Monday, November 15, 2010

Tune Yourself!

It’s the 15th once again and time for this month’s installment of PoolSynergy! Since this is the 13th edition, and the one year anniversary of this Blog-Carnival, the originator of PS, Mr. John Biddle is hosting. The topic this month, you ask? Three tips that will help your pool game. Bloggers will be offering up three tips on various subjects in, around, and totally outside the pool hall that could help you improve your game.

I’m going to stay out of the pool hall for this one myself, for a couple of reasons. First, I’m really not in a place where I can shoot pool. Secondly, the topic that I chose fits in with what I’ve been doing with myself recently, (see my previous post here)…and that is fitness and general well being. Shall we?

The Self-Destruction!

How many times have you gone to a tournament, and have found yourself doing quite well. You start the day out strong. Your concentration is sharp, you are getting distracted very little, and the pockets look humongous. There isn’t a shot at the table that you are afraid of. Then it happens. You have THAT match. The match where you begin to see the tight knot of confidence start to unravel. It might start out as just missing position on a key ball, making the rest of the run-out difficult. It could be jarring an easy ball that you took for granted. Missing a safety by the nearest of margins…any one of those things. You get through the set, but struggle. The next set is even worse. Your play is getting sloppy. You are having trouble maintaining your concentration, outside events are distracting you more and more easily. You’re weary, exhausted, and just can’t bear down anymore. You do a quick two step from there out of the tournament, and wonder, “What the heck just happened?! I was playing GREAT earlier! Now I’m lucky if I make a legal hit with ball in hand!”

Answer: You ran out of gas!

We’ve all been there. Even the best have been there. It is a part of the game that is often overlooked, but shouldn’t be. The ability to maintain your concentration over long periods of time is a vital aspect of pool and billiards. It can be a mentally draining game,(yes even 9-ball can be mentally draining!), when done over the course of a day. Just think about this: people who work in office buildings every day, pounding out reports, spreadsheets, writing articles, meeting deadlines…they aren’t doing anything physically strenuous. But when they get home, they are absolutely exhausted! The mental and emotional toll is immense! Pool and billiards is the same. You are constantly having to assess, execute in an extremely precise manner, re-assess, get down and do it all over again. And you can’t allow any distractions to interrupt this process. Over the course of a day, that is a extremely mentally and emotionally draining. It’s pretty daunting when you think about it. But in reality, there are many things that you can do to condition yourself to maintain that focus and confidence over longer periods of time…long practice hours being a favorite of many. But there are some very basic things that you can do outside of the pool hall that will be just as, if not more, beneficial.

TIP UNO! Get out and do something active at least once a day!

Have you ever had a day where you stayed in, done the couch potato routine with intentions of getting something done later, but when later came you didn’t have the will or energy?

Yeah, me too. Pool players are a notoriously slothful and inactive bunch of people outside of the pool hall. There’s very little physical activity for many of us outside of the hallowed walls of our favorite local establishment. This, as far as your pool game is concerned, is deadly. Inactivity can lead to many things…lack of energy and concentration being a couple of them. Getting out and being active can help counteract that! It does not have to be working out. It could be something as easy as going out to play with the dog, your kids, or going and walking around downtown for 30 minutes or more. Walk to the pool hall if it’s close enough. Something active…ride a bike, walk around the block, go exploring a new trail, go swimming…even something like physical labor. Something to get your heart rate up for more than 30 minutes each day is what I’m talking about. Now, I realize that during a 6 hour playing session, you walk a good few miles around the pool table. That doesn’t count. Get a little bit of a sweat going…anything that you can do to distress your body just a little beyond what it would do in a normal day is what you are shooting for. This does a couple of things inside the body. It releases these things called “endorphins”.

Now, I’m no scientist, or doctor…but I do workout and know what their effects on me are. I know that on days when I work out, I’m more alert. I’m able to function at work better. I can concentrate on things more easily, and do not get frustrated quickly.

I’m not saying get out and become a tri-athlete and trim down to 4% body fat. But getting out and doing something active will get the body alert and wondering what’s coming next. Slowly over time, increase your activity level by 15 minutes. The more you distress your body, the more alert you will be. Another thing that you will notice is that your outlook will skew just a little…you’ll be a little more positive about things. That’s those wonderful endorphins again. For those of you who are already into fitness, or running, you know all about them. That runner’s high you get when you hit about the 30 minute mark? Yeah, that’s those endorphins kicking in. It’s a little euphoric when you feel it the first time…and even slightly addictive. While that feeling might go away within 30 minutes to an hour after you finish, the after effects of the endorphins stay with you throughout the day.

Pretty soon, your body begins to produce these endorphins on their own…and you, as a pool player, get the benefit of better concentration and a more positive attitude at the table because of it. You’re in better shape on and off the table! WINNER! WINNER! CHICKEN DINNER!

TIP DOS! Rock a bye baby, on the tree top….

Sleep! Particularly R.E.M. sleep…(no not the 80/90’s band headed by Michael Stipe). This is another crucial component to being able to maintain your concentration and keep irritability to a minimum. R.E.M., or Rapid Eye Movement sleep is where your body repairs itself. In a normal 8 hour sleeping session, a person will go through 4-5 cycles of R.E.M. sleep making up about 20-25% of a night's sleep...about 90-120 minutes. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The more cycles of R.E.M. that you go through in a sleeping cycle, the longer each one gets. Your most vividly recalled dreams occur during R.E.M. sleep. It's also been hypothesized that R.E.M. sleep will help you improve your creativity...always a plus for us pool players! (Efren must have lived in R.E.M. sleep for a while)

There are more benefits to sleep than just improving your concentration, stamina, and energy levels. Your body is able to fight infections off easier when it’s fully rested. (nothing will side-track a game like having a sinus or ear infection!) You’ll heal wounds and injuries faster when you get proper sleep. Heck, when you’re in a dream state of sleep, you might even dream of how to improve your pool game! (not sure though if pool would be some reference to another topic entirely though when dreams are involved…but I digress….)

Combined with the first tip of keeping active outside of the pool hall, getting proper sleep will give your body the best possible conditions for maintaining focus over longer durations of time. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to wake up before going to the pool hall. The average person does not fully wake up from a proper sleep for a good 1-2 hours. Good sleep will not do you any good if you walk into your match having just woken up 45 minutes prior and you aren't fully awake yet!

TIP TRES! Embrace your OCD…kind of.

Yes that does bother me...a bit. I’m under the firm belief that if you are addicted to this game, you are at least a little OCD. You have to be…there are too many little things that you have to pay attention to NOT to be. You're most likely either OCD or a savant. I know I fall into the former, because of what I do with my skittles when I open a bag:


All the colors are together, in a row, (piles are fine too, as long as the colors are separated), in a nice orderly fashion. I go one step don't need to know quite that much, so I'll stop here as I don't want to weird anyone out too much.

This....this is pleasing to me.

Like Skittles say: "A rainbow of flavor!"

I mean, even rainbows have order. Colors stay where they're supposed to. I mean, they made this guy cry over a TRIPLE RAINBOW!

On the other hand, you have people that like:


There is no semblance of order here. It's just a mishmash of vibrant color. Completely random. It's's CHAOS. And it makes my head hurt to look at it. And I kinda twitch when I see crap like this too.

Like now.


Good lord...why would they not put more purple and yellow in this picture to even it out? Maybe a little more red too, please? Mishmashed colors...uneven...can't take it anymore...



Time to move onward...

Personally, I know that in order to prepare myself mentally to play my best, I need to follow a routine beforehand. It starts as soon as I wake up. I’m out for a quick jog, or pushing weights around, doing some push-ups or sit-ups, or riding the bike. Cool off…then shower. Then brush. Floss, top first from left to right, then bottom from right to left. Then it’s Listerine time. Shave next…then deoderant. Get dressed, bottom to top. (except for socks and shoes, they’re last in the getting dressed section). Then the wrist watch, necklace, and bracelet go on. Now the hair is next. Cologne…and I’m done. I do this in that order every time before a tournament. At this point, it’s mindless. I don’t need to think about it. That way, I can concentrate on the task at hand and prepare myself for it. When I’m done, I’ve already developed a game plan for the tournament as far as how I’m going to walk into each match with a positive frame of mind.

I’ll stop and pick up something to eat on the way for breakfast, and then it’s off to play. I try and make sure I eat at least 1 ½ hours before I get there so I don’t have the weight of food in my stomach. A good friend of mine said that if you’re playing on a full stomach, you’ll never be able to fully concentrate on the shot because your body is concentrating on digesting the food as well. It’s worked for me thus far….as has this routine. I’m not saying you should go out and copy this. Develop your own. Something that works for you, that you can repeat very easily. For myself, it gives me a boost of confidence to know that I’ve prepared mentally for the upcoming tournament. Now, all I have to do is go and execute properly. It sounds a little cliche, but you should be thinking that you can do whatever you set out to do on the table when you're on your way to the tournament. Because you're should be saying:

So those are my three tips. The last one is more a glimpse into what works for me. But the theory is sound. Above all else, if you take just one thing away from this, this should be it right here: being physically ready to play will give you a properly tuned engine, (your body and mind), to power you, the pool player, throughout the tournament. I wouldn’t put a car into the Daytona, (or Indy), 500 that hasn’t been fully tuned up to give it's peak performance. Why would you do the same at a pool tournament, practice session or match up, with your body?

1 comment:

  1. I really like this, and heartily agree with everything in it, except that OCD part. :-)
    Seriously, I think a set routine at the table is a MUST, and hadn't thought to extend it to the hours before, but you make a good case. Thanks.