Is Pool A Real Sport Or Just A Game? (Explained)

Pool is a versatile game that has made its way to international sports. But there is still heated debate within the circles whether it is a sport or just a game. Pool has many types; 8-ball, 9-ball, snooker, even carom pool. If you are a true pool enthusiast, you might have wondered at least once in your life whether this game qualifies as a sport or not.

It may be that you just want to win an argument in your favor. Perhaps, as a professional, you may want to have a little more idea about the game you are into. If you are one of those people, then this article will definitely interest you. But bear in mind that distinction between the two can be tricky.

Yes, It Is a Sport But…

Let me give you a spoiler. Pool is a sport, and that includes all of its variations, including 8-ball and 9-ball pool, and snooker as well. Many sports events internationally recognize these cue sports. Yes, I know, you may think – what about billiards then?

If you are talking to a sports puritan, you might get the argument that billiards is nowhere near being a sport. Anyway, if you want to know more about how to distinguish between sports and games, keep on reading.

The Difference Between a Sport and a Game

The difference between sports and games will be much easier to explain if we look at the two from an etymological perspective. If we look at the two as two distinct words, then we can accept that the two are different.

A contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other

Definition of Sport by Merriam-Webster

We can identify sports, in general, as any sort of activity, overseen by a governing body. This body enforces a fixed set of rules, which entails a sense of competition, enjoyment, or both.

A physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure

Definition of Game by Merriam-Webster

A game, on the other hand, is an activity that a body does not necessarily govern. Hence, there aren’t any strict set of rules. However, a game has some general rules to follow, and its purpose is to recreate and enjoy, with a sense of achieving a definite goal.

Why Is There Confusion About It?

The confusion arises for most of the people because of the word game and not sports. Sports have a very confined scope, while the word game has many meanings. To dumb it down, every sport is a game but not every game is a sport. You can play a game in sports, but you cannot play a sport in a game unless it’s a sport.

The confusion arises as we understand words differently and often confuse the constructed meaning with a different context.

For example, the Olympics are called the Olympic Games, but they consist of various games that are sports. Hence, does that mean that those Olympic games are only games and not sports?

All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. Similarly, all sports are games, but not all games are sports.

This is the main difference that we want to assert here. People often maintain the impression in their mind that a game must qualify as a sport if it involves any kind of physical or mental effort.

Pool doesn’t seem much different than a game of monopoly. But it is one thing to watch a game and wholly different to play one. A sport requires skill, training, and years of experience. Pool qualifies for all of those criteria.

The Different Types of Cue Sports

If we look at the cue sports, they comprise of different games. Take a look at billiards. Billiards consists of a cue that players use to strike a cue ball with. The cue ball hits other billiard balls in a frame that has cushions and pockets to pot the balls. 

This is a sport as it further consists of different games like 8-ball and 9-ball, 3-ball, bank pool, etc. For the sake of argument, here are some facts:

  • The International Olympic Committee (IOC) accepted the World Confederation of Billiard Sports (WCBS) as an international sports federation in 1998.
  • Cue sports, including three-cushion billiards, 9-ball, and snooker, were introduced as World Games sports in the 2001 World Games in Japan.
  • Cue Sports were a part of the Asian Games from 1998 to 2010 before being dropped due to financial constraints.

The Football Argument

A Man Playing Pool

If you have to ask a friend if he is going to the big game, you don’t necessarily bring out the debate of football being a sport or a game. You just say if he is going to the game. Similarly, for the Olympics, you will not bring up the word ‘sports.’

People play both games and sports at different levels. Just because they play them at varying levels does not mean that their status changes how people treat it in different situations. People have the impression that there is a well-defined set of rules and a framework for sports, which players must follow at all times.

Therefore, if players play in a way that does not fulfill that criteria, does it not remain a sport?

People often play pool in pubs and clubs, and they take a smoke and have a beer while playing. There is no definite governing body that regulates the decorum, which is also true.

But if the same guys were to play football in a courtyard while enjoying beer and drinks on the weekend, would you call football just a game and not a sport?

It is the same with pool. Do not confuse pool played in the pubs with the pool played in professional tournaments. That game requires skill, training, strategy, mental prowess, and sports acumen for players to even qualify to play at that level.

Players have to go through proper training, go to the gym, and keep their physical and mental health at par with what they need for the tournament.

Pool Requires Physical Exertion

So, are you wondering where all the physical exertion is in a game of billiards? After all, the players just move around to look at the ball. They don’t have to run or chase a ball. At most, they have to stretch to reach a faraway shot if the cue ball is in the middle, right? If you are of that opinion, that is about to change.

Playing billiards can strain you in a way that you might not even think of unless you play it. When you play billiards, especially for a long time, it will strain your lower back, legs, and calf muscles.

If you consistently play billiards, then you will start noticing strength in those muscles that you might not even know you had.

Players have to play for hours in a tournament. For that, they need different techniques to minimize the strain on their muscles. It requires excellent muscular control, not just of your lower body but also of your hand muscles, shoulder muscles, and triceps.

If you are not used to playing billiards, the first thing you will notice is the strain you get on the thumb that supports the cue stick.

Players also have to have excellent mind-to-body coordination to aim the ball correctly. They must understand different ways the balls interact with each other as well as the cushions. They have to take great care in using techniques like spin and deflection. Moreover, they must hit the balls at the right speed to ensure that they get the desired result.

Now combine all that knowledge and consider that the players have to make decisions quickly. Even the slightest mistake can cost them the game and, often, a considerable sum of money.

Cue Games Played At International Levels

Most cue games played at the international level in the USA have precise rules made by the governing bodies. Apart from the USA, billiards is also very common in the UK, and especially snooker has gained immense popularity, unlike in many other parts in the world.

The primary thing that has come in the way of IOC recognizing billiards as a sport is the lack of recognition internationally. We are hopeful that in the coming years, IOC will recognize billiards as an international sport and include it in the Olympics.


Cue sports are already recognized by many global sports events, like the International World Games Association. Additionally, the IOC acknowledges the WCBS as an international sports federation.

They also have tournaments like the Mosconi Cup that brings the best players from Europe and the States. Only the top players who are already recognized for their excellence are eligible to join. While billiards may not have gained international recognition as a sport, technically, it is a sport.

For Further Reading:

Daniel Bouie
Daniel Bouie
Daniel Bouie has been playing and helping others learn the ins and outs of pool for eight years. His profound love for the game inspired him to become a qualified billiard instructor in 2015. He frequently practices in his spare time and teaches private lessons to novice and intermediate players.

You Might Also Like