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Darren Appleton

Instruction Articles:
Money Balls
October 2019

Do the last balls on the table look impossible? Get over it!

While playing in the World 10-Ball Championship in July, I had a chance to watch the amateurs play in both the BCAPL and APA Championships. I’ve been around pool for over 25 years, and I was not surprised to see how the game changed when players are under pressure. I saw so many amateurs come unglued when it came down to the last two balls. Of course, this happens to pro players as well, but not nearly as often.

The reason those shots get more difficult? The Chimp.

There is a sports psychologist named Steve Peters who works with many sports stars, including snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan. Peters wrote a book called “The Chimp Paradox,” in which he discusses that little man that lives inside the heads of all athletes. The Chimp is the voice that causes anxiety, fear, loss of focus, negativity, nerves and pressure. He’s the voice that warns you, “Don’t dog it now!”

While you’ll likely never eliminate the voice in your head altogether, you can turn him to your side. The key is to practice the same shots that come up in the same situations over and over again until they become second nature. It is all about belief and confidence in your ability and in you mechanics. And, again, that comes with repetition. If you can make a shot 10 times in a row, you can certainly do it in a pressure situation with little problem. You must follow the mind set and basics you use in practice. The knowledge that you’ve made a shot countless numbers of times will help you mentally relax and will make you stronger under pressure.

That type of practice and training has helped me even when I couldn’t feel my legs or my hands because of the pressure. It all comes down to training and preparing for the high-pressure situations so that you simply trust yourself and your mechanics.

Here is a drill that shows shots I saw missed by good amateur players almost half the time. I guarantee that 95 percent of those missed were caused by the Chimp.

When I do this drill, I convince myself that every shot is to win a big tournament or a big match. It helps me get used to dealing with that little man in my head. Your success is teaching the Chimp and giving him more knowledge as well. Next time you face these shots, the Chimp will be on your side, urging you to make the shot because you’ve made it a million times before.

Set up this 8 ball/9 ball shot exactly as it is shown in the diagram. The starting cue ball should be one diamond off the long rail and two diamonds up from the short rail. The goal is to keep the cue ball in the boxes shown. This is a simple follow shot, using a nice, easy stroke with a touch of right English. I visualize the shot, keeping my head still and my grip nice and loose. I repeat the process with the 9 ball and I try to go from the 8 to the 9 and back 10 times in a row. Use a touch of left English on the 9 ball.

Again, the cue ball should stay in the squares. This will make you think about making the ball and will prevent scratches in the side pockets. It forces you to think about both balls. Too many players think only about making the object ball, but you need to take care of the cue ball as well.

When I’ve successfully made the two shots 10 times in a row, I switch over to the opposite side of the table and repeat the process. Make sure to focus. Treat every shot like it’s the last shot of the tournament. In doing so, you’ll be training the Chimp to remember the situation next time it comes up in a tournament match.

This is a simple drill, but it is very important, especially for amateur players. It’s all a process, and every shot needs to be given 100 percent, no matter how easy it appears. Practice makes perfect. Putting in the work will train that little man in your head, and the results will be amazing.