Tom Simpson © February 2002 – All Rights Reserved – PoolClinics.com
I like to tell players that 15 minutes of serious, focused, solid practice is worth 3 hours of play. I really believe this. Hardly anyone really practices. Yeah, they bang balls around. OK, they shoot their favorite shots. Sure, they set up their favorite drill from time to time. And that shot that cost them the match the other day – maybe they shoot it two or three times. I don’t consider this practice.
Practice is working on the things you suck at. Improve the worst things about your game, and you raise your whole game. We all have them. We probably even know what they are, but it’s hard to admit we’re afraid of rail shots or our speed control is bad or there is a certain angle we see wrong every time. And it’s even harder to hunker down and work on these things in the poolroom because 1) it’s hard work and 2) we don’t want to look bad in front of all those players and railbirds we’re so certain are watching our every move. We are self-conscious. We are making an impression on everyone that’s watching, and we usually (hustling aside) want that impression to be that we are in the zone. We want to intimidate our future opponents.
I’ve described some good practice techniques in other columns, and I’ll certainly be presenting more in future columns. There are many worthwhile practices. But while I like to promote real practice, I know you’re going to get tired of it pretty quickly and want to get busy playing or sitting around.
So, let’s shift to looking at what you can do to learn and improve while you’re playing or sitting around in the poolroom. When you play, you spend some time in the chair, waiting your for next inning. A lot of players spend their time in the chair cursing themselves for their last miss, hoping their opponent will miss, looking around the room, trying to look disinterested, or slouching and sulking. This is unproductive, and may even be counter-productive.
Instead, how about seeing your chair time as practice time? Continue to study the layout just as if you were still at the table. What sequence of shots would you shoot? Why? What’s the best way to play that safety? How could you get back in line? How could you win from here? Stay fully focused and involved. No slouching. No feeling sorry for yourself.
Part of the challenge of pool is warming up – getting your body and your attention activated and involved, fully and appropriately. I believe remaining engaged in the action while you’re in the chair helps you get warmed up and helps you get focused and stay focused. In pool, it’s absolutely vital to come out of the chair warm, focused, and ready. This is a skill – and a choice. Choose to come out of the chair fully present, fully engaged.
We’re not always in a match or a practice session. Sometimes we’re just sitting around, casually watching others play. I suggest you use this same approach during casual watching. You can learn a great deal by watching the best players around. Watch their shot selection, their position play, their speed, their demeanor, their form. Why are they doing things the way they’re doing them? Actively think about what you see. What can you apply in your own game? What qualities could you incorporate?
You can even learn by watching lesser players. Their mistakes will be more obvious. Why and how would you have done it differently? Do they have some of the same weaknesses as you? How could they improve?
You get the idea. There is no end to what you can learn by watching. But there is a big difference between watching a thousand shots with your brain engaged and watching a thousand shots in a daze. This game calls for full concentration. Choose to focus and choose to learn. Take advantage of all that play going on around you – observe closely, and choose to get better.