Chalk It Up!

Pool is an amazing game because you have to let go and stay grounded at the same time. Similarly, you have to see what you want in your imagination and then allow your body to produce it in the real world. Before this happens, you have to decide what it is you are going to do, and most important of all, you have to definitely and completely commit to that course of action.

If you move while your mind is still weighing options, you will flounder. If you start while you are still creating the mental image, you will fail. If you begin with the tiniest doubtful thought or the faintest negative image in your consciousness, you will reap what you sow.

In other words, it is crucial that your transition from left brain to right brain, from thinking to acting, from mental to physical, and from preparation to execution be as crisp and complete as possible. You don’t want any bleeding around the edges. You want it as real as a rock climber moving from one handhold to another. No guess work, no hesitation, no doubt. Just committed action.

There is a trick that many good players use to facilitate this transition. They use the chalk. That’s right … that little cube of blue stuff that so many of us take for granted. Think about it. Chalk is the perfect physical object to use to signal a shift from preparation to execution. After all, you’re already using it to prepare your cue tip.

You can use it to put your mind in order at the same time. Keep it in your hand while contemplating the table situation. Apply it to the tip as you decide what to do and continue to hold it in your hand as you visualize the desired outcome. Use the act of putting the chalk back on the table or back into your pocket to send a signal to your nervous system. “I am done with thinking … I have decided exactly what to do … I am one-hundred percent committed … It is time to act.” Then set the chalk down, address the shot in a highly focused manner, and let your body take you down.

You could use a thought to mark this transition, but because the chalk is physical it keeps you grounded. It makes the move more real, and since you have to set it aside, it clearly indicates that you are also relinquishing the opportunity for further mental debate. In addition, if you build this pattern into your routine, you will never miscue for lack of chalking.

There are other ways to use the chalk. One technique I mentioned in The Pro Book is for recovering from a distraction. Think of the last tennis match you saw on television. Did you ever notice how tennis players are always looking at their fingertips through the weave of the racket—particularly after they have failed to return a shot? They focus intently on their fingertips, and if you look closely, you can see that they are highly focused mentally too. Have you ever wondered what they are saying to themselves?

You can translate this technique to pool. Whenever you get distracted, just focus intently on the cue tip as you deliberately lay each stroke of chalk onto the leather. Watch the blue grains of chalk as they adhere to the surface. Find some words you like that help you focus and say them in time with the strokes. Once you are back into the groove, move into your normal shot routine.

There’s another chalking technique that many players use. They switch hands to chalk the cue. They pass the cue stick from the stroking hand to the bridge hand and apply the chalk to the tip with the gripping hand. At first glance, it seems like a waste of effort. After all, it would be more efficient to keep the cue in the stroking hand and lay the chalk down with the free hand. Then you wouldn’t have to keep switching back and forth.

But something else is happening here. They are using the chalking routine to maintain the sensitivity of the stroking hand and arm. Every time the shooting hand passes the cue stick, it relinquishes the weight. Every time it takes it back, it recognizes the weight, heft, and balance all over again. It’s like rebooting a computer. Muscles tire when subjected to ongoing action, and tired muscles lose sensitivity. Provide them with opportunities to recover, and they will serve you well.
So give that little cube the respect it deserves. Chalk up to prepare, chalk up to focus, and chalk down to move into action. And if these tips help you win a few more games, don’t feel any pity for your opponent. Let them chalk it up to experience. Good luck good shootin’!

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