One of the most frustrating things in playing any sport is the inability to play the game at a consistent level. What is it that makes the game so easy one day, and so seemingly impossible the next?
Over the years I've struggled with playing champion speed in one match, to rank amateur in the next. Wild swings would occur from game-to-game in a set, and sometimes even from ball-to-ball. I had always noticed that top players, while they don't always play perfect, could always play some semblance of their game, and could fight hard enough to bring out their highest level at any point. More importantly, they never played down to their competition, and almost always beat the players they are supposed to beat.
After 13 years of playing the game, I think I've finally discovered 4 things that can dramatically improve consistency, and although you may still struggle with the discipline that it takes to implement them, it should put you on the road to more consistent play.
1. Knowledge: Whatever game you are playing, it is important to educate yourself in all areas of the game. Seek out a mentor, or just watch videos. Choose a player whose style you admire (my personal favorite is Ralf Souquet) and study how they play the game. The more you know, the less "bad luck" there is.
Pre-shot routine with ball in hand
2. Pre-shot Routine: One of the biggest keys to consistency is to try to put the same amount of effort into every shot. A good pre-shot routine may consists of the following: visualization of the shot while you are standing, stepping into the line of the shot and delivering a long smooth stroke. Whatever your routine is, you need to do it on a 90 degree table length shot, and also on a ball that's hanging in the pocket.
Serious Focus at the Table
3. Focus: If there is any distraction at all, you must get up. Whether someone else is talking or there is some distracting dialogue going on inside your own head, you need to eliminate it and only focus on what you want to happen.
4. Enjoy Every Second: Think about the times you've played your best pool, and I guarantee you were enjoying every second of it. No negative thoughts enter your head, you don't think about the score and you probably don't even care whether you win or lose because you're having so much fun. When you are playing your best, all these things just happen. When you're not, you have to force yourself to feel this way.
This is, perhaps, the hardest of the 4 things to do, but it also may be the most important. Think of something that makes you happy; a song, your kids, your dog, whatever. If you are enjoying the game, that's when great things happen!