Ask The Master - I have been shooting competitively for almost 5 years now. My game is good and I feel like I grow stronger everyday! I'm just not that consistant with it all.
When I shoot at the bar with my friends, (who are also competitive) I find myself messing around a lot and not taking my time. I just shoot to shoot. Not caring if I lose the game. When I practice at home though, I'm very concentrated and take things serious. Is it going to hurt me in the long run if I play around to much at the table? Should I always shoot like I'm in a tourney?
My opinion is that, if you want to become a better player, you should not be banging balls. You should take EVERY shot seriously and give it your best effort. Besides training our shot-making, we are training our will and our focus. Pool is extremely precise and difficult, and takes everything we've got. We can't be lazy or distracted and play well.
This is not to say you should not have fun with your friends at the bar. Pool is more fun when you do it well. So for those brief moments when you're at the table, focus 100% on what you're doing. Don't train in a "doesn’t matter" attitude.
And yeah, if you're playing socially, you might take riskier shots than you would if the outcome really mattered to you. I can see that kind of thing as appropriate and fun – and you might learn something useful.
Recently I wrote an article called "Do You Care Enough?" It looks at social play versus serious play and improvement. Anyone who would like to read it can email me for a copy. Tom@PoolClinics.com