Saturday, April 28, 2007

El Stinko - the skunk

Boy was I off this week. Wednesday I went 1-2, but never really felt I was "in" my games. I started to focus a little on the last game against the best player of the bunch, but then I made a truly obvious scratch on the 8. I looked at the potential scratch and thought I was okay. But in playing the tape back, I should have known better. I mean, really, I think that a month ago, I would have looked at the shot and said, "Oh, I just need to put some follow on that to be sure I'm okay." On Wednesday, it didn't even occur to me.

And Thursday, I managed to eke out one game but I mostly just stunk. My Thursday night team, for some reason, does not play well against lower ranked teams. I know people say its because we must let our guard down, but I don't think that's it. Its true that I don't like the tables at the 3 bars I'm thinking of. They are smaller, and and there's just not a good atmosphere around them.

Mostly, though I'm burnt out. Work has been emotionally taxing this week. Doing two nights of back to back pool is just too much. The Thursday night team is losing momentum, I'm sorry to admit. I've been playing a lot of pool on the side as well and I think I'm starting to get sloppy and casual about it.

I've also felt the absence of my two favorite coaches on both my teams. I get good advice from all my teammates (much of it contradictory, which is to be expected). But sometimes you just get too many tips rattling around in your brain, when what you really need to hear is "I really like the way you play." "You're really improving." "True, you missed that shot, but I really liked the speed on it." I get positive feedback as well, but I think people forget that its important that advice is best served with a spoonful of sugar (although its got to be real), and that I don't really want to analyze my mistakes until my game is over.

Anyway, so what's the plan of actions:

Love the table I'm playing on, no matter what. I think I sometimes don't realize this is bothering I need to acknowledge it, and then let it go, and decide to love the Jeanette Lee suggested in her Sept 2006 Billards Digest Columnn

Take a break: I'm going to play less this week. No more than every other day, and I'm going to focus on drilling fundamentals, and talking myself through my pre-shot routine.

Talk to my teammates. I may ask my teammates to give me positive feedback during my matches. But I also have to learn to be gentle to myself, ESPECIALLY when I 'm tired and don't want to be there.

Take a moment before my match to "check-in." Rather than just charging into my match and trying to stay focused and positive. I think I need to take a moment to just acknowledge what's floating through my mind. Am I excited to play? How do I feel about the opponent? the table? my nerves? Look at it, and let it go. Remember all the other times I felt that way, and still managed to play well despite the odds.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Continuing to "zone in" and listening to the "little voice"

Not much to say this week, so allow me to ramble and see if I can find anything insightful about this weeks pool play. I will say that I have always intended to go back and edit my posts--trim them down to the little nuggets of insight that they should be for a blog. BUT, considering I don't think anyone is reading, and I mostly blog as a way to reflect on my experience learning pool, I'm not going to stress.

I played pretty well this week. Better on Wednesday than on Thursday, but that seems to be the pattern. I'm not sure if I'm tired by the time Thursday rolls around, if Wednesday gets the better part of my focus and competition or whether there is something about the format of Wednesday that brings out the best in my game. No handicap. One game=one point. Overall better competition.

Wednesday I won 2 out of 3 and Thursday I beat a level 5 player 2 to 2 (although he really wasn't playing to his level and missed opportunities he shouldn't have). I have continued to implement the "spot meditations" where I call up the physical sensation of being in the zone, or a memory of a successful shot when I feel nervous or go into a pressure situation. Well, or basically any shot when I'm in competition. I have to say it works pretty well. Not a magic bullet, but I'm sure I'll get better at it.

My misses this week:
An 8-ball spot shot, that I didn't take the time to feel, or to "zone-in" on.
Ball-in-hand run out where I missed my position to get on the better side of the key ball, but convinced myself I could sneak in enough follow to get it to the other side. I knew better. The angle just wasn't right and I ended up right on top of the ball, having to play a saftey. (Probably won me the game, but once I ended up on the wrong side, I should not have been surprised)
A tricky, back cut. At the last moment something inside of me said, "hmm wonder if you'll scratch" to start listening to that little voice.
A straight shot down the rail, object ball slightly forward of the side pocket. Anything less than perfect, was a scratch. Trying to get the position wasn't worth the risk.

My shot of the week:
After missing the 8-ball spot shot, next turn, I had to avoid a blocked pocket and cut the eight into the other side. At one point I practiced a lot of back-cuts. I remembered those. I took my time aiming. I felt the shot. I zoned in. I saw it in my mind. And it happened just as I saw it. A hell of a shot.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

8 and out!

It happened, last night at the local bar--my first table run. A straight 8 ball run for the win, with all the other opponents balls on the table. That was fun.....and satisfying after all my hard work.

I've come close before. Been on a roll and could see the shots that would take me out, but usually the moment I think "I could be out" I miss, and usually create some kind of cluster in the process that ruins the rack for my next turn. But this time, the just kept going in, and when I got down the my last couple of balls, and I could see the out, I thought, don't get too excited. Its probably not going to happen. So I just focused on shooting and enjoying myself. And then I missed my position on the 8 and left myself with a really tough cut. I didn't have any expectation that it would go in, or that it would miss. I took my time, communed with the shot, and added a bit on inside English, and it went straight in the heart of the pocket like I was a pro.

My roommate, who has listened patiently to endless recaps of league matches, but has never seen me shoot, was with me to witness the historic occasion. That made it all the more special.

So, why last night:
1) After my first shot, all my balls had pockets, so this wasnt' a tricky layout. A fair amount of congestion. So, the external conditions were right. I have the skill at this point to run a rack like that.
2) Optimum inebriation. Miller Hi-Life is my new favorite drink! I was just relaxed enough and energized enough to focus. (I don't really plan to make this a planned part of my training, but I hope I can recreate that feeling without alcohol).
3) Action focus. I didn't focus on the fact that I was "running the rack." I just focused on the action of shooting and planning my shots.
4) Mental preparation and increased confidence. In "I was THIS close", my entry about a week ago, I wrote about a nice run out that I was pretty close to happening and that I felt a shift had ocurred that made running out a possibility. I could see it happening, and it was only a matter of time. (i'm so thrilled that turned out to be true!).

And I've been working on my mental game. Being sure that I'm using "productive analysis" when looking at my weaknesses. Trying to recreate the zone. And paying attention to capturing those moments when I shoot really well.

YAY! I ran a rack. Of course, I did. I should have. I can do this.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What happened to my post

So, sadly. Last weeks post seems to be lost. I thought I saved it as a draft, but it has gone missing. It was mostly about choking on the eight ball and working on recalling what it feels like to be in the zone. My Wednesday night record was 0-3, although I played really well, was in each game and really should have one that last one. Thursday I won 2-1, got a little lucky but was able to use my coaching for the eight ball shots, which is what this post will be about when I have a chance to go back to create it.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

I was THIS close.....

I lost 2 games and won only 1 last night. My worst score, in the Wednesday night league. But I am so proud of myself. That last game, even though I lost was a breakthrough for me.

I was a little nervous going up against the other team's best shooter. I had watched him execute a fine table run on a difficult table in the previous round. I had been shooting kind of average--the way I have been shooting, lately. I'm ususally strategic enough, I can still pull out a win, but I just haven't felt that I was shooting up to my potential. But this time I tried to prepare myself mentally a little differently. I didn't think about winning, but I tried to think about what it FEELS like when I'm in the zone.

I lost the coin toss and watched him break and begin to run the table. I stayed focused on the feeling of being in the zone and knowing that I had no influence on the outcome, but being ready to perform if I got a chance. And then I got lucky. He missed a position and then rattled in the pocket. One of my teammates said "you've got him now. A clean run out. You can do it."

And I had a moment of fear, felt the pressure. And then I looked at the table and I thought. Yes, I can do this. One shot at a time.

I took care of a cluster with an easy combo, and then missed, but left him safe. I was disappointed my table run had ended so early. But I stayed focused. I was lucky enough to get ball in hand. The choice of where to start was a little intimidating, but I took one shot at a time, staying in the snooker zone until I had cleaned up one end of the table and then got the position to move to the other end. Before I knew it, I was on the key ball. Not a super easy shot, but it gave me position on the 8. I had good form, good speed, and got perfect position on the eight, but I missed the pocket by a hair's breath.

I had another one more shot, but it was not meant to be, and he sunk the eight.

I keep seeing the one I missed. The nine just hitting the corner of the pocket. But I think that was probably the best run in a competitive game. I guess it was five--and it was almost seven. So, I try now to visualize the shot going in. Next time it will.

Now I know I can clear the table, and that opens a world of possibilities.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Last night, I had a pretty good practice session. I had been thinking that I was actually pretty happy with my level of play and that I would back off a little on practicing and just focus on maintaining fundamentals. I had become really bored with certain drills and had in practice mostly been "piling rocks" and practicing shots I had missed in matches. I had been thinking that I had gotten to a point where I had just enough skill and knowledge where I could learn from playing actual games and experimenting less on the practice table.

Running through my drills went pretty well. Not surprisingly I had lost some of my sharpness on the drills I haven't been doing as much. I had lost some precision on the speed drill, but not too much. My stop, follow, draw drill went pretty well (although I know I have a siting problem on long straight shots). But then when I went to piling rocks, I was missing a lot. I was able to get back in the grove a little. I was tired and probably not setting the shot up correctly, but this wasn't always the case. This is actually pretty common in my experience. I do really well on my drills and I think I'm hot stuff, but then when I start trying to sink balls, I suck.

So, now to the discouraging part. I was at table #4--the worst table--small pockets, and right in front of the bar, so everyone waiting for a table has nothing to do but watch you miss! Although, I have to give myself major points for staying pretty focused, and not being upset when I didn' pocket a ball, even if they saw. But after I was finished, the guy who rang me up had been watching, and asked if we had the same instructor (he could tell from the drills). He said that the one thing he could see was I was dropping my elbow due to my long follow through. I actually really appreciate the observation. Of course, that's usually followed by a bit of lecture about how you don't need such a long follow through, etc. etc. The lecture I could do without, as I've usually heard it before. Its not lack of knowledge, but proper execution.

Anyway, so I am discouraged. I've noticed the elbow drop when I'm playing. I'm not even convinced that the actual drop is what is making me miss shots from a mechanical point of view, but it indicates that the auto-pilot form is off, so something is not working. I'm not sure if he meant that I was dropping my elbow during drills or only my later shots. What scares me is that if I am, I'm practicing bad form. All my efforts to have strong fundamentals are working against me.

I initially wanted to take regular lessons - every three or four weeks, mostly because I like the dialogue and the coach-student relationship. I think they both really help the learning process. Unfortunatley, my instructor has become very popular and has little time. I've felt that he discouraged the idea of regular lessons, and that lessons should only be when necessary. Which may work well for a more experienced player. But now, besides just the less specific benefits of having regular lessons, I can see that stopping bad habits from creeping in.

I'm going with my gut. My instructor does not have any ego attached to the idea of "his" students, and thinks that its good to get different points of view. So I think that its time to get a regular structure in place, even if it means finding someone else.

Wow, long, probably boring post. But at least I feel better.