In an effort to get prepared to avenge my poor performance at the midwest 9-ball tournament last week, I matched up with a friend who has won or placed in the top 3 several times in that tournament.  Julia Gabriel is a local gal who always does well at the midwest tournament.  We matched up playing mw9-style races to 7 this past Friday.  We played 4 sets.  The first set, I played well, and she seemed a bit off.  After a break for dinner, everything changed.

Saturday, I read some of Phil Capell’s book A Mind for Pool and it had a section on the mental game (well, more than one) wherein he says “Don’t make excuses. People that hear players making excuses know that player is passing the buck on their own mistakes.” (paraphrased)  And it’s true.  I’ve known that to be true for quite some time, but it’s still incredibly difficult not to blame something that seemed, at the time, out of my control (like a bad table roll, or dirty balls clinging together).  This is particularly relevent here because I blamed my stopping to eat dinner as my reason for losing the next 3 sets (terribly). 

I normally don’t eat while I play, or if I do, I snack so as not to give my body too much to do while I’m still trying to maintain focus at the table.  But, after I ate, I lost all focus.  To be fair, it wasn’t all because of the eating.  The first half of my focus loss was that I had won the first set, pretty heavily.  I felt like I had the home-field advantage, playing on new cloth, and with the red circle cue ball.  Even though my speed wasn’t as good as it could be, I was making great shots and getting tight shapes when I needed them.  In a word, I was confident.

Which should be a good thing.  It’s that small step from being confident to being overly confident that kills people.  It killed me, for sure.  I thought I had found some of my opponent’s weaknesses, but what I had thought was a weakness, was nothing more than a couple of flukes. My mistake.  And that mistake would mentally grant me the permission needed to shoot at flyers, to take lower percentage shots, to go for the runout when I should’ve played safe instead. 

We played alternate break, and I lost the 2nd set 0-7. I lost the 3rd set 1-7 and I lost the 4th set 4-7.  Once that focus is gone… it’s gone.  I tried all of my tricks to get it back. I quit talking to bystanders, I quit fidgeting with my phone, playing the jukebox, looking around.  The problem with getting focus back, I’ve just realized, is that I become focused … on getting focus and instead am too distracted to play the game.  In effect, I try too hard. Which is just as bad as being overly confident. 

Now, after watching the videos, I can say that yes, the rolls were going more towards her than for me in the later sets. That’s not an excuse, just an observation – to which she agreed. However, when she’d make a mistake and leave me a chance to get out … I simply did not take advantage of the opportunity.  I was trying too hard to make sure I capitolized on her error, tried too hard to ensure I made the ball; which raised doubts in my instinctive shot alignment, which caused indecision, which caused missed shots.

I did, however, capture one rack of decent shooting in the 4th set, where I broke and ran out.  It wasn’t pefect, as I had bumpbed into 3 balls throughout the run, but it worked and I got there.

There was a rack earlier that I broke and ran out – but it was an early 9, so I don’t count that, exactly, as a break and run. I had to bump the 6 to keep shape on the 4, but I put the 6 in a spot where I wasn’t sure if it passed the 9 into the hole, so I played the 6-9 carom instead, which I made.

In summary – I’m really glad Julia came out to run over me.  It was almost like playing the ghost, except that I had more chances to screw up than when I play the ghost.  I look forward to our next sparring.