So far in this column, we have looked at four phases of the shot process: the standing address, the transition, the set-up, and the execution. There is one last step, and it is there that the learning happens. It is the place where every fine performance gets nailed down.
It is also probably the first place your game breaks apart under pressure. In your climb to the top of a match, it is probably the first place your fingers start to lose their grasp. It is where tension, doubt, and fear first reveal their ugly little faces.
I call this phase of the shot process the stay down. I like to think of it as a thing rather than an act because that seems to make it more real and substantial. It’s not a matter of degrees, but one of reality. It’s like the old joke about being pregnant—you either are or you aren’t. If you think about the stay down as an act, as in staying down, that opens up the whole issue of whether you stayed down long enough or far enough. “I thought I was staying down” is a familiar response to friends who tell a player he was jumping up on the shot during a match.
So what is it about this part of the process that makes it so slippery? Why is it so difficult to master? Most players work hard on staying down and still jump up under pressure. They have tried all kinds of methods to train themselves. They have counted to four after the object ball drops. They have chanted instructions to themselves while down on the shot—stay down … stay down …stay down. Some have even tried the famous two-by-four method, which involves a friend, a hunk of lumber, and a certain degree of masochism. All of these methods work, of course, but only when you’re doing them.
You’ve probably heard explanations of why people jump up on the shot. An engineer might say it’s easier to get up when you use the centrifugal force of your moving arm to start the action. A psychologist might say that since you visualize while standing, there’s an urge to rise to see what happened. A coach might say you’re coming up because your stance is wobbly. A stake player might say it’s because you’re scared—that you can’t take the heat. All of these explanations are interesting, but none are especially useful. You could spend a week looking at each one and still have no guarantee that you’ll stay down on the next shot.
I have come to the conclusion that all problems with staying down stem from one single source. The player never really got down in the first place.
Think about it for a moment. If you were fully down physically and mentally, wouldn’t staying down to watch the shot unfold be as natural as eating ice cream? If you were fully in the moment, wouldn’t you just naturally stay there to watch the ball fall into the hole? After all, isn’t that what you’re doing? If you were eating ice cream, would you turn your head away just when you opened your mouth? Of course not—you know you can hit your mouth with a spoon of Hagen Daz. And that brings us back to the conversation about practice and confidence. Good practice creates confidence.
I have a couple of tips that you can use while you’re racking up the practice hours. If you get fully down on the shot physically, your weight will fall to your feet. You can feel the contact between the bottom of your feet and the floor. The more balanced that weight is relative to the bony structure of your feet and ankles, the more solidly you will be rooted and the less likely you will come up before the shot is complete.
If you are fully down on the shot mentally, you attention is concentrated on what you are doing. You have an anticipation of seeing the shot unfold from a DOWN perspective, but your attention is not focused on an outcome. You are enjoying the experience as it happens. You are staying down because you got down!
Good luck good shootin’.