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Darren Appleton

Instruction Articles:
• April 2024
Lucky Seven

• March 2024
More for the Road

• February 2024
Four for the Road

• January 2024
Corner the Market

• December 2023
Look Ma, No Cushions

• November 2023
We’re in the Money

• October 2023
Four-level Drill

• September 2023
More Money Ball

• August 2023
No rails, part II

• July 2023
Look Ma, No Rails!

• June 2023
Triangle To Triangle

• May 2023
Zone Blitz

• April 2023
Money Ball Drill II

• March 2023
Money Ball Drill

• January 2023
The Dreaded Shootout

• December 2022
Alternate Universe

• November 2022
Close Quarters

• October 2022
Corner to Corner

• September 2022
Diamond in the Rough

• August 2022
Draw Bridge

• June 2022
I Detect A Pattern

• June 2022
Stay Close to Work

• May 2022
Amateur Approved

• April 2022
Two for One

• March 2022
The Straight Secret

• February 2022
The Correct Shot

• January 2022
End Game, Part II

• December 2021
Buying Off The Shelf

• November 2021
Look, Ma! No Rails!

• October 2021
The Oval Drill

• September 2021
Getting In Shape

• August 2021

• July 2021
V For Victory

• June 2021
More Pattern Drills

• May 2021
Patterns and speed

• April 2021
See a pattern?

• March 2021
Blind Man

• February 2021
Five Up, Five Down

• January 2021
Don’t Lag Behind

• December 2020
Head games

• November 2020
Life on the Edge

• October 2020
The Family Tree

• September 2020
A Dip of the Tip

• August 2020
The Big Diamond

• July 2020
Nine-Ball One-Hole

• June 2020
You’ll Kick Yourself

• May 2020
Tight Quarters

• April 2020
Cue Ball Control

• March 2020
Straight Cueing

• February 2020
Saddle up!

• January 2020
9-ball Crossover

• December 2019
Ride Those Rails

• November 2019
Up and Down

• October 2019
Money Balls

• September 2019
Captain Zig-zag

• August 2019
15-Ball, No Rails

• July 2019
One Extra Ball

• June 2019
Two-Pocket Drill

• May 2019
Up and Down

• April 2019
Ultimate Rotation

• March 2019
In A Good Spot

• February 2019
Center Cut

• January 2019
Breaking Bad Habits

• December 2018

• November 2018
X marks the spot

• October 2018
Striking It Rich

• September 2018
So Many Options

• August 2018
Put Hangers On Rail

• July 2018
Mirror, Mirror II

• June 2018
Mirror, Mirror

• May 2018
“V” for Victory

• April 2018
Up and Down

• March 2018
Kick Into High Gear

• February 2018
Up and Down

• January 2018
Up To The Challenge

• November 2017
Taking A Break

• October 2017
End Game Safeties

• September 2017
Get Comfortable

• July 2017
Shape Up For Summer!

• June 2017
The Selection Process

• May 2017
Two For One

• April 2017
A Ghost of a Chance

• March 2017
Banker’s Holiday

• February 2017
Great Eight

• January 2017
Getting Into Shape

• December 2016
Hocus, Focus

• November 2016
Kicking Into High Gear

• October 2016
More Drill Bits

• September 2016
Hand Model

• August 2016
Breaking Tradition

• July 2016
Drawing On Experience

• May 2016
Proper Practice

• April 2016
Drilling For Improvement

Mind Games
March 2016

Know the value of developing a strong mental game.

As I begin this new journey, sharing insight and tips with the pool-loving readers of Billiards Digest, let me tell you a little about myself as a player.

I am, by nature, a very competitive person in everything I do. I am, of course, particularly competitive when it comes to pool. Unfortunately, during my years playing English 8-ball in the United Kingdom, I didn't always handle defeats well. In fact, I used to really beat myself up. It took me two or three weeks to get over some of my defeats. All that changed when I switched to American pool and went to the Philippines to learn everything I could about the game. I learned a ton about playing the various games, but the lesson that made the biggest impression on me didn't even involve taking a shot. The Filipino players taught me about mental toughness. Missing a shot or losing a game never affected them. They almost immediately moved ahead to the next game, the next shot. I remember thinking, "How can they stay calm after missing that ball?" It was amazing. It was then that I learned to analyze and move ahead. I went from really suffering through defeats, to getting over them in an hour. I bring this up because that change in my approach has had a huge impact on my game. I think the mental side of your game is as important, if not more, than the physical side of your game. We'll have plenty of time in the coming months to go over mechanics, practice drills and how to properly analyze the table. But in this first article, let's talk about the mental side of the game. The mental side of pool is about self-study and self-analysis. Everyone is going to miss shots. That will not change. It is how you react to misses and what you learn from them that is important.

When you start out in the game you simply see the balls and hit them into pockets. It's all about having fun. The learning process starts when you begin to play competitively, in leagues, small tournaments or even just against friends at the poolroom. Pressure comes into the equation because you don't want to let yourself or your teammates down. This is where having mental strength makes a difference. It does so in two ways: One, you develop a mental approach to handling pressure situations; and, two, you develop a mental approach to handling and analyzing mistakes.

We learn about pressure mostly through failure. But instead of dwelling on failure or your inability to handle the pressure, focus on self-analysis. I always try to analyze how I would improve my results. What went wrong? Was it my cue action? Were my feet wrong? Did I rush the shot? Most of the time you know straight away why you missed a shot. It can only be a technical or mental mistake. Train you mind to recognize the same situation and figure out how to better handle that situation next time. Focus on composure and remembering what your body felt like the last time you missed. Did you grip too hard? Not follow through?

It is very important that you are honest with yourself in your assessment. Learn from the experience. Quit telling yourself you played great, when you really didn't. The truth may hurt, but it will help. My main goal is to never make the same mistake twice. Again, once you accept that you are not going to make every shot, you are going to be better. You can't beat yourself up over every miss. And you can't be fearful of missing shots. Accept your mistakes. When you are young, you look for perfection. You miss a shot and say, "How could I possibly miss that shot? It's impossible!"

Let it go. You will never find perfection on the physical side of the game. But you can find perfection on the mental side.

One of the biggest changes for me was that I started to enjoy the pressure and embraced those moments. Embrace the challenge of playing under pressure and having to make a big shot. As long as you accept that you aren't going to be successful 100 percent of the time, you will handle the pressure better. Another way to strengthen the mental side of your game is to put pressure on yourself during practice. If I'm playing the ghost, I try to imagine playing Shane Van Boening or Dennis Orcollo or Efren Reyes. I get myself in the mindset that we are playing a big tournament match. I try to put as much pressure on myself as I can. It really does help mentally when I get to a real match. You can apply that process at any level. You just need to visualize the situation.

And find a technique that will hold up when you are under pressure. When I'm in a pressure situation, I shorten my stroke. Getting closer to the cue ball cuts down on the backswing. A shorter backswing means there is less chance of not cueing where you intend to cue. In those instances, look for ways to keep the game simple.

It all comes back to the mental side of the game. The more you put yourself under pressure - even in practice - the more prepared you will be for actual match pressure.