The Road To Great Pool
If there's one thing you can expect a lot of when you merge onto the highway of pool it's making mistakes. Every time you start a new shot there are hundreds of ways to make errors. Sometimes it's aim, sometimes it's execution. Many times it's a bad decision or mental error. If you're a perfectionist, as I am, you may find yourself approaching the game with equal parts love and loathing. You love it because it constantly challenges you, and you loathe it for the same reason. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that no one, not even the very best, ever fully control the game, and even the best struggle with making mistakes. How a player handles these mistakes is the key to whether they navigate the road on cruise control, or whether they hit every rest stop along the way.
Pros always analyze and categorize their mistakes. Was it a mechanical error or an error in aim? Was the chosen shot too difficult or should a safe have been played. There are hundreds of variables that go into a perfectly executed shot, and in order to refine and improve these variables you have to be keenly aware of everything you do at the table. If you can't figure it out yourself, have someone with trained eyes watch or video you. You will be amazed by the things that you do when no one is paying attention.
Pros keep a list of these mistakes and bring them into the practice room. Sometimes this list is mental notation, but I know a fair number of players that keep a journal or write it in their phone. If you don't know what to work on, or you just hit the balls around, your practice isn't going to give you much value.
Pros don't hold on to their mistakes while competing. Average players make a mistake in competition and you can see them get physically flustered. They may start missing easy balls because they can't get past that missed 8 ball. Eventually you learn that self flagellation during competition isn't necessary. Once you determine what the mistake was, you categorize it, add it to the practice list and move on.
In the years (15 to be exact) that I've been playing pool I've gotten to know many players. Have you ever seen one of those people who has been playing for 20 years and hasn't gotten any better? I see them every day. For the most part, I think they just enjoy the game and are happy to play, but I know more than a few who want to improve and don't know how. The first step for significant improvement is to follow what I've outlined here. There is no easy road to improvement, but the trip can be significantly shortened by awareness and a whole lot of hard work.