Beat People with a Stick
By Tom Simpson
As we become better players, our habits deepen. We rely on those habits to help us do the same sequence of little things throughout our pre-shot and shooting routines, time after time. once our physical habits are solidly in place, we can put our focus on strategy and winning. Well, maybe for a while …
Pros in every sport continuously return to their fundamentals. Many of our troubles seem to arise from the gradual decay of our fundamentals. Whatever our old habits were, they tend to return. We often make little adjustments to our form, our equipment, or our routines, and we forget to consider how each change relates to the bigger picture of what we’re trying to accomplish. Further, we don’t always remember to notice whether the changes we made are actually helping.
This came home to me recently when I made an equipment change and failed to notice the effects. I changed my contact lenses, optimizing them a bit more for distance, since I was hitting golf balls farther than I could see (unfortunately, not because I’m a great golfer). Five or six weeks went by, and my pool game was way off. I hadn’t had a slump this long in many years. Then one day, I was hitting a pool shot and realized I was not seeing the balls clearly. I had been seeing them poorly ever since I changed the contacts, but I just hadn’t consciously noticed. I went back and got contacts optimized for pool distances, and immediately got my game back.
The moral of the story is that we really do have to check ourselves out, especially when we’re in a slump. Something has changed somewhere, and change is not automatically for the better. In my case, and, I suspect, for many of us, we’re often not seeing what we’re looking at. We’re running on habit and not bothering to really focus hard on what we’re doing.
Let’s talk about how we use our vision in pool. We rely on our eyesight to judge distances, spatial relationships, gaps, angles, and alignments. For most of these tasks, we have to make an effort. For example, to determine how close to straight in a shot is, we have to put our body on the line through the balls, move our head side to side a little to get a 3D perspective, and perhaps bend down to get closer to the table surface. It takes more than a glance. If we get lazy and line up without making the necessary and appropriate effort, we may have time to consider the error of our ways while we’re in the chair hoping to get back to the table.
Think about when you’re in the zone, playing your best. How are you seeing? What are you seeing? I’ll bet you’re using your eyes quite well, making the effort, bothering to focus, clearly and consciously seeing what you’re seeing. The difference is that when you’re in the zone, it doesn’t seem like effort. You’re totally focused, and you simply do the right things. You’re fully in the moment, seeing, feeling, doing.
On the other hand, I’m wagering that most of the time, most of us are not even fully focusing our eyes when we’re down on a shot. As we get older, it can take a couple of seconds to fully focus on the cue ball and a couple more seconds to then bring the object ball into full focus. Even worse, I believe a good percentage of players “black out” during their hit stroke. They aren’t focused on the vital physical aspects of their game. Instead, they’re focused internally, on distractions such as fear of missing, self-consciousness, trying to look good, and so on.
What are you actually seeing during the hit moment? What are you aware of? Take some shots and see what you’re seeing. To be focused enough to consciously see during the hit, you have to be focused before the hit. And that’s what we’re really after.
Getting out of whack might be a gradual process, but recovering from it doesn’t have to be. Put forth more effort. Focus. Give yourself a better chance. Lazy loses.
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