Stop Thinking and Play!
Last month, we talked about how to play from your chair. Of course, since you’re just sitting there, this entails thinking about strategy, observing your opponent, and attempting to discover what they might be struggling with at the table.
This month, we are going to focus on being at the table, and I’m going to tell you to stop thinking.
We have all done it:
“Wow, this guy is pretty good. I better not make any mistakes. He left me a tough cut into the corner on this ball; I can make it fairly often, but I’m gonna have to go around three rails to get on the next ball. If I miss, he’ll probably run out on me. Damn… I hope I don’t overcut this. If I do, it will leave him an easy shot, and he’ll probably win the game. I’m already down by 2 games, I don’t want to be down by 3. Maybe I should play safe…” and on and on it goes.
Sound familiar? Stop it.
You have been playing this game for a long time. After a while, over hundreds, even thousands of shots, hours upon hours of practice, your body has developed a muscle memory. Your brain knows what to do.
Don’t think about what you have to do to make the ball. Don’t think about how to make the cueball end up in the perfect position. The only thinking you should do, as you approach your shot, is where am I pocketing this ball, and where does the cueball need to be.
Does it sound like I contradicted myself? Read the last paragraph again.
Do not think about HOW. Just decide WHAT to do, and let your subconscious brain figure out how. When you practice, you are not learning how to make a cut shot, or how to make a bank shot. You know how. You’ve done it before. When you practice, you are teaching your body and your subconscious mind what it feels like to make the shot, and what it feels like to miss. You do it over and over, training it through Pavlovian response.
When you train a dog to roll over, you do it over and over, rewarding her with a treat whenever she does it right. After a while, she’ll know exactly what to do. Your body is the same way. The euphoria you feel when you hear the thunk of the ball finding the bottom of the pocket is your treat. When you miss, you don’t get a treat.
When you practice, don’t be too frustrated by misses. They are just as valuable as the successful shots in helping your subconscious mind learn.
Think of the tournament you are in as the Westminster Dog Show. All of the practice is behind you. Your dog has learned how to navigate the course, and now all you have to do is show the judges what she has learned.
When you step up to the table, try to leave your conscious mind in the chair. Become a zombie.
Chalk your tip. Assess the table. Determine where you are going to pot the next ball, and where you want the cueball to stop. Approach your shot, take your prestrokes, and deliver. Gather up your chalk, and repeat.
If you are successful in leaving your brain behind, and simply performing this “boring” routine of making ball after ball in a zombie-like rhythm, congratulations! You have just found the Zone.
Hmm. The Zombie Zone. I may have to trademark that! Either it’s an awesome billiards technique, or I could open up a new amusement park. What do you think?
If you would like to share some of your success stories (or even the failures), or have suggestions for future articles, please feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com. I can also be found hanging out with fellow billiards enthusiasts at reddit.com/r/billiards. Come on by and join the discussion!