This is part two of Darren Appleton’s article on practice and tournament preparation. Part one covers practice in general, and part two is specific to readying for competition.
Usually while practicing for a tournament, let’s say U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship, I practice 9-ball for a week. I play mainly against the ghost and play five sets at least—races to nine—and make it tough to win. I also practice the break a lot as that’s the key to success at an advanced level. I work on safety, kicking and mentally making myself sharp and ready for any opponent.
When playing opponents in 9-ball and 10-ball—and one pocket especially—it’s important to work out your game plan. Knowing what your opponents’ weaknesses and strengths are will help you a lot. It’s important to respect your opponents but not overly respect them. I see too many players, especially amateurs against a pro, give too much respect to their opponents and they are beat before they shoot a ball. Mental focus, concentration and belief in yourself may surprise you.
Most of your practice should be done at home before you arrive at the tournament so once you arrive at the tournament you don’t over practice and burn yourself out. There may be long days, weekends or weeks ahead, so saving energy is key. Just keeping in stroke each day should be enough to stay sharp.
If you’re struggling—and I’ve seen this a lot, even with myself—you may feel you need to practice more but this can work both ways, good or bad. Practicing more while at the tournament can help or harm your game. Sometimes what works for me is to look back on a great match I played or an old video and try to figure out what I’m doing wrong.
We’re all human so we have good and bad days. Find things that work for you and don’t try to fix something that’s not broken.
Generally, I only worry about myself and my game because I know if my game is in good shape, it’s good enough to beat anyone in the world. This mindset works the best for me and keeps me from worrying about who I play.
I try to stick to the same routine every day and eat well at tournaments. It’s also important to eat at the right time—never before a match.
When I was younger I used to gamble at tournaments but I later found out it affected my focus on the games, especially as I got older. Ninety percent of the time now I focus strictly on the tournaments and because of this my success level has really improved.
But the key is to practice well. Watch and learn from your favorite players or the best players. Understand why they play a certain way or use certain shots.
Study the cue ball and the physics, and you will learn to make the cue ball your best friend.