The world of sports has a variety of faces, which fascinate its fans gathering at the stadiums and in front of TV sets located in different corners of the globe. Sport provides people with excitement and great emotions, which they sometimes lack in their everyday lives. We admire sportsmen for their amazing skills and accomplishments, which frequently make us desire to follow our own dreams. We often learn self-discipline and persistence from our idols, to finally set them as our role models, the ones which we wish to resemble one day.
There are wonderful sports disciplines, which warm the hearts of their avid fans, the ones which we know little about, as they are not really much promoted by the media, in contrast to some more popular disciplines like football or ski jumping. People, who give their hearts to such sports, sometimes face a certain kind of problems which are associated with lack of media publicity and promotion. Recently, my attention has be caught by a true legend, a man who we can compare to a snake charmer, however, in this case, the cue balls are obedient to him, as they dance the way he wants them to. Today, I have the tremendous honor and pleasure to introduce you to a man who has been the World Champion in billiard tricks fourteen times in his career – Bogdan ‘the Wizard’ Wołkowski, who will tell you about the beginnings of his sports journey, about the life he lives now and about his plans for the future.
Passion Piece: Could you tell my readers a few words about yourself?
Bogdan Wołkowski: Undoubtedly, I could say that I was hereditary loaded with sports. I always enjoyed playing football, parachuting, swimming or cycling. I also tried boxing once, but due to the specific nature of this discipline and injuries one can get during trainings, I resigned from it quite fast. But, over time, I decided to find something alternative, I got to like billiards and that’s how all the fun started. I guess it’s safe to assume that sport has been present throughout my whole life.
Passion Piece: You are the multiple World Champion in billiard tricks and different variations of artistic billiards. How did your adventure with this sport start?
Bogdan Wołkowski: My adventure with billiards started at the end of 80’s and at the beginning of 90’s. Billiard tables were imported to our country again and one could observe a certain kind of revival of this particular discipline. One should remember that before World War II Poland was well-known for billiards, carom in particular. I tried to hit a few cue balls, I got to like it, as I managed to pot the first ball in the pocket quite fast. However, after some time, it occurred to be no longer that easy and I didn’t score at all. Since I’m quite persistent by nature, I kept trying to improve my playing technique. I fell in love with billiards for good. At the beginning it was just fun, which with time turned into a passion, to finally become my real profession.
Passion Piece: Billiards is a sports discipline people don’t talk much about. Who was your guru? Who did you pattern yourself on?
Bogdan Wołkowski: There was such a man, or should I say there still is, whose name was Mike Massey. He was American, performing amazing billiard hits, one could call them a kind of sports hocus-pocus, I loved them a lot. I started my billiard adventure with a basic type of this game. It happened that in 1992 my idol came to the first Polish Championships, which were organized in Katowice. He was presenting there his billiard tricks, and for all of us who gathered there, which was at least a couple of hundred people, it was a truly wonderful experience. Both the spectators and participants observed all these billiard tricks with mouths wide open, almost not breathing. It was nearly impossible and there was no right answer to explain how he made his cue balls move backwards, jump one over the other, to finally make a bent and go round another cue ball. At the banquet, after the championships, Mike explained how to perform some of the hits. He also presented a few billiard tricks to me, I stared at him in amazement. I started practicing harder and harder, a year later, when Mike visited Poland again, I showed some tricks to him, which looking back now seem to be rather banal, but he liked them and appreciated my efforts. My trainings became more and more intense, I was able to play with my friends for three days in a row in one venue, without leaving it at all. I neglected work I had in favor of billiards, which became a great passion of mine. Watching sports channels covering world championships in billiard tricks, I kept thinking that if they let me take part in them I would win them for sure, that was my aim. Finally, in 1997, I managed to do that and I won my first World Championships. I could take part in them thanks to a green card I received. I faced my guru in one of the clashes and I won. It was a wonderful feeling. The most amazing fact was that these were my first championships of this type and I beat Mike, who has been a good friend of mine until this day. It was a great motivation for me, just after coming back home, I realized that I was the World Champion. At that time I used to train for around five hours a day, later it increased even to ten hours, non-stop and there was no excuse that it was Saturday, Sunday or my birthday.
Passion Piece: You were successful not only in Poland, but also on the international stage. Which victory was the most memorable for you? Why?
Bogdan Wołkowski: Out of all championships, which I had the opportunity to play in, and there were quite a lot of them, as I was the World Champion 14 times in my career, it’s difficult to point at one particular event. I once came off as second best and once as third best, I was furious at that time, it hurt me a lot, as there was a great chance to win. I don’t know if the way I felt was caused by my pride, I made one mistake, then another one, and unfortunately I didn’t manage to win. As I’ve already mentioned it hurt me a lot, that’s why I started practicing harder and harder. I think that all of championships are on a similar level. I don’t really remember the first ones very well, if someone had asked my name back then, I doubt I would have been able to answer at once. For me it doesn’t matter if I take part in the Polish, European or World Championships, I prepare to them in the same way. At the time being I go to Polish Championships to have some fun and to help my opponents to hit the cue balls well, I tell them how to do certain things. Sometimes I approach my rivals just to tell them to hit a given cue ball in this or another way, they apply my tips and score some points. There’s no one event, which would be that memorable to me, although they are all on the same level, they are all different and I approach each championship or tournament in a different way. They are all important, the emotions are the same, the willingness to win and to show that you’re the best player is also always present.
Passion Piece: How much time did you spend on preparing to championships? What was the biggest challenge for you?
Bogdan Wołkowski: Oh, there were such tricks, which I couldn’t really do. In the past I used to train for two or three hours a day, now playfully speaking, ten hours is just enough for me. Today, I devote less time to preparations, as I’ve already hung my cue stick on a little peg, not for good yet, since it happens that I take part in tournaments for seniors, fashionably called for old boys, I do quite a lot of shows, I play in the Polish Championships, although I no longer go to the World Championships, as it’s a bit too far, and already too tiring. If one wants to master a good tick, a very difficult one, one needs to devote quite a lot of time to it. Unfortunately, my feet and spine no longer allow me to practice for 8 hours non-stop.
Passion Piece: Billiards means not only technique or precision, but it’s also a state of the mind. How did you deal with stress, which is an inseparable companion of this kind of events?
Bogdan Wołkowski: There’s some stress during all types of competitions, if there was no such an adrenaline, there would be no sport. If there is stress which can be handled well, everything is fine. I believe that being stressed is related to the fact that we can’t do something well and we need to do it in the best possible way, to present ourselves well, then we create some nervous feelings and the level of adrenaline goes significantly up. In our sport – billiards – the head is very important, one cannot deal without some help provided by a sports psychologist or one’s own practice. Without such a support it’s difficult to gain a significant success. I was truly lucky to cooperate with my own psychologist, who helped me to prepare to championships and to overcome my stress, as well as to learn how to handle difficult situations in my life. While being in the army, I had a chance to learn the Silva Method, which is quite useful when it comes to visualizing things and focusing well, I made use of it for 15 years, basically everyday. Especially if I wanted to visualize something and turn negative situations into the positive ones. I also used this method during trainings when I wanted to visualize possible situations which had a chance to occur during world championships, imagining how to concentrate, behave and how to do certain things. I did it quite well during championships, but I didn’t do that well during less important games, where I sometimes threw my cue stick, and even broke it into pieces. However, after 30-40 seconds the whole tension started to disappear, until the moment when I realized that I could have done something in a different way and a tedious work would begin again. In our club we also try to assure kids have a proper support and contact with the sports psychologist during the whole time they practice, they get some tips related to exercises they do. I’m going to do a course in sports meditation combined with gymnastics.
Pssion Piece: Now you’re a coach and you train kids, teenagers and adults at the Billiards Training Center ‘Fair Play’ in Jaworzno. Have you already noticed any talented individuals who could become your worthy successors one day?
Bogdan Wołkowski: During all these years I’ve become very experienced, I know how to train and how not to train to make it all go well. When I finished my career, I felt a little bit weird about it, that’s why I decided to share my knowledge with younger generations. Everything had started with Billiards Training Center, next we opened the second branch which was Student Sports Club ‘Fair Play’. We started with four kids, now we’ve got almost twenty-five. The adult group consists of nine players. When it comes to talented individuals, of course, there are some. I’d like to mention Dominik Jastrząb, 12, who is the top player in our club. He got two gold medals, and one silver medal during the last European Championships and he was ranked ninth during the World Championships he attended last time. Besides him, there’s also Sambor Stachowiak, who does very well, but he’s still waiting for promotion to championships. These are our most talented individuals.
Pssion Piece: Going to different kinds of championships or tournaments is undoubtedly related to a certain kind of costs. How does financing of this sport look like?
Bogdan Wołkowski: I must admit that there is a fair amount of problems related to finances. If you’re not a football player, volleyball player or at least a ski jumper, you don’t appear on TV too often, that’s why it’s much more difficult to find a proper sponsor, we’ve got problems with that. While setting up this club I financed lots of things, also the billiard tables among others. I just wanted to teach those kids how to play. Two years ago we started playing in the second league, we lacked a few points back then. This year we finished on the second place, we missed a few points, but it was enough to be qualified to the first league games, thanks to which we moved up to the premier league. Here’s the place where all these costs start. We all pay annual subscription, we collect money in all possible ways. We are really supported by the Town Hall of Jaworzno, parents are also very helpful, as they drive kids to different kinds of tournaments, we try to cover most of the expenses from our annual subscriptions. However, it’s not always easy. Away games are related to huge expenses, last time we sent all of our players to Junior Tour, no matter whether they played well or not. Although, not all of them managed to succeed, it was a wonderful experience for these young people. Dominik’s away games during the World Championships were partly paid up by the Polish Billiard Association, but we still had to cover some of the expenses, and the Town Hall helped us again. When it comes to the nationals, which are also quite costly, they are supported by the city, provided that the player gets a title or a medal, such an individual gets a cash prize then. To tell the truth, we just need more sponsors and that’s all.
Passion Piece: What kind of advice would you give to everyone who would like to try oneself in billiards?
Bogdan Wołkowski: Everyone who would like to take up billiards is welcome, I’d tell them to come to the club so that they could see themselves how it really looks like. We always invite potential players for one training, during which they can check out whether this sport suits them well. If the answer is yes, they can join the club for good.
Passion Piece: Should one have any special predispositions to do this sport?
Bogdan Wołkowski: I think that more than predispositions one should have imagination and inner peace. Spatial intelligence in combination with mathematics, geometry and physics. One can master these things quite fast, later on persistence and hard work are the most important. Billiard trainings are quite boring, as a rule, and sometimes you need to practice only one hit for the whole hour.
Passion Piece: While watching billiard tournaments one can notice contestants of all ages. Are there any restrictions?
Bogdan Wołkowski: In our club the age bracket is quite huge, but essentially it’s a really cool thing. The youngest player is 4 years old and the oldest around 55 years old. This shows, that in this sport, the age doesn’t matter so much.
Passion Piece: Billiards is a kind of sport which seems to be dominated by men. Do girls also play it?
Bogdan Wołkowski: Yes, they do. At the moment there are 2 adult female players in our club. We’re going to buy one player, to strengthen her into the first league. It’s one of the best, top players in Poland. Izabela Łącka, the multiple Polish Champion, she has probably more medals than our whole club. I can’t forget here about Beata Humańska, who helps a lot in our club, she’s the assistant coach. When I’m off to different types of contests or shows, she takes care of running this club. Besides this she’s also a wonderful player, she takes part in women’s tournaments and the Polish Championships. We also have some girls who are 12-13 years old, but not too many.
Passion Piece: What do you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies? Of course, besides billiards!
Bogdan Wołkowski: There’s nothing more besides billiards. However, I like rally driving, I love historical cars and off-road. Taking part in such rallies make it also possible for me to visit new places, like San Marino for example. During these trips I spend my time in a wonderful company, I love observing how the whole team keeps working, especially the mechanics. Everyone has some job to do and knows exactly what and how to do it. I once witnessed a serious car crash, the car looked unserviceable, but it was repaired during one night. It was really fascinating.
Passion Piece: Where do you see yourself in the nearest future? What projects are you currently working on?
Bogdan Wołkowski: My future will still be related to billiards, I can’t imagine that I could do anything else, in any case, I guess I can’t do anything else. It’s neither a passion nor love, it’s the air I breathe, I wouldn’t be able to live without billiards. When I don’t play, I’m sick.
I’m currently working on two projects, I signed a new three-year contract to train two juniors, a girl and a boy to be exact. My task is to make them win the title of Polish Champion. Besides this, I also coordinate billiard top league Nosan Kielce and women’s national team. I take on more and more different projects and I have my players on mind, the earlier mentioned Dominik and Sambor.
Passion Piece: Which motto would you like to share with my readers?
Bogdan Wołkowski: I’ve got two which I apply in my life, and I believe they are good for both sport and everyday life. When it comes to sport, I don’t remember who is the author of these words, but they go as follows: ‘Win without pride, lose without resentment.’, and the one related more to my everyday life: ‘Be the most demanding towards yourself’, I’ve even got a cue stick with this motto on its handle.
Passion Piece: Thank you very much for this truly interesting conversation and I wish you continued success when it comes to both future tournaments and coaching your successors.
It doesn’t really matter what kind of passion you’ve got, the most important is that it brings pleasure to you. The willingness to win is nothing wrong, on the condition that it doesn’t generate negative emotions, which we can’t handle well. I hope that this interview will inspire you to try yourself in chosen sports disciplines. And who knows? Maybe billiards is just up your alley?
See you around!
We invite everyone to contact us!
UKS Fair Play Jaworzno, ul. 11 Listopada 4, tel. 605 100 957
Photos by: Bogdan Wołkowski, C.S.B. Fair Play