In the last few weeks much of my attention has been on mental training. I have studied several of the latest books on the subject, including The Mental Edge by Kenneth Baum, Body Mind Mastery by Dan Millman, and Train Tough the Army Way by Mark Bender. My latest round of research was inspired by Alex Pagulayan’s endorsement of The Mental Edge in his U.S. Open finals interview with Accu-Stat’s Bill Incardona. It was also inspired by my own Glass City Open defeat at the hands of John Binion, a great Detroit area player. In that match, my mental game fell completely apart, and I resolved afterwards to go back to the drawing board and revamp my training program.
Since then, I’ve covered a lot of ground, including Maximize Your Sports Potential from Baum, Create More Success in Sport from Millman, and Fifty Great Strategies to Out-Think, Out-Train, and Out-Perform the Competition from Bender. But the insight I want to share with you today is the fruit of my own brain and can be summed up in two words: Staying Power.
You can also think of it as The Power of Staying. Essentially, what I noticed is that the actions and attitudes associated with a winning performance can be loosely categorized as staying, while everything associated with a losing performance can be categorized as leaving, or going away.
Think of it. What happens in a winning performance? You stay in focus, you stay in the moment, and you stay at the table. When you decide to shoot a specific shot, you stay with your decision, you stay in the shot, and you stay down after the shot. If you get behind, you stay centered, you stay in the game, and you stay in the match. In the final light, the one who wins the tournament stays in the tournament. Everyone else goes away.
In fact, a losing scenario rests entirely on going away, or giving up. You give up your focus, you give up the present moment to imagine the future, and you mentally leave the table. You miss shots when you let go of your commitment and question your shot selection while you’re still in it. You miss more shots when you don’t stay down until the outcome is final. You lose games and matches when you allow your emotions, thoughts, and your opponent to distract you. Instead of staying with the shot, in the game, and in the match, you allow your attention to go somewhere else.
So, how can you learn to mentally stay when the pressure of competition and your opponent are encouraging you to go away? Working on the mental game requires the same type of program you would initiate if you wanted to work on shot making, or physical conditioning, or any other area of performance. You have to work on it every day. You have to pump the proverbial iron every day for a specific amount of time and you have to do it again tomorrow. It’s like a nutritional program. The advantage doesn’t come from the vitamin pill you popped today; it comes from the on-going conditioning built over a long span of time.
You can train yourself to stay down on the shot, for example, by visualizing yourself doing just that in your mind’s eye. Try shooting a hundred shots, in your mind, every night before you retire and make sure you stay down on every one. Couple the mental imaging with some appropriate words, such as “I stay down and make the shot,” if you want, but don’t take the words down onto the shot with you. You want your attention on the task at hand, at that point, not on your thoughts. Watch the object ball drop in the pocket and then allow yourself to get up. Believe it or not, it is easier to do this type of training in your mind than it is on an actual table.
The mind is very curious and very much focused on survival. In the real world, it wants to look at everything, but about 95% of what happens during a pool game, both internally and externally, is a distraction to the actual act of shooting pool. Staying focused, staying centered, and staying in the game are all fundamentally acts of discipline. You give up your interest in other things while in the match. Your crafty opponent, bless them, will offer other things for your attention. They will call for referees to watch shots that don’t need watching. They will wander out of the player’s chair when it’s your inning. They will have loud conversations with spectators when you’re getting on a crucial shot. They will move around when you pause to deliberate. Left unattended, even your own mind becomes an opponent and offers another list of potential distractions.
So make the commitment today to train yourself to stay mentally focused. Set up a daily program to clarify, in your own mind, how to stay the course, stay in the game, and stay centered in yourself. Good luck and good shootin’!