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The Adventures of FastMikie
in search of Truth and Beauty in the art of pocket billiards.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Control yourself, control the table

Maybe it's because of the phase of the moon. Otherwise I have no other explanation for my verbal explosion after missing a shot in this afternoon's 8-ball tournament. Maybe I'm developing Turrette's Syndrome. Whatever it is, it's not right. I need to control my emotions.

I was shooting over a ball, all jacked up, and the cue ball had to travel a very precise path, with perfect touch. The shot needed draw, and lots of english. The object ball was about half obscured by the opponent's ball, and the cue ball would be very close to scratching after hitting my ball. This shot had just about everything going against it, but I saw the way to do it, I knew I could execute it, and I was eagerly looking forward to making it happen. I was not at all nervous. I was sure of myself. If I did it, I would have an easy runout for the win. If I screwed it up, he would be out for the win. I lined it up very carefully, stroked a couple of warmups to get the feel of it, and ...

Miscue! The cue ball leaps off the table, knocking my ball in and opening up his runout, and with ball-in-hand, he did, and he won.

Somewhere from deep down within me, some pent-up angst from a collection of stupid shots in the past, all of which were taken in stride without so much as a peep from me, all of this energy burst forth in one quite loud exclamation which invoked the name of a popular deity, with the demand that he/she send "it" (whatever) to hell.

Of course, I wasn't mad, just surprised. Disappointed. Right after the game I congratulated Paul H. for his excellent win. He was shooting good. And right after congratulating him, I set up the shot I missed, and on the first (re)try, made it with the same perfection that I had previously envisioned.

Why do we miss shots we can make? They say that when we miss, there's usually something mental going on. Lapse of focus or concentration, impatience, whatever.

A couple of days ago I re-read the very excellent book on the mental part of Sport, and Life. "The Inner Game of Tennis" is a classic and recommended reading for anyone who wants to improve their game, be it tennis, pool, whatever.

Yes, I could make the shot. So the reason for the miss must have been something else, something mental. What is revealing to me is that I am more upset about missing the shot than I am for not winning! The fact that Winning is less important than the shot means that Winning is not the main thing, not the only thing. I'm thinking that this is a less than ideal mindset for playing in a tournament.

If Winning were the only thing, then maybe I would have given up on such an intricate shot, and looked more carefully for another solution. The shot I had invented in my mind would have been a wonderful thing to do, and to see, and I can see now that my Ego was goading me into wanting to do that cunning thing with the cueball. Maybe there was a better shot, maybe not, but I don't remember looking for one. At that time, I was more interested, more committed to making that pretty shot than Winning. I was in the moment, for sure. All I wanted to see was the path of the cue ball, off my cue tip, into the object, then drawing back so perfectly into the short rail, then up near the foot spot.

Something happened between the time I decided to deliver the final stroke, and the time the cue touched the cue ball. Total time was about one second. Something occurred in that moment to send the shot awry. I would like to know what it was.

And I guess that's one of the reasons I keep coming back to the table...

Paul H. played real good. In one of his games against me, he shot two banks in a row to get to his game ball. One of those banks was fantastic! He obviously likes to bank, and one of his favorite expressions is "Can't win if you can't bank!". And he does win a lot of games because of his excellent banking skills, so good for him.

My game is more conservative, and I'll prefer to play safe (what Paul jokingly refers to as "Girly pool") rather than go for a low-percentage bank. Somehow, I had let him back to the table, but I wasn't concerned about him because I was looking at the table from my perspective, not his. I figured he would never get out because he had two balls blocked by the eight. It kind of reminded me of my match with Gunney, in the Great Quarterly Tournment, just a couple of weeks ago: my opponent makes a spectacular runout that I wasn't expecting at all. Well shut my mouth and congratulate the opponent. Case closed, go home.

This sort of thing should not happen. I need to FULLY control the game. I need to work on that. It might be in my safety game, and not playing total lockups. (Sloppy Safety Syndrome!) It might be laziness, or brinksmanship, or not having the Killer Instinct.

Whatever it is, I need to find it and get it out of my game before September, my next shot at the US Amateur Championship. I have to remember what Mika said: "I want this more than you."


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