Sometimes you’re booked so far in advance for a tournament that you follow through and play even if you don’t feel good. In those cases, you try to make the best out of what you have. If it’s a mental or emotional problem that’s bothering you, like a fight with your significant other, you turn the cell phone off and do the best you can to put the whole issue out of your mind. If it’s a physical problem, like a headache or the flu, you take a couple of aspirins and play anyhow. After all, you already spent the money and drove the miles.
But what about when you don’t have a lot of time and energy invested and a big entry fee to forfeit? If you’re a competitive player and it’s important to you to perform well, why bother to play in a weekly tournament or league night at the local poolroom when you don’t feel good?
It’s all right for a recreational player to play after a fight with a significant other, even if the player was reminded, in strong language, of every failing ever exhibited. In fact, a good rowdy pool game might shift the whole thing around; after slamming the balls around the table a while and knocking down a couple of drinks, maybe the spouse’s point of view doesn’t look so bad after all.
But if you’re a player, there’s a bigger picture to consider. There are ramifications to playing when you’re not up to snuff. If you come into a match with a lot of emotional residue, it will be difficult to stay focused and easy to get distracted. If your hotshot opponent tries to shark you by talking with his beautiful girlfriend while you’re shooting, he’ll probably succeed. He’ll help you rack up a sub-par performance, and that, in turn, can damage your long-term confidence. Mental images of misses that are loaded with emotion tend to stick around.
Especially stay out of the ring when you don’t feel good about yourself. You have to like yourself to play well, and you have to be on your own side to have even a chance of winning. If you gamble and hang around the tournament room when you are upset, you will attract predators like a lame antelope. They will smell the blood and surround you like a pack of hungry hyenas. Woe to you if you accept any offers at that time. It’s better to leave the poolroom immediately.
Here’s a different slice of the concept: Who feels good about losing? Some people think it’s okay to put themselves into tournaments with stronger players without getting a handicap. They figure it’s all right as long as it doesn’t cost much to enter. It’s as if they were blindly following Mosconi’s advice when he was asked the best thing to do to improve. “Play better players,” he said. “My game never really took off until I was on the road every night playing exhibition matches with Greenleaf.”
If you constantly put yourself into positions where you can’t win, however, you will learn to get comfortable with it. Losing is supposed to have a bit of a sharp edge, but if you get too familiar with it, it can cut a groove. When guys are going in the players’ auction for three or four hundred and no one will even throw a ten-spot on you, maybe you don’t belong there yet.
If you have to win to feel good about yourself, think more like a boxer. Pick your fights carefully. Make sure to book at least 60%-70% winners. Don’t enter a “B” tournament until they throw you out of “C” tournaments. Don’t enter an open event until they throw you out of “B” tournaments.
But if you’re the kind of person who thrives on a challenge and that’s more important to you than racking up the wins, then go for the gusto. Learn to take your wins in small increments—a game here, a match there. Get out there and let people know you’re coming. “It doesn’t matter what you do to me now, because I’m going to learn from it. I’ll be back, and eventually I’m going to win.”
In other words, find out what makes you feel good. Find out what makes you feel good about your game, and redesign your whole approach to the sport around that concept. Choose shots that make you feel good. Dress the way that makes you feel good. Cut your hair the way that makes you feel good. Find a cue that makes you feel good. Choose matches that make you feel good, and restructure your goals to support you in that purpose. Interact with other players in a manner that makes you feel good about yourself.
When your hotshot opponent tries to distract you by talking to his girlfriend with the crop top and belly button ring, don’t get upset. Have some fun. The next time he gets down on a shot, wander over and talk to her yourself. Say things like “Wow—what a cool belly button ring!” That should be fun.
Good luck good shootin’!