I’ve been sparring with some new people lately they are perfect examples of how I want to play the game. Confident and consistent. They make the game look easy to me. I enjoy watching them and I enjoy playing them. I feel (perhaps erroneously) like I should be able to hang with them though. I don’t make the mistake of thinking I should win a lot, but I absolutely believe I should be able to put up a good fight. Sure, it would be nice to win once in a while, and the law of averages suggests that I should. But I rarely do. And when I do, it’s because of their rare mistake rather than my own good play. So, here we are 15 months after the first time I recall saying that I want to win because I won, rather than my opponent losing. There was a point about 8 months ago where that was case. I simply out-played my opponents. People were scared to see me in the opponent spot. This is no longer the case.
Why? (Always with the why.) It’s not because my ability has decreased, though I feel like I’m in a huge rut right now. It’s not because I make a lot of poor decisions at the table, though it seems no matter what I do, it costs me the rack. It’s not because I’m getting unlucky, though it feels like my opponents are getting better rolls.
The truth is it’s because I’m playing above my head. 8 months ago when I was winning a lot, I was playing people my skill level or lower for the most part. I’ve changed my opponent pool to include much stronger players than myself (on average) and so it should be no surprise that I’m going to struggle to get wins in this higher bracket.
My skill has actually gotten better, not worse. I’m more consistent with shots that gave me trouble 8 months ago. My decisions are better, I play smarter than I did 8 months ago. Luck comes and goes.
Why then do I feel like I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn these days? Because mistakes cost more in this field. I’m sparring with players who only need 1 chance at the table to get out. It’s a lot like playing the ghost. One of my mistakes is all they need to win the rack/match. 8 months ago, if I made a mistake somewhere in the rack, I still had a chance to return to the table to make up for it. That 2nd chance is now gone.
Unfortunately, my mindset is still waiting for that 2nd chance, so when it doesn’t come, it hits me that much harder. By the end of the night, I’m usually so afraid of making any mistake that I can’t even put a good stroke on a simple shot. Still, I fight (or try to) through it best I can. Sometimes if I can fight long enough I’ll wear them out and start clawing my way back, but more often the match doesn’t (or can’t) last that long.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and now, away from the table, I realize and understand and accept that this is all part of the growing pains required to becoming a better player. These are my “dues”. This is my “seasoning”. And this will continue for quite a while. There is no magic pill, cue, chalk, book or video that will instantly make me the player I want to be. Only time can do that. (assuming that time is filled with practice and learning and gaining experience) This doesn’t mean I don’t want it all right now, but I desperately do, which sadly, only feeds the frustration meter when it all comes crumbling apart. Here is precisely where I need to keep some perspective.
As much as I want to complain about how I play sometimes (in reference to how far I am from where I want to be), I really need to step back and look at how far I’ve come. I have to remind myself that I’ve only been playing seriously for 4.5 years. For all of my reading, writing, seeking understanding and analysis, I only have a tiny handful of actual experience from which to draw confidence. The people I’m playing against have been playing anywhere from 2 to 6 times that amount. They have long forgotten what it’s like to be here, except to say they once were. They have suffered the pressures, defeats and embarrassments of a thousand matches. They have learned these roads and ingrained their twists, potholes and rickety bridges into the back of their memory.
And so I find myself at the start of a maze of roads unknown to me and must stumble my way through. I must expect to fall into holes, stray off the path into ditches and unsteadily cross those bridges. I must focus on the task at hand, ensure my footing and slowly push forward on steady ground. “Eyes on the prize” does not apply to this part of my journey. I need them singularly focused on the now.
Only at times like these, where I find a small stable patch to rest, can I both reflect on my history and envision my future. If I wish to make it out of this limbo I must dedicate myself to the task, as just listlessly wandering towards the apparent exit will never get me there.
Simply writing this entry gives me new inspiration, new motivation to prove that I can and do belong here.* I will be a fierce competitor and not plainly “dead money”. I will be someone people don’t want to see in the brackets. I will be someone that “plays good” instead of “ok”. I will be a Pool Player.**
* – Currently my goal is to earn my entry into the local league of “upper echelon” players; as that is about as far as I’ll likely be able to take it given my situation. And I’m perfectly 100% fine with that goal.
** – To the best of my ability given that it is not a job for me, nor will it ever be a job. I have a standard 40hr/week 9-5 job. So my path will be longer than those who have a more flexible schedule, allowing them to practice 20-40 hours a week (whereas I’m lucky to get 5 hours of real practice in a single week).