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Darren Appleton

Instruction Articles:
• July 2024
V for Victory

• June 2024
Circle the wagons

• May 2024
Rehearse Your Lines

• 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
Weíre 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
Donít 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
Youíll 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
ďVĒ 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
Bankerís Holiday

• February 2017
Great Eight

• January 2017
Getting Into Shape

• 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

• March 2016
Mind Games

Hocus, Focus
December 2016

Itís not trick; maintaining focus is the key to consistent play.

Not surprisingly, many of the lessons I try to share are based on personal experience. And to be honest, 2016 hasnít been my best year at the table. Iíve played well in patches, but I always seemed to follow a good spell with a bad spell. There are a number of reasons my play has been so inconsistent this year, and I hope that a little self-evaluation can offer insight into how your game can improve from my mistakes.

For starters, how good do you want to become? What level of play do you want to achieve? Have you reached a level at which you are satisfied? Proficiency at pool is not much different than other achievements: It is all goal oriented. If you want to reach a certain level, you have to know about all the factors that come into reaching that level. Me? I want to be the best player in the world. For several years my level of play was right at the top, as good as any player out there.

So, what happened this year? I certainly didnít forget how to make shots or run the table.

I believe that the number one reason Iíve been inconsistent this year is that my concentration and focus have been lacking. I just havenít been able to maintain focus for long periods of time. Instead of staying in the moment, my mind has wandered too much. That may not seem like a big deal, but lapses in focus cost you games and matches, and that is true at any level of play. Ironically, the most frequent lapses in focus happen when you are playing well. There were many matches this year in which I got off to a solid lead. Suddenly, instead of keeping my attention totally zeroed in on the next shot, I started thinking about how well I was playing. I would lose my way and make a silly mistake. And most of the time, a silly mistake ends up costing you several games. Now, instead of maintaining a comfortable lead, unnecessary pressure gets added to the equation.

Pool is such a mental challenge. In the past, my mental game has been one of my strengths. This year it has been a weakness.

If Iím honest with myself, the main reason Iíve lost concentration this year is that I havenít put the work in that I have in the past. I havenít practiced enough and I havenít played in enough events. The players who play all the time are sharper and more match-ready, and that affects your frame of mind because you start thinking you donít deserve to win. Confidence is low and that affects your mind too. The key for amateur players is to never take anything for granted. When you do, your game starts to slip. Overconfidence is a big contributor to these slip-ups.

There are a few games and drills that will help you maintain focus. I still think the best game for concentration is straight pool because you donít want to miss. If you miss playing 9-ball against the ghost, it doesnít really matter. You just lose that rack. But if you miss at 50 or 60 playing straight pool, it is mentally very difficult to restart from zero.

Because there are upcoming tournaments for both 8-ball and 9-ball, I recently developed my own little practice game. It was quite accidental, but Iíve found that it really helps me focus. I rack the balls for 8-ball and break. I run through all the stripes or solids. Then, when shooting the 8 ball, I play shape for the lowest-numbered ball remaining on the table and run the rest of the balls in rotation. It is like playing two disciplines in one rack. It has really helped me keep my head in the game because of the different patterns shifting from one game to the other. It is a fun drill, and it is easier to maintain focus when practice is fun.

As for playing matches, maintaining good focus comes in stages. During a tournament, I have always tried to stick to a routine. About 20 minutes before my match, I try to be alone and get my mind straight. I donít talk to anyone. I just think about how I expect to play. If you just get dressed, grab your cue and walk to the table, you canít really be ready to play. Not surprisingly, I have not stuck to that routine this year. Thinking back on it, I remember chatting with friends and fans and other players in the arena right before I have played. I could not have been ready mentally.

Again, this depends on how much you want to succeed. Some players might not have the luxury of that kind of time before going from work to league night at the local bar. There are still ways you can mentally prepare yourself to play. Take a few minutes in your car before you go in. Or use the restroom and try to get some focus.

The beginning of a match is also critical. If you are not focused and ready, you will fall behind quickly. You end up chasing the game right from the start. Be prepared. If you are focused and get off to a good start, the game is so much easier.

We all make mistakes, and there is a pretty good chance you are going to make a silly mistake during a match due to lack of focus. When you miss a ball and donít understand how you missed it, it is hard to let go and not dwell on it. You have to forget the mistake and move on, or it will cost you much more than one game. Iím sure there are players in your league who have a good temperament. Watch them to see how they get over mistakes. You can learn a lot by watching others.

Stay in the moment. It will allow you to recover from your mistakes much more quickly.