Last night we got back into league action my pro clinic last week and the snow week prior to that, it feels like I haven’t played in forever.  This time we were visiting a bar that has 8 foot tables; which is awesome for me. I tend to not overhit as many shots with that extra space.

My first match, I played pretty well, I did miss a thin cut trying to hold the ball for the rest of the out, but as it happened, I got back to the table with BIH and ran my last 4 to get out.  It felt great.  Then, I sat for a while while the other team started running out, and our usual “get out” players couldn’t seem to get out.  So, in the 4th round I was put back in, since two of our guys left already.  I was surprised and excited to be put in.  And after the draw, it was *possible* that I would get to play the game that would win us the match.  And it happened that way.  The first two guys up got out quite nicely, which left me playing for the W. I had just finished playing with my teammates on another table, winning a game of short-rack banks, and prior to that running completely out after my opponent missed.  I was feeling good. Feeling confident … until I got to the league table.  I started worrying about the lag – and how I would break them, if I did win the break.  If I break them good and don’t make anything, it’s a good layout for them. If I take a little off so as not to spread the table well, and make something – then I’ve just screwed myself.  Well, I lost the lag, so at least I didn’t have to worry about that.  But, now I had to worry about the guy breaking and running out.

The guy did make a ball on the break, a stripe, and he started picking off balls here and there until he missed one and I got to the table with BIH actually.  I wasn’t left with the easiest of layouts, but considering the times I’ve gotten out recently, I expected to at least show up for the match. I suddently couldn’t see any pattern. I knew my trouble ball, so I focused on getting that out… but initially I was looking at it in such a way I *had* to go through his balls until one of his teammates went to look at the table and it dawned on me that I might be able to shoot this ball a different way.  *sigh*  So, I adjusted, sank my trouble ball, then decided to cut another less-than-optimal ball; which ended in a situation sorta like this:

I can’t remember the exact layouts for some reason. My brain just went completely dead. After that 5 ball.  I got really nervous, got the slight shakes even.  He had more balls on the table than what I’ve placed here.  A few shots later, he tries to super-thin cut a ball and misses, letting back to the table.  I make another ball and get the layout below.  After a talk with my coach, we decided to shoot the 7 first and go over for either the 5 or 3, depending on how far I punch it off the rail.  Turns out, I hit it too hard, and apparently, with some draw, because that cue ball trickled all the way across table and just dropped in the side.

I was devistated.  I tried and tried to get it out of my mind, but it took some venting to another teammate before I could get over it.  Luck favored me again when he missed the 8 ball in the side and left me something like this.  I was determined to *not* go all the way across table and miss position on the 4… and I didn’t. However, I also forgot to make the 3.

I literally dropped my head onto the table when I saw it hit the rail. I couldn’t believe it. The last shot I over hit and now this one I under hit (and I missed the ball).  I honestly don’t remember how the missed the 8 this time, but he left near the foot rail, and I was able to put the 4 in the side and avoid the corner pocket with the CB, leaving me this shot on the 5.  It was a tough shot, I was close to the rail, I had to punch it off and get by the 8 to shoot the 3, but instead, I did this:

My opponent tried a very tricky “ticky” shot with the through both the 5 and 3, but didn’t make it.  I honestly can’t remember what I did next, but I left  him above the 8, so he couldn’t cut it in and played a safe, but the 8 rolled *just* out enough so I could see the 3.  I got down and shot this.

He, of course, made the 8 from there and I lost the hill game.  Our team went on to lose the next 3 games to lose the match, but I feel like it was me who lost the match.  I was given SO MANY opportunities to win that game and I just couldn’t do it.

I was so angry, so frustrated, so … just out of my mind I couldn’t even begin to figure out what the problem was.  Was I aligned wrong? Was I stroking crooked?  What was it?!  I thought about it the rest of the night and all the way home and as I laid in bed trying to go sleep.  

Finally, I realized what I had done.  I had done nothing.  I didn’t stick to my pre-shot routine. I didn’t visualize the shot. I didn’t have a slow-backswing, pause and clean delivery. I didn’t turn off my brain when down on the shot. I didn’t ignore the past mistakes, nor the score, nor the people watching, nor the pressure of winning a tough hill game.  I folded like an abused blow-up doll when the pressure got heavy.  The only thing I did do was worry about losing.  And of course, I did… and horribly.

How do I fix this?  Everyone is going to say “gamble more”, but I honestly don’t think that’s the answer.  I’ve tried gambling, and while I still get nervous, when I lose it’s doesn’t have that same “I need to just run away and hide” feeling like I had last night (and today still).  It’s the pressure of being on a team that makes it that much more intense. Also, when gambling there’s no waiting for your turn. You either get in stroke or you don’t – either way you’ll have a chance at the table pretty frequently.  There are no team-based weekly tournaments, but there are some weekly tournaments I should be taking advantage of; if for no other reason than a) it’s competition with strangers, not gambling with a friend. b) it’s on bar-boxes. c) it should make me wait in between matches, forcing me to deal with the hot’n’cold issues I’ve had before.

It’s the only answer I can think of right now.  I need competitive seasoning and playing in tournaments is where I think I can get it.  What are your thoughts? How do you get that seasoning?