As you well know, I’m a Master Instructor that focuses a lot on mental game, so if you think you are getting a magical stroke tip here, this article may disappoint you. But if you want enhance the way you think and allow yourself to deliver more straight, smooth strokes, well then maybe I can be of assistance.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRACTICING AND PLAYING
There are fundamental differences between practicing and playing. One of the major differences between the two environments is that there are consequences during actual game play (that result in either winning or losing). Conversely there are no consequences to each shot if you are practicing.
THE BENEFIT OF A QUIET MIND
From a mental perspective, when you are practicing, your mind is generally quiet, there’s no mental clutter before you start your stroke. There’s the cue ball, there’s the object ball and there’s a pocket. During match play, quite often there is a distraction caused by fear: What if I miss? What if I don’t get position on my next shot? What if the table rolls off? And so on…
This not only causes stress, but it also causes subtle changes in the body. You may not even notice, but most likely your muscles are tensing up (starting with your grip pressure). The effects of these mental and physical changes are:
• Loss of focus on the shot at hand
• Loss of focus on the process – decision-making, aiming, proper alignment, (visualization and feeling the shot) etc.
• Loss of fluidity in your stroke
• Changes in stroke timing
The end result is a stroke that is inconsistent and unlike the one you had while practicing.
SO HOW TO WE CHANGE THIS?
There are several things that you can do that increase confidence, maintain a quiet mind and maintain access to your best game. When a professional is performing at their best, there’s direct correlation between their senses and their brain. You have heard of this state of mind referred to as “the zone”, or “dead stroke”.
Also, when a player is performing their best, they are not preoccupied by thoughts, judgments or emotions. There’s no sense of self or “self-consciousness”. The mind is 100% focused on the present (there is no past or future).
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE BRAIN DURING FLUID MOTION?
The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for managing complex processes. It helps you make decisions and controls your mental game. In pool it’s great during the “decision making phase” of your routine, but it can easily become that “little voice in your head” when you are down on the cue ball. To produce a better pool stroke, and get into the “dead stroke” that little voice needs to be turned off to allow you to execute each shot subconsciously.
THE BEST PRE SHOT ROUTINE
The best pre-shot routine is one that enables you to keep your mind quiet, and focused. When I ask students to describe their pre- shot routine, they describe all the physical steps, but virtually nothing about where their focus is or what’s happening mentally.
How committed you are and how quiet your mind is more important than going through the physical steps. I want to know exactly what you’re focusing on from the time when you fall into your stance all the way through your stroke.
What are the best things to focus on? From my experience, the best thing to focus on to keep your mind quiet is one of your senses (sight, feel, sound, breathing etc.). Experiment with this while you are practicing, and find out what allows you to produce your best stroke. Then, during match play, make this one of your process goals to measure the success of the shot. Over time this will become automatic which will result in better strokes, more wins, and more tournament championships!
Anthony Beeler is the 2018 Pool Instructor of the Year and is a former BCAPL National 9-Ball Champion. He has numerous top 25 national finishes and is one of only 8 ACS Master Instructors in the world. He is the primary author of the National Billiards Instructors Manual and has also authored the book Unstoppable! Positive Thinking for Pool Players. Anthony currently has the highest established Fargo Rating of any Master Instructor. He has won over 300 tournaments and has defeated numerous professional players in tournament competition.
Photo by Allie Evans