headphones during league or tournaments has become a bigger conversation among tournament directors and pool players.

It wasn’t that long ago a few players were using headphones during practice, and even fewer were using them while playing league or during a local tournament. However, in recent months there has been a striking upswing in use. It appears that more players are seeing a benefit to their game by blocking out peripheral noise and getting into the “zone.”

Upon asking several players who wear headphones about the benefits, the consensus is they have better focus,
they are less likely to be distracted, they can concentrate better on each shot, and listening to music keeps their nerves at bay while making critical shot decisions. These are valid assumptions based on their improved
performance at the table.

There are arguments for and against the use of “artificial devices” during tournament play. The younger players don’t seem to mind if they, or their opponent, wear headphones. The majority of seasoned players, the ones who have played for many years, are adamantly opposed to it. This article delves into a bit of research as well as the grass roots personal feelings behind using headphones to assist in the understanding of added technology to the game of pool. 

There are sports organizations who have already addressed the “headphone” issue. As an example, referring to the PGA (Professional Golf Association), who has had a rule for a number of years; their rule book (Rule 14-3) states that using “artificial devices” such as headphones or earplugs to tune out nose or distractions is not allowed under penalty of disqualification. Decision 14-3/17 further explains why such behavior is illegal:

Listening to music or a broadcast “while making a stroke or for a prolonged period of time” might unfairly
assist the player — for example, by “eliminating distractions or promoting a good tempo.”
Does the PGA’s
stance indicate that usage of headphones or earplugs may be performance enhancing…like a performance
enhancing drug that makes a player excel by artificial means? That is a provocative theory.

Another example regarding rule books, the UPA (United States Professional Pool Association) states in their
rule book
: “The use of headphones and other devices are not permitted.”
A research study done in 1997 by Karageorghis & Terry suggested that while listening to music, a performer’s
attention is narrowed which can divert attention away from the sensations of fatigue during a physical activity. This process can be compared to the cognitive strategy of dissociation, which tends to encourage a positive mood state.

Another study by Wales in 1986 supported the relationship between music and affect, finding that upbeat tempo music is stimulating and it enhanced exercise performance by lowering anger, depression, and fatigue
significantly. In addition to the “positive” mood enhancing affects for the individual using a device, has the question been asked regarding the “negative” social consequences that arise with headphone use – “plugging in and checking out?” Interesting enough, one of the comments from an adversary stated, “It’s disrespectful.” “I feel like I’m playing pool by myself.”

This remark supports other research findings that headphone users have a tendency to put up a “social wall” between them and their opponent. When asking another pool player their opinion about headphones, his comment was, “they should never be allowed because the player can be receiving coaching from a better player on the sidelines since they could be Bluetooth-enabled.” This brings up a totally different motive for not allowing headphones, one that is not as obvious as the performance enhancing aspect.

We cannot deny that technology has a way of infiltrating every part of life, it starts gradually, and then before
you know it, you’re engaged 100% in its benefits and drawbacks. Can we stop it – probably not. However,
after reading and digesting research and personal feelings regarding the subject, one could surmise that if an
opponent’s use of headphones gives them the advantage, and, if there isn’t an official rule posted for the event, to be fair to everyone, either both players wear them, or both players refrain; all or nothing.

Acoustic impedance (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved from
An Introduction to Noise Cancelling Earbuds (n.d.). Retrieved from
Bagley, W. (2001, July 8). Ruin Followed Riches for a Utah Genius. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved
from 070801.html
Benoit, M. et al. (n.d.). Engineering Silence: Active Noise Cancellation. Retrieved from
Blue, L. (2008). How Bad Are iPods for Your Hearing? Time. Retrieved from,8599,1827159,00.html
Crane, R. (2005). Social Distance and Loneliness as they Relate to Headphones Used with Portable Audio Technology. California State University
Headphones (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved from
Karageorghis, C. I., & Terry, P. C. (1997). The psychophysical effects of music in sport and exercise: A review. Journal of Sport Behavior, 20, 54–68
Spilthoorn, D. (1986). The effect of music on motor learning. Bulletin de la Federation Internationale de l’Education Physique, 56, 21–29..

Author: Peggy Mallen

Editor:  Chris Freeman


Sponsored by Jacoby Custom Cues

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