By: Erik Hjorleifson
Hello everybody I have been on a short hiatus from my instructional posts as we went through the busy season of the pool year. As the year winds down I will have more time and you can expect my bi weekly articles to be back on track. The first week of April we had our national championships at the Delta Hotel in Mississauga, Ontario. Among the many friends I saw there was Chris McKenzie, a professional golf instructor now living in Alberta. In one of our conversations, Chris shared with me an analogy pertaining to the mental game and I would like to share it with you today.
The basis of the theory is to not put unrealistic expectations on ourselves. This is something that I think a lot of pool players do. I am not relating the expectations to the overall outcome because of course we all expect to win but more to the overall in game performance that may or may not lead to the winning outcome. The theory asks us to imagine a jar of about 20 black and white pills, if you like you can even imagine those pills as different shades of black and white. Now imagine that for each shot you take on the pool table you are randomly choosing a pill from that jar. The whitest pills represent a perfectly executed shot, then there are darker white pills that represent a shot executed at an average level. For example you pot the ball but your shape is not perfect. Secondly there are the black pills, they represent things like misses, positional errors and fouls.
The goal of the theory is to raise awareness that EVERYBODY has some amount of black pills in their jar. For example on a tough long pot on the nine ball a world class pro might have 4 black pills out of 20, a semi pro might have 7, an amateur could have 10 or more. Even if you literally choked to the point where you just couldn't make the ball the theory asks you to not blame yourself. Rather to be realistic about the fact that at this point in your game you are either not comfortable enough in the situation, there are problems in your fundamentals that give you a lack in confidence or a number of other things that lead to you having a certain number of black pills in your jar. The more bad ones you have the more likely you are to pull one out, the key is to figure out why you have the black pills in the jar and work on the areas that will lower them.
I think if you at least think about this periodically it can help you stay calm in a match, not getting to the point where your performance is compromised because you are flustered mentally. One of the worst things a player can do is to be in their chair with a scowl on their face because they feel embarrassed or upset about making a mistake. The theory asks you to rationalize that if you have 10 black pills out of 20 there was a fifty percent chance that you would not execute and there is no need to be upset or to carry a negative emotion along with you in the match. If you can just sit down and have a little laugh about it and say well I just pulled another black one gotta get rid of those, it will help you to stay positive.
For me at the Canadian Championships this year most of my black pills were on the break and in long potting. The potting was skewed because there were only ceiling lights at the venue and no direct lighting over the table but I rationalized that the lighting gave me a larger number of blacks and tried my best to accept it. I finished second in the 8 ball and the 10 ball divisions and I think the #1 reason I did well is because I stayed calm, not all because of this theory of course but I did think about it quite a bit during the tournament.
This is a theory courtesy of Dr. Rick Jensen, he is a professional speaker who helps businesses attain goals and works with the P.G.A as a sports psychologist. Here is a sample from one of his seminars: