I’m sure I’m not the first one to coin this phrase, but I haven’t seen it anywhere before.  I’ve become aware of something that has really helped me maintain my mental focus – specifically when things are not going my way.  I call it The Post-Mistake Routine. It’s similar to the pre-shot routine and I’m hoping to engrain this behavior into my game as solidly as I have worked on my pre-shot routine.

I am a redhead, so that means I sometimes lose my cool (but I do have a soul, I promise, heh).  This is terrible for playing pool, as most of you know already.  Over the last year I’ve always kept the idea of staying calm in the back of my mind whenever I’m at the table. While it hasn’t been the most successful venture, it hasn’t gone unused or without benefit.

A year ago, I would get annoyed at the other player’s rolls, or slopping in a ball.  Of course I’m still annoyed today, but for the most part it just doesn’t bother me much (unless it’s like a series of slop shots in a row).  I attribute this acceptance to the variety of articles from Samm Diep, Liz Ford and Jennifer Baretta found in the weekly PoolDawg emails.  But it wasn’t until I started in the APA that I really had to manage this kind of acceptance.  I’ve always played tough players who would a roll maybe once or twice a rack, and since we would play even (or close to it) the rolls would balance out by the end.  However, while playing lower skill levels in the APA, it’s immediately apparent just how much more slop they get away with.  It’s always entertaining at first, until it gets close to the end of the match; then it’s annoying.  That’s when I need to focus the most and have the sharpest mental game. Unfortunately, that’s getting close to the time when I would start to come undone after the barrage of slop I’ve withstood.

Lately, with the last 3 months, however, I’ve been able to maintain a sharper mental game for the most part.  Sure, there are days when I just can’t hold it together; usually those days when I haven’t slept enough, or eaten right, or did anything to mentally prepare.  Maybe those are the days when I’m really stressed out about work or things around the house, I can’t recall; but there’s always something else going on there. 

The point of this entry is more for me to note that during the 8-Ball tournament over the weekend, I played 3 of my 4 matches with perfect control, even reeling myself in when I noticed I was starting to show signs of getting upset.  If I dogged an easy shot, and immediately started talking to myself negatively, I was able to tell myself to stop.  I was reminded of Shane van Boening’s interview where he said that he always thinks back to a time when he was playing really well and envisioned himself winning. 

In my 2nd match, I started off struggling a little bit and quickly began the self-talk.  I caught it early and thought of SVB, then thought back to how it felt during my first match when I was playing very well.  I remember thinking during that first match that THIS is the match I need to think about today, if I’m going to think about a good match.  In about 10 minutes, I was back to my cool, calm and calculating style of play.  Trusting my instincts but making excellent decisions in both the patterns I chose and safeties I played (move a ball, hide opponent, etc).  It pulled me into nearly dead stroke and I went from being down 1-2 to winning the match 5-2.

I, sadly, could not hold on to that much focus during my 4 hour break and was too tired to even remember to think about the good match.  I only remember thinking “This is me being afriad to lose … which is really bad because I can’t remember what I need to remember in order to win.” the whole time during my slaughter.

Monday was the last match of the in-house 9-ball league at Cue & Cushion. I was set to play one of the guys in the top running for 1st place.  I have never played him, but tried to take notice over the session to see just how good he plays; and he plays pretty good.  I win the flip and he gets the first 2 racks due to my mistakes.  But here’s the thing, whenever I made a mistake, I laughed.  I literally bent over the table and full faced laughed at one of my worst miscues in recent times.  It gave him ball-in-hand on the 6 and cost me the rack, and I knew it.  But, my first reaction wasn’t anger, it was entertainment.  I realized how strange that was, since usually I would’ve at least scowled and angrily swiped up my chalk and stomped back to the chair.

That sort of thing continued the rest of the match; and each time I made a mistake, I’d say to myself/whoever was listening “That’s just silly”. I wonder if that phrase, being sorta silly on its own, is enough to allow me to both complain and let go of the mistake all at once? I’ve been using that phrase for a couple of months now and there does seem to be something to it.  I continue on with the match, with an audience for the last half and while I was playing pretty well, it wasn’t spectacular play. I made mistakes, stupid ones at times, but each time, I’d tap my chalk and label the mistake “silly” on my return to the chair.  I never got angry or frustrated for more than a few seconds.  I’d take a drink of water and in a Jedi-like motion, wave my hand sideways implying I’m done with this thought and letting it go.  That’s another act I’ve been including in my post-mistake routine which seems to have finally started to help.

I held on to this attitude and it allowed me to win the last match hill-hill after my opponent missed ball in hand on the 5, then I missed the 8 ball, but got the best roll EVER and left him corner hooked with the cueball.  Now, of course I was furious with how poorly I played the 8 ball the first time, but even before the cueball hung in the pocket and I assumed I had scratched I wasn’t all the angry about it. I realized that I had made the mistake and while it was unfortunate, I couldn’t do anything about it now.

This is the 4th night of league play wherein I’ve held myself together so much better than in previous weeks/months. Each time I’ve had a different amount of sleep, played at different times, anywhere between starving and nearly too full to move. Puffing on my electronic cigarette or having a real one (I’m quitting again). Having a team around with conversations or playing alone not saying a word (which I do prefer actually).  So, across all varieties of game situation, I’ve somehow managed to learn some sort of self-control when things get out of line.  Of course it’s not perfect yet, I’ve only just begun to recognize my triggers and explore the methods that work best for me, but overall, I’m very happy with this obervation. 

I’m putting less stock in the “lucky shoes, jeans, shirts” and more in my own mental ability. I like where this is going.  And just in time too… I can’t be blowing a gasket out in Vegas next month. 😉