Another View on the Mental Game

I recently participated in the final stop of the Mezz West State Tour on January 24 at Break Time Billiards in Modesto, CA. I did not participate on January 25th, because I did not make it to day two. And… that’s all I have to say about that. Ahem.

Congratulations to Vilmos Foldes for an exciting win over Beau Runningen to take the top spot, and make it to #1 on the player rankings! Beau did very well, too, taking #2; and he’s only a semi-pro!

Okay, enough about the champs. Back to me.

I would like to tell you about my first opponent. We’ll call him “Bob O’Connor,” because that is his name. Bob is an older gentleman, although the term “gentleman” does not do him any justice. He is a kind, soft-spoken man who always seemed to have a relaxed smile on his face. He enjoyed talking about the game, but never intruded upon my shots.

He was very deferential to the other players around him, as well. In the corner where we were playing, three tables were just a little too close together, and at times players had to wait for each other to shoot. Every time, he capitulated with a smile on his face, saying “I’m sorry, it’s your shot.”

I know you’ve seen players like this. I certainly have. But Bob was just… happy.

I am still working on my game. I know I’m not quite there yet, but I love competing in these events against great players. It’s good exposure to the scene, and is definitely helping me during my quest to improve my mental game. I am way down on the rankings for this tour.

However, I still played better than Bob. He admitted to me that he doesn’t get to practice much. In fact, he plays mainly on crappy bar boxes, and very rarely gets a chance to play on 9-footers, much less the Diamonds like the one we were playing on. He missed some fairly routine 10-ball shots that should have won him a couple of games.

Yet, somehow, Bob managed to keep up a very positive attitude, congratulating me on my 7-1 victory, and wishing me luck for the rest of the tournament. Not once during our match did he scowl, frown, complain, or even sigh. He was the very epitome of class, and a complete gentleman.

I lost my next two matches. Both players simply outclassed me; they definitely played better than I that day. During my final match on the one-loss side, I caught myself getting annoyed after dogging a couple of routine shots. I mentally berated myself for missing such easy shots (“What the hell, Michael? You’re better than this!”).

When I was done, I wanted nothing more than to just leave, and be done with the place. However, I decided to stick around and watch my friends Jason Williams and Robbie Lyng play their matches. I sat and fumed for a few minutes, recounting to Robbie just how badly I played when he asked.

At one point, I saw Bob walk by. He had lost his match as well, and was out of the competition. He was smiling, and genuinely appeared to be enjoying himself. He was just happy to be there, amongst great pool players, soaking it all in.

Immediately, I felt my brain shift; almost like in those Sci-Fi movies, where the hero shifts into a parallel universe and is momentarily confused. I was suddenly no longer upset that I was out of the competition. I was happy to be there, and completely thrilled that many of my friends and acquaintances were still in the running.

Food tasted better. There was a smell of fresh-cut flowers, and birds were singing. I could suddenly see in color! Ok… maybe that’s a bit much. But I can tell you, my perspective changed almost instantly.

I love pool. I LOVE it. I play it, teach it, and write about it. Everything about the game excites me; it is my happy place. There is no reason for me to get down every time I don’t make the perfect shot, or put the cue ball in the perfect position. Everyone makes mistakes – even the pros.

Granted, they make fewer mistakes than I do, but that’s mainly because their recovery time – from anger or disappointment to success – usually lasts a moment, before they are back in the zone. My goal is to get there, too.

During my Zen Quest, I have received several book recommendations. One of them, a short read, is “Mastering the Inner Game of Pool,” by David Krolick. I found this one on my own, and it can be downloaded to Kindle (I use the iOS app) for about five bucks. Jason Williams told me about Point the Way by The Monk (Tim Miller). I have not read it yet, but Jason swears by it. That’s good enough for me, considering he was able to take 7/8th this weekend, he never practices (grr!), and has a terrific attitude about the game.

Sometimes, all it takes is a change of perspective to help you with your game. I always tell my students to walk around the table if they’re not sure about a shot. Look at it from different angles, because you may find something you didn’t see from behind the cue ball.

Maybe I should follow my own advice.

Posted in Article, Etiquette, Table Talk, The Break / Rackem / Stroke Magazines