Beat People With a Stick
Makin’ the Money Ball
By Tom Simpson
In most games, there is a moment when we face the game-winning (or game-losing shot)-the “money ball.” In 8-ball and 9-ball, obviously it’s shooting the 8 or the 9. In straight pool, it’s the final point. We’ve been there a thousand times, and it’s not always pretty.
Because sinking this one shot matters so much, and because the ball just sits there waiting for us to decide we’re ready, we have opportunities to get ourselves in trouble. We think of the money shot as something different from the other shots, and the pressure begins to rise.
We allow the pressure to influence how we approach the shot, how we feel about it, and how we shoot it. And guess what? We start to see it as a different shot. It doesn’t look like it would if it was just a “regular shot.” The pressure to make it-and the potential embarrassment if we don’t-distract us from the task at hand. We get tied up with issues of winning and losing, fear of missing an easy shot and looking like we succumbed to the pressure, self-consciousness because we feel the judging gaze of the railbirds. We desperately try to avoid choking-and, of course, that causes us to choke.
This is a huge, multi-faceted problem, one we’re all too familiar with. We’ve all missed game-winning hangers. We all face the money ball challenge-hopefully frequently. Psychotherapy is expensive, takes too long, and will have our opponents poking fun at us (causing even more stress and pressure). So what’s left? What practical steps can we take to deal with those pesky money balls?
Here are a few tips:
1. Try not to break rhythm. We tend to shoot best with a particular cadence (a series of counts or beats that coincide with the various stages of our shooting routine). We also shoot with a certain tempo (how quickly or slowly our cadence runs). How everything works together for good timing and good results is our rhythm. It’s okay to slow your tempo for pressure shots, but don’t change the action sequence of your cadence. In other words, try to shoot the money ball just like any other ball. Play basic, easy position. Don’t hesitate, don’t give it special consideration, don’t do anything different.
2. No speed, no spin. Okay, you’ve broken your rhythm and the anxiety is mounting. You still have to make the ball. on money ball shots, all you have to do is make the shot and not scratch. on every shot except the money ball shot, you have to control angle, speed, and spin. This is why the game is difficult. But now, on the money ball, all you need to control is cut angle. Put all of your focus on cutting the ball, use no unnecessary spin, and shoot at your natural speed. Your natural speed is the speed your body shoots if you’re not thinking about speed-the speed you shoot with your eyes closed.
3. Cinch the shot. Now, you’re hoping your opponent doesn’t see your hand shaking. You’re so clenched up, you’ve lost any fluidity you once had. You don’t trust your stroke. Okay, let’s just make the ball. To cinch the shot, take the shortest bridge you can (maybe 4 inches of stroking room). Put your tip very close to the cue ball so you can see exactly where you’re going to hit. Now, take an insanely short stroke (maybe 2 inches) and sink that ball. You won’t have room to go off line, and, with the short stroke, your opponent won’t be able to see you quaking.
4. Back away. You’re down on the shot, and your head is filled with chatter and doubt. You’re not confident. Something is telling you you’re likely to miss. STOP and back away. It’s less costly and embarrassing than missing. Take a lap of the table. Go wipe down your shaft. Take a couple of deep breaths. Whatever; let some time pass, and allow the adrenaline to drain out of your brain. Approach the shot, walking in on the shot line, from as far away as possible. As you approach, stay focused on the shot line.
5. Own the shot. To give yourself the best chance to make it, you have to want it. You have to expect it. You have to believe it. Don’t shoot if you’re not ready. Yeah, this is easier to say than to do. What can I tell you? Figure it out. If this game was easy, we wouldn’t be fanatics about it.
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