Sunday, April 17, 2011

Yes, I've heard of one pocket!!!!

Its early on a Sunday and the room is almost empty. I picked my favorite the middle of the room, with tighter, but not the tightest pockets. One side has seating in between it and the next table, so its good for drills. I'm working on a one-rail position drill. I'm shooting pretty well, but I've been a little unfocused...and I'm really trying to get back on track.

Then, this guy I've never seen before hovers over my table (this hasn't happened in a long time):

Mosquito: "How you doing?"
Me: "Um, I'm fine"
Mosquito: "You ever hear of a game called one-pocket?"

Oh sweet lord. Really? Really? If I were playing in a bar, this would be a perfectly reasonable question, but in a pool hall, where I'm clearly a regular, that holds a monthly one-pocket tournament?

I answer "Yes. If you're looking for a game, you should ask for Billy." He says something more but I've returned to my drill. He walks away, but I suspect what is coming next.

There are at least 10 tables available. With a whole room of tables, my new friend, mosquito, decides to take the one closest to me.

I never look over at the table, unless I'm checking to see if I will interfere with his shot. The whole time though, I feel like he's trying to get my attention. Everything he does, his warm up strokes, his comments to himself, somehow I feel like he's performing for my benefit.

It turns out he had a pre-arranged game and eventually the other guy shows up. I start to think that maybe I was wrong, and I'm just full of myself. It also occurs to me that I'm hungry and my blood sugar is low, and I should probably give up on practice and get food. I play for a little longer and then start to pack up.

Immediately, mosquito turns around (in the middle of his rack):

Mosquito: "Where you going? Its too early to leave!"
Me: "I've got lots to do."
Mosquito: "No, no, its too early. What you going to do now?"
Me: "Stuff. I was lucky to find time to come down here in the first place."
Mosquito: "Well, that's my kind of woman who comes down on a Sunday to shoot pool..blah, blah"

What am I supposed to say? Gee, lucky me, cuz that's the reason I came down to shoot pool in the first place...I ignore the comment.

Mosquito: "So, do you know any bars in the City that are good for pool?"
Me: [I give him the name of a good pool bar that I never go to.]
Mosquito: "Do you go there?"
Me: "No." And I leave, unfortunately, with the sense that he was not discouraged.

In a world where there exist violent dictators, serial gropers, and American Idol, this is not the worst thing going on. When this kind of thing happens in a bar, so be it, or even the bus, which is a public place after all. Its annoying, but I can cope. But in the pool hall, as expected as it is, it just offends me. Pool is a sanctuary of sorts for me, and its a sanctuary that I pay for by the hour. Please let me practice in peace!

I'm fortunate, as this hasn't happened in a long time. There used to be one or two regulars who were a problem, but I haven't seen them in awhile, and even they got the idea that I wasn't interested in being chatted up and left me alone.

I guess its back to the corner table with the buckets for awhile...

Monday, April 11, 2011

The benefits of exhaustion

It was the end of a long day. I started playing in an event at noon and finished around a quarter to seven. Actually, that's a short day by pool standards, but I was disappointed with the results, and I think that drained a little more energy from me.

As I was driving home, I realized the timing was just right to hit a Saturday night tourney near by. The inner debate began:

Don't Go: "You've really had enough pool for today. Its a little crazy to play another tournament."

Go: "Yeah, but do you really don't want to go home a loser. This is your chance to win at least one match."

Don't Go:"Yeah, but you're pretty tired, how depressing would it be to lose in two tournaments in one day."

"Even if you lose, its good experience. Big tournaments often start at noon and go into the night. This will be good for your stamina. Besides, maybe you'll be warmed up."

"Go" wins out, not for any reason other than "I want to" and I pull up to a parking place just in time to get one warm up game before the tourney starts. The good news is I'm playing pretty well. The atmosphere is relaxed, and it feels much more like the games you play for fun AFTER the match is over. You know, as soon as the pressure is off, suddenly the game feels effortless.

I end up in the finals. I've already exceeded my expectations, and I am pretty tired, so I ask my opponent to split. He really wants to play it out, which was fine, too. I close my eyes for a minute and breathe. Its not that I'm feeling any pressure, but I can feel the tiredness starting to catch up with me, and just the edges of crankiness are starting to show. When I'm cranky, I don't stroke smoothly. Its like I take out my crankiness on the cue ball and punch at it and hit too hard. So, before that takes root, I just try to accept being tired and relax through it.

Towards the end of the first game I realize that my opponent has a few quirks. He has a really idiosyncratic way of lining up his shots. He walks up to the table and stands behind the shot with his feet tightly pressed together, slightly leaning over the table. Then keeping his head perfectly still take little tiny steps moving his body into position. The process was done with a distinct rhythm (think Charlie Chaplin or maybe Fred Flintstone bowling). It was oddly graceful if somewhat un-natural. Then, to add the final touch to this unique ritual, upon settling into his shot, he kind of flicked his tongue in and out in an effort to concentrate.

The truth is pool is filled with some strange birds. And really, if any of this helps him shoot better, then by all means he should keep doing it and never mind what anyone else thinks. The thing is, this stuff gets to me. There's something about this kind of un-natural ritualistic movement that distracts me. And as far as tongues and facial expressions, I've made it a point to try to ignore what people look like when they shoot, because sometimes its too funny and it becomes all I can think about. This leads to being annoyed at myself for being distracted over such a small thing.

Obviously, on this night, I was not successful at ignoring my opponent. I noticed all the oddities. And I noticed that they were annoying. But, I was not annoyed. It was as if in my relaxed tiredness I was somewhere very far away, where all those petty little annoyances couldn't get me. I was able to conserve what little energy I had left. I won the match in straight games and went home.

I remember reading about a pain management technique where patients view the part of their body that hurt through the wrong end of a telescope. Seeing their foot or hand as very small and far away, was a fairly successful way to manage the pain. (Or without a telescope, doing the same with visualization). My experience in this tournament makes me think that the small and distant imagery might be a useful technique for dealing with opponents who are irritating. (Without the telescope, of course, unless you're Earl Strickland).

Anyway, I hope it works. Tomorrow in league, we're up against a team that has a player known even by his friends as "Scrunch Face." He's the nicest guy, but dear lord, its like playing a muppet. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The flesh is willing, but the mind is weak

Back when I first started this blog, I considered myself a choker. I saw my pool game improving, but when it came down to finishing the important game, I couldn't do it. It wasn't surprising. I could look back in my life and think of so many experiences where I had the opportunity to live up to my potential, and didn't....moments where I grasped defeat from the jaws of victory or never got out of the gate. I would have never said this out loud, but deep down I KNEW I was a loser.

But pool was an opportunity to change that. I decided to change the perception that my ability to win or lose was somehow an inherent part of my character, and instead to approach it as a skill that could be learned. Its funny, now it seems so trite to say that, but at the time I really had to shift my thinking.

I got my hands on some great books (some that I've mentioned here), worked on some of their training programs to change perception and develop skills to handle pressure situations. I saw progress, but when I couldn't wait any longer, I bit the bullet, and shelled out more than I wanted to for the "Overcoming Contenderosis Self-Hypnosis" CD's. It was A LOT MORE than I was comfortable spending, especially since I thought I might be getting ripped off (Although an email from FastMikie helped me feel better about that. Nowadays you can buy the individual CD's separately at Bebob Publishing, but at the time you had to buy the entire set.) But I figured that having made the investment, I'd be more likely to put in the time to see if it worked.

Within a week, I began a 10-match winning streak. I felt invincible. But then the moment I lost, despite my efforts to contextualize it as normal and inevitable, it was like the bubble had been burst, and all my new found faith dispersed. I went on a losing streak.

But I stuck with the self-hypnosis and continued to seek out pressure situations. In retrospect, that initial success was just a placebo effect. I hadn't yet put the time in needed to build the "muscle memory" of my mind. After several months, I learned what it felt like to consciously relax deeply. I could listen to the beginning of the recording, or take a couple of deep breaths, and all the tension in my body would just melt. I could then skip ahead to listen to the very end and listen to "you're about to wake up. And when you do you will be fresh and alert, as if you have just slept." I'd open my eyes, and, sure enough, others would comment, "What happened? You look so refreshed."

It didn't work 100% of the time, but I could feel and see the difference in my performance from the studying, the self-hypnosis and getting experience in pressure situations. I started liking pressure. I felt that's when I played my best.

In the past year, I haven't spent much less time on the mental game. Partially, because I was happy with what I had learned, and partially because I was struggling with some bigger issues of motivation (fake it til you make it!). And, lets face it. Those self-hypnosis tapes start to get pretty boring after you've listened to them a zillion times. I figured I needed to take a break from it.

Now I'm finding motivation again and I'm not faking it. I care what happens in my matches. Of course, I still see myself as that same pressure player, but when I actually walk up to the table, it doesn't feel like it. I guess I thought that motivation was the real problem, and that once that barrier was removed, all my dormant mental skills would appear as soon as I really, really wanted them to. And now I'm realizing that is like thinking you will weigh fifteen pounds less just because you find the right dress.

I guess I will have to get back to work....

So, anyone have any mental game book recommendations? I'd like to re-read the ones on my shelf, but would like to pick up something new, too. I've got Pleasure of Small Motions, both James Loehr books on Mental Toughness, and Zen Golf by Joseph Parent (which is awesome...a great recommendation from Liz Ford).

And, I just want to say thanks to Caroming the Combination for his recent post on Thinking too much, and reminding me that the mental game takes practice.

[Also, if anyone is as crazy as me, and is interested in trying the Overcoming Contenderosis CD's I have some definite opinions about which ones are worth trying. Self-hypnosis isn't for everyone, but I was please with the results.]