A great many players who play in friendly practice, leagues or at the local bar on Friday night, can be humbled in a hurry when it comes time to play in their first big tournament. Playing successfully in tournaments requires physical skills, which are gained from practice on the table, but there's another skill-set, one of self-management, that can highly enhance both how you play and how much you enjoy yourself. The following tips represent a well-rounded approach for improving your tournament experience.
1. You can't cram for your exam.
The time for learning and sharpening your game is in the weeks and months before a tournament, not the days or hours. Some players even take a short break before an event to ensure that they feel fresh and relaxed.
2. Being nervous doesn't mean that something's wrong.
Almost all competitors, both new and experienced, feel nerves. You can take the edge off with breathing and relaxation, but nerves aren't something you can, or want to, make disappear all-together. Having some nerves gives you energy and focus to get the job done – without them you'd feel flat and unmotivated.
3. Know what you can control and what you can't.
You can only control your preparation for an event, your choices during play and your attitude, so these are the only productive places to direct energy. Time spent worrying or fixating on your opponent's luck, the condition of the tables or other things you can't control will only frustrate and exhaust you.
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4. Change your perspective.
The way you view competition can greatly influence your performance. If you see competition as a threat (“I need to play well, or else...!”), you will feel threatened. Change competition into an opportunity (“I get the chance to shine today, and even if things don't go my way, I'll learn something.”)
5. A healthy pool player is a happy pool player.
Lack of food, sleep or water makes you cranky in everyday life, even without the added stress of a tournament. Do yourself a favor and take care of the basics.
6. Mood swings make you tired.
Sweating every single up and down during a tournament will rob you of the energy you'll need to win the whole thing. Take the long range view: winning a tournament takes thousands of shots, some will go in and some won't.
Deep abdominal breathing is the competitor's best friend. Not only does it lower heart rate, blood pressure and levels of stress hormones, it gives you something to focus on consciously during play allowing your brain and body to coordinate the way they do best: unconsciously.
8. Play your own game.
You are you and not anyone else. Don't change things radically to try to keep pace with an opponent who is more aggressive, defensive, or plays at a different speed than you. You'll get the best results by being yourself and making your opponent contend with YOUR game.
9. One ball at a time, one game at a time, one match at a time.
It's better to give all your energy to your current situation than to spend time worrying about the past or the future. The above mantra will serve you well regardless of the score or whom you are playing.
10. Play in a lot of tournaments.
Tournaments are a different kind of animal, in order to get good in playing in them you'll need practice. The best way to practice is (you guessed it!) to play in as many tournaments as possible.
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