The Pool Player’s Dance
When I am playing my best pool it is usually connected to when I can maintain a great rhythm while shooting. I almost feel like all of my movement around the table is a choreographed dance. The way I stroke, think, grab the bridge, walk, chalk, mark my score and even sit at my chair all seems to be in tune. At these times I feel graceful, in control and ultimately confident. When I play at this level my mind seems clear and focused. The best part is I naturally let mistakes I make go and focus on the positive.
The flip side is when I’m playing my worst and feel like everything is disconnected! I’m over thinking, taking too much time or too little time, having trouble getting comfortable, I can’t “feel” my stroke, and overall I feel disoriented with things I have done a thousand times. It’s moments like these when I tend to second guess myself and feel like no matter what I do I’m going to lose. Obviously I make it a goal to not play this way.
Finally the kicker is rhythm can change between one tournament and the next, one day and the next, and even one match to the next if we are not in control of it. You might have heard the term “rhythm player” or described yourself as one. In my opinion all pool players can develop a personal rhythm that can help them play more consistently. The key is you also have to practice your rhythm to make it a consistent part of your game. You can use mental tricks to tell your brain it’s time to play pool. Your mission is to become your own conductor!
1. Get comfortable in your environment.
The more at ease you feel in your environment the less energy you will need to waste on learning new stimulus when you are playing. First associate yourself with where the counter, restrooms, front door, the tournament or league director location and where the pool tables are located for if and when you need to go there. These things are especially important if you are playing in a pool hall for the first time. If this is your regular hang out, develop a routine you can do each time you get there. Like grabbing a drink, sitting with your team or by yourself, going to your match tables to get settled in & then using the restroom before you start. Your rhythm truly starts when you get to the place of competition.
2. Organize a routine when you get to the pool table.
When I get to the table to play pool I do the same things in the same order so my unconscious mind is triggered that it’s pool time. First I pick my chair & decide where my belongings will go (my purse, jacket, case, etc.). Then I find a spot for my QClaw, which will hold my cues, and I put all of my cues together. I pull out my QPOD with my Kamui chalk so it’s ready for my match. Then I locate where I will keep score (are the counting beads on the wall, above the table’s light, are there no beads and we need to use coins, is there a score sheet to fill out, etc). Then I grab a coin & get ready to flip for break or I practice my lag.
3. My match rhythm begins once I leave my chair.
Once it is my turn at the table I first address the cue ball and my object ball to identify possible shots. If I am playing rotation then this is easier because I know I will shoot the lowest numbered ball on the table first. If I am playing another game I decide what is the best first shot for the given lay out. Then I make one full walk around the table looking for problem balls or clusters and identifying what my possible pockets are for each ball. Once I’m back to the cue ball I make a plan for the entire rack. It doesn’t mean the plan won’t change and often it does, but now I’ve given my mind a mental guide of what my flow for this game with be. If I get out of line no biggie, I come up with a new plan.
The most important goal for maintaining rhythm is to make choices quickly, not to overthink it and not to worry if you just made a mistake. Depending on your skill level there will be a certain number of shots you know how to execute to choose from Try to keep moving around the table fluidly from one shot to the next and only stop to make a new plan if you get out of line or run into a problem. Even then make a decision quickly, commit to it and execute. Over thinking will usually only make matters worse and probably won’t change the outcome. At the same time try not to rush through the shot if it seems a little tricky, that is when you might jump the gun and go with your first instinct because you are uncomfortable to be in a tough situation.
4. A solid pre-shot routine is the foundation to a consistent rhythm.
Over the last year I have made it a priority to create, practice and execute a rock solid pre-shot routine. It has truly taken my game and consistency to another level. First I evaluate the table and commit to a shot 100%. Then I chalk up, I square myself to the shot, I step to the left with left leg so my leg, cue, and hip are all in line with the shot (right leg for right handed players), then I step into the shot with my right leg and lock my back leg & shoulder as I move my body down into the line of site. This is a very advanced level of pre-shot routine and it is my style. An important aspect of a pre-shot routine is that no matter how difficult or easy the shot may be, you still address it the same way. Even if it’s a basic routine at first, like make a decision, chalk up, step into the shot somehow and shoot the ball, it is something that will make you more consistent. Most importantly practice your pre-shot routine as much as you can when you are practicing on your own. The more natural it is when you play other people the more effective it will be.
If you just feel "off", here are some tips to help you get back into rhythm:
1. Take a break and come back to your match with an intention to play with rhythm.
2. Play some of your favorite music on the jukebox.
3. Put on your headphones if you are allowed & if you feel comfortable playing with them on.
4. Go outside and get some fresh air.
5. Do some jump jacks and get more oxygen to your brain.
6. Focus on your pre-shot routine.
7. Have a cocktail if you drink to help loosen you up.
8. Remember to have fun and that pool is just a game!