Top 10 Tips for Competition - Part 2 (6-10)
Let’s be honest, playing good pool takes a lot of focus & most pool environments are full of distractions! Loud people, lots of people, empty stands, noises, silence, phones, smells, music, no music and whatever your personal pet peeves are. Maybe it’s the outfit of the opponent next to you that sets you off or the shoes you are wearing. Perhaps you dislike or like your opponent which could make you too eager or not eager enough to beat them. I’ve been distracted by all of the above! We all know deep down, distraction is in our head & it’s critical to take responsibility for the way we feel & perform. More importantly we should remember pool is still a game that is meant to be enjoyed. Yes winning feels better than losing, but it’s the big picture that counts the most, which is to learn & steadily improve. *Disclaimer- if you are the type of pool player that routinely competes hungover or drinks during the competition & doesn’t really care about performing well consistently, this article is probably not for you, which is all good...you do you!
6.) Expect Your Focus to Go in & Out
As a competitor I feel like focus is naturally full of ups & downs. Some tournaments I feel dialed in & other events I feel completely off, but usually it is a combination of both. Personally the first match of a tournament is the most unpredictable & often an emotional rollercoaster because it’s sensory overload. If you’re like me, you were excited the night before waiting for the competition & here it is! You are adjusting to the adrenaline, the environment, the equipment, & everything else. The name of the game is to get comfortable as quickly as possible & it starts before you walk in the door.
Do everything in your power to get comfortable before the event. Try to practice at the same pool hall, bar or on the same equipment. Play the same format & the same rules leading up to the event. Figure out if you feel more cold or hot in the competition space & dress for the environment. Drive there at least once before the event so you are more comfortable on the way to the actual competition, which will help you avoid getting lost or being stressed when it counts.
7.) Create a Solid Pre-Competition Routine
Many you may have heard of a pre-shot routine while shooting pool, but what about a pre-competition routine? Creating a solid pre-competition routine can be all the difference to your performance. It starts with a good night’s sleep which is easier said than done. For some it’s trying to turn off the TV at 10pm instead of 1am, others it’s leaving your friend’s birthday party early on the Friday night before a big weekend event, & most of us would struggle avoiding all our friends at the bar in Las Vegas when we have a big match the next day. The choice is yours & whatever you choose you should try to manage your expectations appropriately. Usually the better rest the more likely you will perform your best. Also preparing the night before will help you sleep better. Depending on the event I might prepare a lot or a little. Some things to consider:
Make sure your phone is charged or charging & have a couple of reliable alarms set.
Give yourself plenty of time in the morning so you are not rushing.
Lay out your competition outfit the night before.
Choose what healthy meal you will eat & when as to feel your best for the day.
Decide if you need snacks & pack them.
When you are more prepared it is easier to perform well because you removed extra stress about the little things. After decades of competition I have my go to meals, snacks, outfits (especially shoes), how much practice I need for warm up & to not feel burnt out, etc. If you are truly interested in increasing your performance try to pay attention & create a pre-competition routine that works for you.
8.) Finding the Sweet Spot of Stress
When the pressure is too much during competition it can feel like the easiest shots in the world are impossible, I’ve seen world champions miss “ball in hand” during an intense match. On the opposite side of the spectrum the adrenaline can help you feel on top of the world & help the under dog break & run rack after rack to come with a miracle win. Finding the perfect amount of stress will increase your chances to win. Check out the chart showing how stress can affect competition & this great article: Nerves vs Anxiety & Depression in Sport. The first step is to accept the nerves we feel, acknowledge they are normal & learn how to use them to our advantage.
9.) What to Focus on During Competition
One of the most critical habits to performing well in competition is to focus on your fundamentals instead of your emotions. Your physical body is the thing that performs & often the emotional part of the brain (the ego) gets in the way. This is where practice & training comes in, the more time you put into strengthening your fundamentals, the more second nature they will become. When I compete I pay attention to:
Stepping into the shot the same way each time.
Making all decisions before going down to take the shot.
Visualizing the shot.
Locking the shoulder of my stroking arm in place so I don’t drop my elbow.
Pausing on the final stroke before making contact with the cue ball.
Hitting the intended spot on the cue ball with precision. Example 9 o'clock or left english.
Executing a clean & controlled follow through.
Freezing for 3 secs after execution to reduce unnecessary movement.
Sending the cue ball to the desired position by following it with the eyes.
By focusing on fundamentals you can avoid thinking about things that will hurt performance. It has to be about the game, taking it one shot & one rack at a time. Counter productive thoughts include:
Over thinking basic situations.
Indecisive actions while playing patterns.
Worrying about missing.
Worrying about losing.
Being too excited about the thought of winning.
Putting to much pressure on yourself to win $.
Worrying about what other people think of your game.
Thinking about qualifying or ranking.
10.) Win with Grace, Lose with Dignity & Always Learn Something
No matter what the outcome of the competition, there is tremendous value in how you carry yourself when it ends. During my competitor career I’ve seen it all... fist fights, broken cues, crying, cheers of joy, you name it. Let’s face it people are emotional & competition is usually very important to those who choose to participate. NO ONE LIKES TO LOSE, but your reputation as a competitor is something that sticks with you. I encourage you to always shake your opponent’s hand & to save your emotion for behind closed doors. Regardless of winning or losing, there is always something to learn. Once the dust has settled from the excitement of winning or the pain of losing, contemplate how you performed & take something away for next time. This is what is referred to as competitive experience & seasoning. Every competitive situation can make your game stronger, but it only works that way if you’re paying attention. Good luck & keep learning!