One thing I noticed during the tournament a few weeks back was that I don’t always play my own game.  Even though I had told myself before I got there to play my game, I found myself in the very first round not playing my own game.  I played this young banger kid and I sort of expected to win anyway – especially after he hung the 9 the first 2 racks in a short race to 5.  He, as most do, shot really quickly, almost rushing around the table to get to his canon fodder.  I found myself not doing my pre-shot routine. Not envisioning the ball paths, not making sure my stance is balanced and my arm is straight.  I was very often just bending over, and 2-stroking the ball with the only idea of “i want to be in that quarter of the table” for position.  I’ve done this before and each time I can’t believe I’m being so careless.  Then I lose a rack, then 2, then 3 now I’m flustered and am focusing too hard on not leaving this kid any kind of wild combo on the 9 and continue to miss shots because I’m not focusing on the shot at hand.

That’s one big thing I notice about my other teammates, they all, for the most part, play they own game, at their own speed.  They have their pre-shot routine and they complete it at each turn at the table.  If their routine includes taking 12 practice strokes, they take 12 practice strokes on each and every shot.  I, for some reason, don’t follow my own routine.  I’ve changed it a lot over the last year, and I’m not entirely sure I have a solid and well-defined routine anymore. After I added the last piece of visualization a month or so ago, that was sort of the cherry topper and I haven’t revisited it since. For every shot though, I still get in line and move into the shot using a chin-lock method, only after I’ve planned my routes.  I aim at the exact contact point, check my backswing to make sure I’m straight, go back to the contact point, tell myself to be quiet and stroke cleanly.  But it’s either the getting in line, checking to make sure i’m balanced, straight, comfortable and bridging correctly, or planning the exact outcome that falls off.  When I’m playing near dead-stroke, I don’t take a lot of time lining up or planning, it just comes naturally.  I look at the result of my last shot, and my brain immediately sees the next shot and the next route, I double check it, walk in, get down and stroke it; usually with good results. 

But that’s only when I’m in dead stroke.  I need to be able to do those calculations and planning when I’m not in stroke.  What I really need to be able to do is essentially completely ignore my opponent, and anyone else around.  I’ve also found that when some of the better players are around the table I’m on, I find I want to really play well to show them I’ve improved.  In worrying about trying to play smart, cleanly or really stroking the ball, I dog shots that I should make opposite-handed.

It all comes down to the mental game.  I have improved a lot since the winter, and most of my improvements have come in the mechanical and shot-making arenas.  I haven’t really done much mental training; nor do I really know how to mentally train myself to keep myself in stroke.  I have some good ideas, and I have some plans on how this can be done; but I so rarely have to use them that they often get left behind.  I have to focus on getting myself in-stroke for practice sessions, for drills, for concentration and even for playing with friends for whom I have to spot the 6-out. 

I’ve realized that I’m missing out on a great, almost daily, training regimen: the poolhall filled with loud teenagers.  Full of distractions, loud music, bad music, random questions, shouting, barking, laughing, etc.  It’s a perfect place to train myself to block out the environment.  Maybe it’s too perfect – since I can’t seem to fully block out everything else.  I hear everything – and when someone asks a question I know the answer to, it’s hard for me not to blurt it out once they get it wrong.  I have to learn to block out the random noises, comments, barking, suggestions, judging, music and conversation.  Having and holding concentration is key.  Now that I’ve written out this specific goal, I hope that it will be enough fuel for me to remember it when I go.

Regardless of the game, be it one-pocket or 9-ball, gather and retain focus.