At the end of the year on the Predator Tour, we give awards to the top players. Alison Fischer won the C Player of the Year, and my wife, Gail, won the Female Player of the Year. It made my think to myself, ‘What is it that those two women did this year that separated them from the other women?’ And the thing that I noticed in watching them through the last three or four tournaments of the year was that, despite the fact that they are amateurs, they both seemed to really understand the importance of walking away from a shot whenever they were in doubt. Not many amateur players walk away from the table if they’re not comfortable.
When you’re playing and you take that extra five or 10 seconds to really prepare for your shot, it’s going to make all the difference in the world, because any negative thought you have in your mind when you’re down on a shot is going to dictate the shot. What you don’t realize is that your brain is actually reminding you of what could go wrong. That’s how the brain works. Sure enough, you shoot the shot and you miss, just how you imagined you would. You have to be able to reassure yourself that you know the required technique to make a particular shot. And you have to tell yourself not to shoot the shot until you are confident and ready. You replace that negative picture with a positive picture.
The problem with players who simply shoot anyway is that approach becomes habit. And once you’ve gotten into that habit, you no longer have the ability to do what I call the “walkaway.” All of the very best players do the walkaway. Whenever they come up on a critical point in the match, and they’re about to shoot a shot that may make or break the match, they walk away from the table. They take a sip of water, or take a towel and wipe down their cue, or put talc on their bridge hand…anything that will distract them from that moment. It’s like hitting a refresh button.
Before I knew better, I used to hate when players did that to me. I felt like they knew they were going to win and were rubbing it in. But after a while, I realized that they were simply taking some extra time because they realized how important that particular shot was. I also noticed that the top players always did that after making a really difficult shot. Why? Because so often you’d see players make a great shot and then miss the next shot, no matter how easy the second shot was. The top players pause because they realize that they needed to take a few seconds to let that difficult shot go and refocus on the next shot.
It took me a while playing at the top pro level to understand and adopt the walkaway. Now, seeing amateurs starting to recognize the importance of taking that approach is impressive.