Saturday, June 28, 2008

Keeping it together just long enough

Okay, even I know, its time to put the cue down for awhile and walk away from the table. And I'm going to take a break, I promise.

I've been saying that for a couple of weeks. So when I was invited to play in just one more end-of-season tournament, I told the tournament director I couldn't do it. I was just too burnt out. There would be no point in playing. I would not play well, not enjoy myself, and just reinforce all kinds of bad stuff. Which was too bad, because I've done well in this tournament before and normally would really be looking forward to it. But my mind was made up.

Then I thought about my June burn out problem. Of course, in a perfect world, you pace yourself so you peak for the most important competitions, but life doesn't always make that easy. So, if you're mentally tough, shouldn't you be able to push through the burn out just long enough to compete, and then take a break?

So, that became my quest. I spent the night before coming to terms with the whole situation. Accepting that I didn't want to play. Accepting that the tournament was coming at a bad time and there was nothing I could do about it. And then accepting that I was choosing to play anyway. I then spent some time getting in touch with my desire to win and visualizing myself playing with complete focus on the game and on every shot.

By morning, I was no longer feeling burnt out. I was ready to play.

It would be a great finish to this post to be able to say, "And I won the tournament" or "Made it to the finals." Nah. I was out in the first round. But I had a great match, and if it hadn't been for an unforeseen scratch on the 8 in the first game, I would have won in straight games. It was a victory for me, because I felt driven and focused in a way I haven't in weeks. Its a good feeling to know, that with a little mental preparation, I can push through the burn out.

But I recognize that I was tapping into the reserves to do now its vacation time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The greek chorus chimes in while Skinner feeds his pigeons

The thing I hate the most about losing is the sympathy you must endure from the well-intentioned. It is the punishment for finishing second in a two-person contest.

The thing I hate most about losing streaks, is the recurring and escalating sympathy, followed by psycho-analysis by committee that you must endure from the well-intentioned trying to fix your perceived problem. It is the punishment for being cursed by the "L" word too many times in a row.

"You just aren't very confident right now."
"You were a little overconfident there."
"You need a break."
"You need to not take it so seriously."
"You need to just make balls. Forget shape."
"You're making too many balls. You need to be more strategic."
"You need to let go of winning."
"You need to focus on winning."
"You need to drink more."
"You need to drink less."
and so it goes....

It reminds me of the superstitious pigeon in the classic Skinner experiment. (I tried to find a video, but couldn't). Skinner's pigeons were conditioned to expect a reward for performing certain behaviors--peck the shiny silver button, and get some bird seed. When Skinner randomized the reward, completely unlinking it from a specific action, the birds started repeating strange behaviors. Turning to the right. Flapping a left wing. Pecking at its toe. Pecking at another pigeon's toe Trying to figure out, what was the thing, that magical thing that it was doing, that caused the birdseed to drop from the sky. Hmmmm. Maybe I should wear my lucky shirt. I was drinking Maker's the last time I won....maybe I'll have a makers tonight. Or not eat dinner. Or just make balls. Or play more safeties. Or use a house cue, or, or.....There are so many potential fixes....and none of them may make a hoot of difference, cuz sometimes the wins are just birdseed being dropped by some sadistic college student trying to get an A. Cruel, cruel world.

No one, including myself sometimes, remembers that within this monolithic string of losses were some well-played, tough matches, that I just came up short on: a bad roll, an outstanding opponent, or an honest mistake that's appropriate for my learning curve. These are the matches to remember and build on.

There is no "fix", maybe because there is no real "problem." But there is a lesson: While I can listen to what others say, ultimately its my own voice I need to listen to and not let the well-intentioned coddling undermine my confidence.

I have my own thoughts about what, if anything is going on with some of my matches, but more on that later.....because I've got to get back to flapping my left wing....just in case.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Year in Review

Just like the school year, my pool year ends in June. Of course, I would much rather be posting about one of my team's imminent trip to Vegas and extend the year through August. But, there are limits to my creative blogging.

Jim McKay died the day of our LTC.....and the agony of defeat was present. Sometimes, the luck of the draw matters more than anything. All of my teams were saddled with the toughest draws, last minute handicap bumps, and unfortunate rolls. But we had a good time, and all went out swinging.

A few thoughts about this year.....

1) Too many swirls. I couldn't help but think of a friend's tattoo, as I headed off to pool in the evenings. Its a very nice, but incomplete tattoo....a tulip design surrounded by swirls. She had impulsively selected a particularly painful place for the tattoo and only made it through the basic flower part of the design, and a few of the swirls, before the pain became so unbearable, she could hardly speak. As she looked down at the many curls stenciled out on her skin, and knew there was no way she could finish it out...... she managed to blurt out through her tears"....too.......many.........swirlllls...."and then passed out. While not quite that painful, I have say that three teams is too.....many.....teeeaaammms. Definitely, too much of a good thing. I'm glad I followed through on my commitments, but I am overjoyed to be free to cut back. Woohoo! Clean apartment and laundry here I come.

2) Gotta check those biorhythms and tide charts. In the past two years I peaked around December - February. I'm not sure I understand why, but I know that the past two years I've felt kind of burnt out by the time June came around. I know that serious athletes are careful to train in a way that allows the to peak or be near peaking around their key events. Part of the challenge for me is that I work in a seasonal business that is particularly stressful from April-June. (This was compounded this year by too many swirls at the same time). I guess I have to find a way to accept that I may be able to play less during this time, but do the things that make the most difference in my game.

3)More colors in the crayon box. I like salad bars and an insanely extensive spice rack. My refrigerator is two-thirds full of condiments (a friend of mine refers to this as condimentia). As much as I need a certain amount of routine, I also need lots of variety. Now that I have freed up some of my league time, I am going to diversify. More match ups with friends and some cheap tournaments. More 9-ball and maybe even try some 3-cushion. If I do join another team, it will either be 9-ball or a non-handicapped league.

4) Balance, dammit, balance! There is more to life than pool. And when the rest of my life feeds my happiness and confidence, I believe that it shows up in how I play. Not that on a given day I can't rise above whatever else is going on, but over the long haul, taking care of one's self pays dividends on the pool table as well.

5) Wax on. Wax off. A couple months ago, I ran into a fellow league member....Actually, a more accurate description would be, a fellow league member interrupted me while I was practicing. I was shooting a drill. He spent about 20 minutes explaining to me why drills were a waste of time (I suppose that talking to him while paying for a table was a good use of my time), and I should only spend time trying to run out a rack. His justification for this was that I would never run into the same pattern in a game and therefore the drill was completely useless. Jesus, I thought everybody has seen the Karate Kid, but just in case you missed it, too:

So, thanks very much for the advice and for interrupting my practice session. While you may not be impressed, I'm happy with my progress looking back over the year and I know that the drills build confidence, allow me to gauge progress, and basically work.....I will continue to wax on, wax off through year 3.

Its gonna be fun.