Whether you're a tournament player or a league player, inevitably you will have matches that have a lot riding on them. Matches that get you into the cash rounds, matches that can win your team a trip to Vegas, or matches that can win titles all require careful preparation. I've compiled a list of 5 of the most important things you can do to make these matches go smoothly.
1. Warm up physically. Remember the article I wrote on pre-shot routine? Well, this is what you should work on while you're warming up. Set up simple layouts and run the balls using all of the steps in your routine until it feels comfortable. Once you are executing all of the steps in your pre-shot, and consistently zeroing in on the smallest possible target on the object ball, you are officially warmed up.
2. Warm up mentally. This is a far more important step than the physical warm up. Go to a quiet spot when you're done hitting balls, close your eyes and picture yourself playing great pool. Try to see, feel and smell what it feels like. Assess your expectations in the match and accept that all you can do is play your best, and that some days that's not enough. Make peace with the fact that you may lose.
3. Check your gear. Wipe down your shaft and check your tip. Now is the time to scuff your tip and apply a fresh layer of chalk. Miscues are like root canals. They are entirely preventable with proper care. Also, clean the cue ball. Skids are an unfortunate part of the game, but some of them can be eliminated by cleaning the rock.
4. Check the rack. I don't care if you're playing your mom, if it's an important match, check every rack. If you don't know what you’re checking for, then I suggest you pick up a copy of Joe Tucker's Racking Secrets. Your opponent may feel bad when you inspect the rack, but I can guarantee he won't feel bad running out when you fail to make a ball.
5. Be a good sport. Win or lose, never refuse to shake your opponent’s hand, or say things that diminish his victory. If you can't open your mouth without sticking your foot in it, just shake hands and calmly pack your gear. It's always classy to wish your opponent well in the next round, but it’s okay to be quiet if you can't do that without throwing up a little bit in your mouth.
One of the best things about doing these five steps is that you can walk away from the match knowing you did the best you could. Sometimes you will perform poorly anyway, but that's just a bump in the road toward becoming a great pool player.