The Stroke as Context

The last three “Pro Pool Workout” columns were devoted to looking at the stroke from the perspective of technique and routine. We singled out some of the major flaws and looked at ways to correct them. We looked at some training ideas and how to put them into practice. Everything we looked at, though, even when we talked about the quality of the stroke, was essentially from the perspective of parts and pieces. We broke the stroke down into separate parts just to be able to talk about it.

This was artificial in a sense, because the stroke is more than just a collection of parts. In fact, when we break it down into pieces, we essential kill it. We literally squash the life out of it. It’s okay to focus on a single aspect of the stroke during a training session, but if that’s attempted during competition for any length of time, it won’t turn out very well. High-level performance demands that we allow the stroke to come alive. We have to give it enough room to breath. It’s only when we execute with trust that we get to experience the stroke in its wholeness.

But experiencing the stroke is different than talking about it, and the only way to capture the stroke in words without reverting to a parts and pieces mentality is by looking at the context. This is a tricky concept in itself, so bear with me for a moment. Imagine a bowl of cherries. The cherries are the parts and the bowl is the context. The cherries fill a specific space that is defined by the shape of the bowl. In a more philosophical sense, it is always the context that gives rise to the content. In terms of the stroke, it is a specific philosophy of performance that gives rise to the wholeness of the stroke. The stroke takes the shape of the context that the player creates for it.

In other words, the context of the stroke is an individual thing. The stroke is formed not just by the manipulation and control of physical components but also by the personal performance philosophy of the player. If you want to know how a specific player relates to performance, look at his stroke. Conversely, if you want to play at your highest level, create a philosophy of performance that resonates with your highest nature and let the wholeness of your stroke (and everything else) spring from there.

No one can tell you what the ideal context is for your stroke. You have to discover it on your own. Fast and loose worked really well for Jimmy Reid at the height of his career, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. It’s an individual thing, and even just pondering the idea seriously from time to time will put you ahead of most players.

My personal performance philosophy, at the time of this writing, is decisive flow. When I’m playing well, my stroke springs from this context. In fact, when I’m playing my best, my shot routine, decision-making, and entire demeanor at the table is sourced from this idea. If I move too fast physically, I’ll lose the decisive. If I get bogged down in decision-making, I’ll lose the flow. If I rush through my stroking pattern without being fully present, I’ll lose the decisive. If I fixate on any single aspect of the stroke, I’ll lose the flow. It’s only when I execute from the context of decisive flow that I get to experience the beauty of my stroke. It’s awesome!
Good luck good shootin’!

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