by Tom Simpson
I think we love pool because it’s so dang difficult. If it were easy, if we never missed the pocket or the shape, we’d get bored pretty quickly. If it were easy, it would not require us to focus. Playing pool well takes everything we have, and more.
Pool usually finds a way to smack us when we don’t focus. We have to be fully alive and aware, fully engaged in what we’re doing. Usually there are multiple aspects to consider and clearly plan or decide prior to each shot: strategy for the current shot, strategy for the current inning, which shot to take, how best to play the shot and the shape, and so on. At this point, we are still in “The Thinking Position,” standing, seeing the patterns, shot angles, ball paths, and layout problems. Our focus at this point is on “What should I do?” We focus at this level until we have made a clear decision: “What will I do and how will I do it?” The planning focus is mental. We’re organizing our thoughts until we settle on one clear plan.
Now, with our plan determined, we move our focus to execution. I know what I’m trying to do. If I have doubts or feel I should change the plan, I’d better go back to The Thinking Position and re-consider my decisions. It’s vital to be fully committed to the shot before moving into “The Shooting Position.” I can’t be fully focused on executing the shot if I still have nagging concerns about the plan. Focusing is the process of getting your intention and your body into agreement and alignment.
How do we move focus from thinking to physically doing? As we address the shot, we know the plan. The shot plan could be something like “I’m cutting the 7 ball in the side with a rolling cue ball and a touch of outside english and with enough speed to follow forward to my chosen shape region.” So now I have to physically make this happen. My focus has to move to my eyes and body.
Many players rush from decision to execution as if there was nothing in between. They plop their bridge hand down and try to adjust everything to fit the plan. They were present and aware while they were standing, and now that they’re down on the shot, they’re trying to focus on physical alignment, stroke, aiming, speed, etc. If they lost focus between standing and ball address, they have to regain it once they are down on the shot. Too late.
Execution focus is physical. We’re organizing our body until we’re satisfied that we’re as ready to shoot as we can be. When we are actively engaged in the planning and decision process, making a clear commitment to the plan, and moving smoothly into setup and shooting, we are much more likely to get the results we want. Gaps in the process mean we have broken our concentration. Not good. If your mind wanders, pool will smack you.
Many good players relate to the experience of “nail-bending focus” down the shot line. When they’re fully focused, they feel like they could bend steel nails with their mind or melt paint off the wall. They’re using their eyes like lasers, burning perfectly down the intended line. It’s a lot easier to organize your body to be accurately aligned to the shot if you’re fully involved in the alignment process before—and while—you drop into shooting position.
This brings us to a crucial—but rarely—noticed fundamental. Once your body is on the shot line and you are ready to drop into shooting position, what are your eyes doing? Where is your visual focus during the drop? Are your eyes actually focused on something? To maximize your accuracy, it’s very helpful to engage that nail-bending focus on your precise target before you start to drop and to maintain that clear, single-minded focus throughout the drop. Keep your eyes on the target while you drop. As you drop, this continuous, intense focus, locked onto your visual target, will work to keep you lined up to what you’re seeing. Your peripheral vision will help you land your bridge and move it into proper position. Of course, once you’re fully down, you will move your eyes back and forth from target to cue ball until you’ve confirmed your alignment and readiness to shoot. Then, laser-focus your vision down the line until the stroke has been completed.
If your eyes are sharply focused, your mind is focused. If your mind is focused, your body will carry out your wishes more readily, more easily, and more accurately. Focus leads to commitment. Commitment leads to confidence. Confidence leads to better results.
See the target and absolutely own the line.