Saturday, October 24, 2020

Mental Toughness During a Pandemic

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!

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Cueist Finding His Stroke

Latest thoughts from The Cueist:

So I've been slowly going out to play a little more pool. My first time back to hitting my first ball was about a week after my previous post. My Wednesday league had our league banquet, which was mostly to give the payouts for a very short season. But nonetheless, I went out there mostly to get out of the house. Usually, they have a small tourney to pass the time, but I had no intention of playing it IF they had one. I wanted to hit a few balls and find my stroke, which had been on an extended hiatus. 

So, one of the shots that I spent a ton of time practicing was a stroke shot with inside English. I set the object ball on the spot, and the cue ball on the head spot. I also set up a ball on the short rail closest to the head spot, so you have to avoid the scratch, and go 3 rails for shape on the next ball. I get down on the shot, and my eyes are having a hard time adjusting to the sight picture. I guess it had been THAT long. LOL. I do a few warm up strokes and my arm feels so weird doing the cueing motion again. So I stand up, step into the shot and concentrate on the shot. Surprisingly, I fired it in center pocket, avoid the scratch, and float the 3 rails for shape. One of my teammates saw and said, "Wow, haven't been playing my a$$!" I laughed and set up the shot again. Stepped into it, and pocket again. Now, this is one of my most practiced shots so I figured I made the shots due to the fact that it was so comfortable to me. So, I decided to break a rack of 9-ball and try to beat the ghost for a few games.

Now, this is where the wheels promptly fell off. LOL. 

I took ball in hand and got perfect shape on the 2. Now, the 2 is about center table, and I had to force follow with inside for shape on the 3. So I get down on the shot and I missed the shot by a diamond. I set it up again, and same result. Now, I set it up one more time and adjusted.....missed the shot by 1/3 diamond this time - so I was improving, LOL. So I decided to scratch that and go back to the basics and do a drill my old coach Gordy used to have me do. 

While I didn't have the actual track, I just set up the balls accordingly and practiced on mechanics. It took me about 30 mins, but I managed to complete the drill after lots of frustrations. But as you (Melinda) mentioned in a previous blog, if you have a good stroke then we'd have nothing to worry about. But, I sure was worried there!!

Now, since then I've gone to practice about once a week and have been sparring with a guy that's about 2 points (Fargo) lower than I am. He's got access to a table at home, but hasn't really competed either aside from playing the ghost at home. So the first night, we played 3 races to 7. I lost 7/1, won 7/3, then won hill/hill. The following week, the same exact result. The 3rd session, I lose hill/hill, win 7/1, win 7/2. 

The practice was leading up to a goal in mind, and that was me playing in a tournament coming up. Last week, I made it a point to go play 2 times that week, and I felt like I was about 90% compared to my old self. But, while my muscle memory may have been there, along with my stroke, my mental game wasn't near at 90% come to find out. 

So, the morning of the tourney, I woke up early and made it a point to stop and get breakfast at God's chicken house (Chick-fil-A). The poolroom is about 50 mins away so I got there with plenty of time to hit balls and finish my breakfast in the car. While finishing breakfast, the weirdest thing happened....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 mean, last year I worked so hard on my game and was finally getting the results that I wanted in my league. So, I felt like I somewhat had to keep getting some decent results.

After the draw was complete, I realized I had to play a guy who is a low 600s Fargo on paper, but I'm the favorite. But he's been going out of state to play during the pandemic, while I've been doing home projects and woodworking projects. LOL. So it was a tough first match. 

In my mind, I thought "oh great, there's going to be an audience for this attempt of mine to play pool again." Aside from that, the nerves started to creep up again immediately and I felt my grip hand quiver a bit during my PreShot Routine. So, I had to reset multiple times on each shot to try and shake that feeling.

Naturally, because of the extra concentration, I found myself playing pretty good actually. I gave away 2 games but overall, played well and made it to the hill first. I was up 7/2 and was firmly in the driver's seat. I was finally able to close it out with a score of 7/4. 

My next match was against a good friend, teammate, who has tons of knowledge. So, by me not being at 100%, I knew I had to play good just to make it competitive. I played great, only made 2 mistakes. But unfortunately, he only made 1 mistake! Damn him, lol. He beat me hill/hill. It was a little disappointing because I played soooo well. But, I can't be too upset because he really did play almost flawless.

My next match was on against that sparing partner I mentioned (figures, right?). I didn't play too well in that match, and I ended up losing hill/hill. But, considering I haven't competed in five months, I'm both disappointed and proud. 

Disappointed because I felt like I gave myself a chance to win both matches that I lost. And proud because I did give myself a chance to win. So, all of my hard work wasn't lost 100% during the pandemic. Sure, I have a little rust in my mechanics. But, give me another month and I'll be VERY close to 100% again. 

Like you said in your blog.....give it time, you'll be fine if you haven't been playing much.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

From Katniss: Busier Now During the Pandemic

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I had told The Cueist and Katniss that if they wanted material in their sections of the blog, they would need to write about it. I have been teleworking since mid March and my workload has increased substantially due to COVID and therefore I haven’t had time to mentally add creative writing into my repertoire. 

I asked Katniss recently, “Do you have anything you want to write about for the blog?” Her response was, “Sorta! I just haven’t had time to write anything - been busy.”




I asked, “Let me get this straight. You no longer have your 2-3 leagues to play in and haven’t played any weekend or weekly tournaments, but you are short on time and busier?”


She kinda laughed, “Well, yes.”


I quipped, “Then why don’t you write about that first.”


A day later (yay!), she sent me this:

So, at the start of this world-wide Covid pandemic, we had nothing but time on our hands.  At the beginning of it, I truthfully enjoyed the extra time to relax and just not have any plans nor commitments. I also really liked not having to deal with people’s drama or attitudes at leagues and tournaments. Further, I also realized I relished not having to stay out late due to league.

Bottom line, I enjoyed doing NOTHING... because that's all we could do. 

I enjoyed it too much, though, and therefore my physical and mental health started to suffer. I started to pick up some unhealthy habits. I was disappointed in myself. 

Consequently, I started to practice more pool (I had plenty of time, right?). Then, as the days went on and on and the pandemic was still going strong… I started to wonder, “Why am I even wasting my time and effort?? The pool world will never be the same. I would NEVER get to compete again.”

Yep, I was having a pity party! Hence the unhealthy mental state reference.  

I decided I needed to make changes to both my mental and physical state. I started with small changes - diet and exercise. My exercise routine is now daily and it includes table time and walking. With the exercise came more energy. Imagine that?!  And what comes with extra energy? Yep, a happy mental state! 

So, yes, Melinda, my days are busier now than before the pandemic with my job (I am blessed I work in an essential position), my new physical/mental healthy habits, a new profound burst of energy, and a hunger to be at the pool table. Heck, I could REALLY, REALLY get used to this “NEW NORMAL”  ha!  

The difference between before and during the pandemic? 

I am taking time to take care of myself now, as opposed to trying to take care of my league and pool responsibilities (which caused stress at times). 

As the world is slowly opening up and tournaments are on the rise.....I am ready mentally and physically. This pandemic has taught me to slow down, but don’t give up!