Like many sports, pool is as much a mental battle as it is a physical battle. Maintaining laser focus through an entire practice session or match is extremely difficult.
Learning to maintain focus through a match is something that takes practice, just like the physical side of the game. You have to keep your brain, body and nerves in check on each and every shot. The top pros have this ability in spades, but it is something they have all worked hard to control. Sometimes it takes mental tricks, but mostly it takes a sense of conviction to stay focused.
This may sound overly simple but, for me, when I’m playing well, it is usually because I’m playing every day. And when I’m playing every day, I’m feeling more comfortable. And when I’m feeling more comfortable, it makes me want to play more. When you play only occasionally, it is difficult to maintain any consistency. Without consistency you lack confidence, and that’s what causes a player to jump up on a shot or to shoot without real conviction.
This is difficult to do, but when you are struggling, you have to completely forget about the previous shots and focus on the shot at hand. Again, this is easy to say and easy to understand, but it is anything but easy to apply.
So, how do you completely clear your mind? One tried and true system is the use of power words. I have read a great deal about this. Olympic athletes use this method all the time to remind themselves of how much work they have put into training, and how they have earned their spot in the competition.
You need to believe 100 percent in your ability, so the use of power words or trigger words help reinforce that belief. The trigger could be something as simple as, “I’m going to shoot this shot with confidence.” It could also be a single word, like, “Release.” These words or phrases draw your focus back into the moment. They help you forget the previous shot and they help instill confidence in your next shot.
Trigger words can certainly assist you in playing your best pool possible. And they help you build your mental toughness. Mental toughness is another thing that the top pros have. Players like Darren Appleton approach every shot with conviction, as if their life depended on it. That doesn’t mean that you will make every single shot you attempt solely because you shot it with conviction. But it does mean that you will be able to move on to the next shot without any regret or mixed emotion. That conviction allows a player like Darren to eliminate any excuses if he misses. Other players say, “I would have won that match if I’d focused more on this shot.” There is none of that with the top players.