Seems like the title is a a paradox, right? The pandemic, if anything, has affected our mental strength because there are so many unknowns, and stress, and impacts to our daily lives, etc.
And what about our pool game and mental toughness during these remarkable times?
I have written a couple of times this year that from my experience, if you have solid fundamentals, your game will not go down during the pandemic. So, stop sweating it or worrying if you can't play a lot of pool - your solid fundamentals will carry you!
While I wholeheartedly believe this deep in my soul, there is a part that I forgot.
I am being reminded because of the struggle, tough times, and nerves that Katniss and The Cueist (and maybe you if you are back to playing) are feeling lately. Katniss said after a little tournament she played in, "It's like I lost my kilter instinct" and The Cueist shared in his recent blog post,
I started to get nervous! Now, don't get me wrong, I get nervous all the time. But I haven't felt nerves BEFORE walking into the poolroom since the early part of my pool career. The only difference was that this time around, I was nervous about not playing up to my usual expectations, and making a fool of myself.
I wrote about this same 'anguish' back in late 2016 - basically that I had played in a little tournament and while my fundamentals were solid still, my mental toughness was NOT, because I had not been playing in league or tournaments; I had cut down on my competing.
Yes, fundamentals are key. But, the brain is a muscle as well.
Honestly, the only thing that keeps me from competing well after taking years off is not my stroke, but the pressure I feel. The more we put ourselves in pressure situations, we find ourselves becoming stronger and stronger in those situations. But, if you aren't competing, that part of our game, that big muscle, has not been worked on.
As I said two years ago,
"The bottom line is, I know myself and based on my past attempts the last few years at playing in tournaments, I already know that I am only mentally strong when I'm consistently competing. Once I stopped competing, that mental toughness definitely went away for me.
As a matter of fact, I noticed it was the first thing that went away for me. Even though the brain is a muscle, for me my muscle memory in my arms and in my pre stroke routine were still there, but not in my mental toughness."
So, what can you do about this?
What would I do?
Take advantage of what you can control: I would read about mental toughness!
If you can't play in high pressure situations, then improve your mental toughness the only other way if you can't compete: READ, LEARN.
Winning Ugly is a book I have HIGHLY recommended a lot in my blog. You cannot read that book and not improve in your mental toughness arena. I PROMISE. Therefore, pick up the book and read it when you can't compete. I also recommend Mental Toughness Training for Sports. But, the point is, find books or articles or watch video Ted Talks about mental toughness, how to gain the killer instinct, how to be mentally stronger, etc.
I have this good book within arms reach right now,:
(watch out, you will also learn about leadership as well when you read about the mental toughness topic)
There are a ton of books out there for many different sports, but I recommend those about golf or tennis most.
I admit nothing can take the place of playing regularly in the middle of true pressure situations, but you can at least still work on it in other ways. Give yourself an advantage over your competitors for when you do start to play pool again.
One side note. When I was in my late 20s, my mentor suggested I read Mental Toughness Training for Sports. I happened to be in a big slump and was playing terribly. So, I decided to take some time off and NOT play pool. And so I read that book during the time I wasn't hitting balls or competing. My mentor told me later, "I wanted to share that with you, but wasn't sure you would stop playing for a bit. Not playing pool while reading/learning about the mental game is a great plan."
Again, if you can't play pool, work on your game!
Someone has to win, right? Might as well be you because you put in the time to improve in so many different ways even when you can't play pool regularly!