: Tom Simpson
ASK THE MASTER: "My schedule has recently allowed me to participate in a lot more pool related activities. I shoot league twice a week (BCA rules, league scores on percentage of balls made. I’m between 90% and 93% in both leagues) and recently a small tourney circuit has started in town. This circuit is a double loss elimination race to 3 winners/2 one loss side with a cap of 16 players leading up to a 32 person Calcutta. The tourney starts at 6:00pm at a local pub with 3 tables. I have been lucky enough to draw byes the first two weeks, but I run into an issue with being stiff and lethargic after waiting 2 hours between warm ups and my first match. I’ve shot a lot of tourneys the last 5 years but none this small. There has always been an open table to play around on, or run drills. How do I stay fresh, loose, warmed up? Am I just thinking too much about waiting while I’m waiting? I can’t help but to compare it to baseball in college, you feel good after warm ups but after you cool down you get stiff and definitely don’t have the same “stuff”. Is there a way to keep my body and eyes thinking together for such a long wait?"
Like golf, pool is an individual performance art calling for the player to be fully present and ready to go whenever the time comes. It's not a reaction sport like tennis, where you can get warmed up pretty quickly through movement and the fact that you must really be fully engaged in order to react instantly. In pool, we have time to have doubts and to over-think our strategies and our shots. And that's just during a game, when maybe we're in the chair for a few minutes.
It's plenty hard waiting for your turn during a match, but what about waiting for your match? How can you maintain an appropriate level of readiness, physically and emotionally, and maybe for quite a while?
Let's start with what you don't want to do while you're waiting and don't have a table available. You don't want to worry about having to play cold. You tend to get the negative results you worry about. You don't want a big meal that you'll be digesting during your match. If you drink, monitor your alcohol intake. Most players perform better with one or two beers, and worse from there. You don't want emotional turmoil, so avoid heated discussions and players that annoy you. And you don't want to sit around getting stiff.
Most winners have found their own ways of dealing with waiting, and you will have to discover what works for you. I see two vital aspects to maintaining your readiness: movement & engagement.
If you sit slumping in a chair, waiting for your match, you are not moving. You are getting cold and stiff. What to do? First, if you're sitting, don't slump. Sit up straight. Impress those around you - including your future opponent - by showing you are awake and present in your body. If you're slumping, that gives everyone (you included) some clues about your physical and mental state. Losers slump. Realize you are an athlete, and feel athletic, whether you're sitting or standing or moving. Gotta stay in touch with your body.
If there is quite a bit of time before your match, don't stay in the chair the whole time. Pool is played with body and mind. The more you move, the more athletic you'll feel. If you don't move, you get stiff. So walk around, move your stroke arm, make bridges with your bridge hand. When your match time is approaching, do some stretching. Really. One or two minutes of stretching can wake your body up. All these actions will bolster your belief in your readiness. If you don't believe you are ready to play, your body won't respond well. Golfer Sam Snead said "If you have doubt in your mind, how will your muscles know what to do?" When match time comes, believe you are fully ready.
Time goes slowly when you're not engaged with anything, just hanging out. Your mental sharpness fades. If there is a lot of time, fill some of it by engaging with others in the room. Have some conversations, make some friends, find ways to be engaged but not in conflict. You don't want to be upset or to have simmering conflicts with anyone in the room. Don't create any distractions. Create friends and supporters.
When your match is called, be confident and eager to play. Forget the two hours of waiting, forget your doubts, melt your stiffness away. Let your excuses go. This is your time. Be fully there, feeling ready. How does your arm feel when you're in stroke? Feel that way, right now. Find your rhythm. How do your eyes work when you're in stroke? Work them that way. What is your emotional state when you are in stroke? Fake it until you make it.
Slow down. Your first couple of times at the table, consider taking an extra lap of the table as you make your plan. Focus. Feel your stick. See what you're seeing. This will help you to center yourself and become fully present in the game. "In stroke" is your choice. Choose it now, and put your best stroke on every shot.