Natural tempo is an important part of pool and playing in it is synonymous with being in dead stroke—you can’t have one without the other. Your natural tempo is also unique. You can’t learn it from someone else or fake it or make it up. All you can really do is discover it and empower it.
Everyone plays great on a practice table. It’s easy to get into stroke when there’s no opponent trying to stop you. It’s easy to get the ball rolling when no one is watching and judging your performance. It’s easy to run multiple racks when it doesn’t really count. But it’s harder to do in a competitive match.
Your natural tempo doesn’t require force or perspiration. It doesn’t require a lot of management or control. It does, however, require a certain level of comfort with yourself and your game. You have to be able to allow yourself to move at the speed that lets your body and mind thrive. You have to let go of the obstacles that are in the way. You have to be able to ignore the distractions that come from your opponent and surroundings and the ones inherent in the game itself.
When you are in a match, getting your tempo established and your stroke out is basically a function of confidence. Your stroke is not under the control of your conscious mind. It comes from a deeper place. Anything that forces your consciousness into a reflective, questioning, or “thinking” mode, at least for that moment, steals a bit of your confidence and knocks you out of your natural tempo.
When you don’t know what to do, it can go two ways. You can take a momentary pause as you figure it out, see it almost immediately, and move right back into action. Or you can stand there dumbfounded. You’ve never been in this situation before, and you’d don’t see a decent option. The longer you look, the more everything can get bogged down.
There are two ways to prepare to successfully handle this kind of scenario. Obviously, if you understood every possible situation, you wouldn’t ever confront one where you didn’t know what to do. This is impossible, of course, but it does underscore the importance of practice, study, and experience. Secondly, you could create a routine to guide you through these inevitable moments. Here are some suggestions:
1. Don’t let the physical action come to a complete stop while you figure out what to do. Keep something moving, but don’t get stuck on just one thing. Chalk the cue, walk around the table, etc.
2. Stay focused on the table situation and take your time. If it’s a critical juncture of the match, and you’ve gone through your pre-determined moves more than twice, consider taking a break if you have one available.
3. If you still don’t know what to do, do something simple.
Rushing is also associated with not knowing what to do. You stand there looking at the table without seeing anything promising. You open up your mind for ideas and either get flooded with mental pictures or nothing at all. The longer you stand there, the more the physical action winds down. You can sense the momentum slipping away. Suddenly a clear shot option pops into your mind, and you are so relieved that you jump right down and shoot it without further consideration.
If you were in the comfort of your own home and asked to come up with the best shot for the same situation, you wouldn’t have acted so hastily. You wouldn’t have chopped your decision-making routine short. You would have looked at the shot, imagined it getting played out on the table, and made a judgment call. If you liked the way it looked, you would have committed yourself and moved into your shot process. If you didn’t, you would have discarded it and asked your calm and silent mind for another. When you’re playing inside of your natural tempo, that’s exactly what you do.
Good luck good shootin’!