: Liz Ford
Your Own Toughest Opponent - Strategies for Handicapped Play
Nothing brings out a pool player's true colors more than a handicapped league or tournament. In a system where the perfect outcome is to win 50% of the time – everyone gets ample chances to work on their attitude and sportsmanship. Among experienced players, hot heads and egomaniacs will complain and suffer at their losses without taking any responsibility for their play, while gracious sportsman find a way to enjoy themselves and boost everyone else's game in the process. The disrespectful and unmotivated, among newer players, will talk about whom they beat – forgetting to mention the handicap - while those who are hungry to learn will be busy absorbing new information and hoping to play well against players they look up to. Watching a player navigate a handicapped game reminds us of something that's at the root of competition: no matter who your opponent is, you can't get away from yourself.
Give yourself a fighting chance with the following tips:
1. Remember why you're there and why handicaps exist
The players who get most out of playing pool are the ones who show up for fun and competition, in that order. Handicaps aren't meant to “bring good players down to size”, they are there to help grow our community and create an enjoyable atmosphere that results in increased participation. Bigger leagues and tournaments lead to larger prize funds and more importantly more cool people for you to be friends with!
2. Be gracious, win or lose
With a handicapping system, you're playing against your own personal best. Have a better day, be more focused, dig deeper than your opponent and you're likely to come out on top. Some days, you may lose to people who don't play as well as you do. If you let a match slip to a less experienced player, chances are it means a heck of a lot more to them than it does to you. Telling them how much they've improved makes everyone feel better than sucking on a bunch of sour grapes. If you're the newer player who takes a match off a ringer, make sure to let them know how much you respect their more advanced game.
3. Sharpen your mental game
Handicapped events are great for learning these two basics of mental toughness: there are no easy opponents and no unwinnable matches. The only way to win in a handicapped system is to be trying your best at all times. There's no room for showboating or taking any shot for granted. There also isn't room for giving up on yourself against a tough opponent.
4. Be yourself
You will only play your best if you're playing your own game. Fear of losing or excitement at a chance to win can lead you to try to play more like your opponent and serve to undermine your efforts. If you're the better player with your back against the wall, stay calm and understand that you have experience on your side. If you are the lesser player, know that you have nothing to lose because you are new to the learning process and still need to spend a lot of time observing the results of the things you try.
5. Learn from your opponent
Because handicapped play throws together players of different levels, it's a great opportunity to give and receive help with your game. It's true that a newer player has more to learn from an experienced player with regards to the nuts and bolts of the game. However, since both players feel the pressure to have to play their best in order to win, both can learn a lot about how to bring out the best in themselves.