Even on a good day pool can be rough, but on bad days it can be downright miserable. Along with periods of good play there will also be days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months where the playing the game well just seems out of reach. Everything that can go wrong certainly does, and even when you think you do something right, like play safe, your opponent gets up and five rail kick caroms the frozen nine down the long rail, past the side pocket, and into the corner. Oh yeah, it's like that. You're in a slump.As I write this I am currently in the throes of this very malady. I've tried seemingly everything to play my way out of it, and after some serious practice hours and lots of soul searching the answer came to me as I lay in a puddle of sweat on my yoga mat after an hour and a half of Bikram. It's nothing in my mechanics. It cannot be fixed by more practice. I need a break. I am emotionally worn out from playing too much pool. I am going to take a week off and do all the things that I don't have time for when I put 30 hours a week in at the table. I believe this will cure my ailment. Why? Let me explain.

I believe there are two kinds of slumps. The first one is a physical breakdown. The symptoms are that you are intensely into playing pool, but can't seem to play well. You want to play, but when you do everything goes wrong. You don't have a problem with your focus, but things just don't feel right. These are all signs that something is wrong with your alignment or mechanics. These are problems that need to be worked through in the poolroom. The best advice I can give is to spend many hours alone at the table working on long straight shots and other shots the require a precise hit on the cue ball. Playing other people will only frustrate you further. Save that for when you're fully cured*.

The second type of slump is an emotional breakdown. The symptoms are a general feeling of exhaustion when you enter the poolroom, and an immediate burst of energy when you leave. An unwillingness or inability to perform all the tasks it takes to play great pool. A lack of focus or intensity. A feeling that you don't really care if you win or lose, just that you want to be home eating Lucky Charms and watching reruns of South Park. If you feel this you have officially reached pool burnout. A few days to a few weeks of rest and you should re enter the pool room with a fresh set of eyes, a new perspective and a desire to play. At least that's what I'm hoping.

In the end, slumps are a necessary part of improving. I've never waded through a slump and not emerged from the swamp a better player. I don't know whether a slump is preparation for getting to the next level or if they exist to break the spirits of people who won't make it as champions. What I do know is that champions aren't the ones who never get knocked down, they're just the ones who keep getting back up. And in the words of Brian from Vanilla Sky (I don't care what you say, that movie ROCKED),"The sweet is never as sweet without the sour."

*Slumps are not really curable. It is a recurrent condition with periods of relapse and remission that can be managed with proper care. Sorta like herpes.