Mastery of the Mental Game of Pool

……………  by ric justiss

Pool is a game of nerves where the slightest
notion of unworthiness can knock you right off
your game. Like some other things if life, pool is
mostly mental.

Some people look at a pool table and see a pool
table, with balls arranged upon it in some pattern; they
hold the cue and feel a straight stick, which can be
controlled and aimed. Others look at a pool table and
see a large battlefield, with offense and defense, attacks
and retreats, with landmines and casualties and a battlefield filled with heroics and
valor. They remember and savor the sweet smell of victory, and try as they will to
forget, remember the near misses and heartbreaking losses.

The problem with being a pool player, is that an inordinate amount of time is spent
missing shots. Miss after miss after miss, and loss after loss after loss, can easily lead
to damage one’s self image. You begin to think you are not good enough or that you
don’t have what it takes…that you don’t belong. You become conscious of people
watching you and judging you.

This insecurity cannot be just ignored or set aside leaving a void. It has to be replaced
by something else. I suggest contempt. It is no good to approach the table feeling
unworthy, thinking thoughts like “I’ll never get this,” or “watch me screw this up.” It is
all right to say this sort of thing as it may serve to soften up your opponent and get
into his head a bit, but you must never think this way to yourself. But as you approach
the table, no matter how difficult the shot, say “Hmph.” This should be thought with
some force, with narrowed eyes, drawn lips and jaw set. You first must believe, “I can
do this.” “I belong here just as much as any of you people and there is no reason I
cannot sink this shot because there is nothing wrong with me and I am prepared to gut
the eyes of anyone who thinks otherwise.” This simple assertion enables the
development of actual skills and puts you on the road to true confidence. Confidence
leads to victory. At least, if nothing else, it is sure to keep your opponent vaguely
frightened of you.

And speaking of opponents, a sense of territory is important. The opponent should be
regarded only as an impostor. Scrutinizing your opponent in a narrow and judgmental
fashion such as being critical of his shoes, estimating his manhood, critical of his
bathroom habits or his upbringing or manner of speech, you can give him some sorry
little nickname, like “big ole loser.” It is ok to drag their sorry characters over the coals
in your head, but care must be taken to not over-do it, because you must maintain an
almost affable enjoyment of social intercourse, so that your opponent feels in some
way that your character is larger than his, more generous and more exacting.

In the end, being good enough isn’t good enough. It takes mental toughness. It’s
about character. It’s about heart.

Finally, at some point, it will happen. You will internalize your intellectual
understanding of the game. Your hours of practice will seep into your subconscious,
and into the muscles and nerves of your body itself. When this transition occurs, no
more conscious effort goes into the positioning and movement of the body. At this
point of unconscious knowledge, pool becomes self-expression; it becomes art.

In addition, to me at least, there are outside influences that make my game better.
Some pool tables are better than others and some pool halls are better than others.
You will need to pay attention to certain aesthetic considerations in choosing an
environment conductive to mastery of the mental game of pool.

I like green cloth tables, not red. Green is calming and beautiful, red is ridiculous and
for the life of me cannot think why anyone would want one. You need good lights over
the table. Music is crucial. It is good to be in a place where the music doesn’t annoy
you. I lost a championship game one league night due to being in an unfamiliar,
overcrowded bar with loud annoying music. Food is important. After trial and error, the
only acceptable foods are nachos and onion rings. And playing pool in a non-smoking
environment is downright impossible. It's the perfect occasion for the occasional
cigar.  And, for pool, you need a drink that suits the pace of the game. Not something
that will get you drunk, but something you can sip on for the entire evening and still be
ok. If pressed, I will have to admit that not everyone needs booze and cigars to play
well. Many masters have become so, without both. But for the rest of us, it is as
important as the fundamentals. There is no avoiding it. Pool, a drink and a good cigar
are inseparable and should be treated as such. Pool is a sport that places great
physical demands on the body, and if the drink and cigar are starting to be too much, it
is probably time to just give up the game. :)

It is a great game. I love it. Some nights you get in the groove. You are unconscious.
And it just doesn’t get any better. The challenge…the strategy….the chess game…the
geometry…the physics…the luck….the psychological battle of wills….the war. And
finally the victory. So sweet. It happens that way, but first you must believe.


Dec. 18, 2006
Just My Opinion