Nervous playing pool? I’ve mastered how to zero in on focusing in pool. My mental toughness in pool has never been better. Let me share with you my secrets.
Develop a Pre-shot Routine
Your mind and body will recognize patterns whether you realize it or not. People who no longer work that early morning job tend to still wake up early because their body is already used to it.
If you create a pre-shot routine and use it consistently, it will become a great habit to improve your game.
What’s a pre-shot routine? It’s a repeatable series of steps you take before every shot.
Having a pre-shot routine is great because it will help you stay focused and help you become more consistent.
Here’s what mine looks like:
- Analyze the table and determine my shot (offense or defense)
- Determine where I need to hit the object ball (the ball you’re hitting)
- Chalk my tip
- Take a deep breath
- Get down on my shot and do not get back up without fidgeting or moving to double check my aiming point
- If I move or have second guesses, get back up and readjust
- Perform 2 practice strokes
- Pause (with my tip close to the cue ball)
- Execute the shot with my final 3rd stroke
I have found my shot making and overall game has improved after developing a pre-shot routine. I can now remain focused throughout the entire process and this routine has become a core of my game. Everyone needs a pre-shot routine.
Take a Deep Breath Before Every Shot
This seems like a simple tip but most people forget to breath naturally because they’re too stressed about the next shot. If you just take a second to breath slowly and truly focus on it, it’ll help to cancel all the outside noise.
Don’t Move Your Body Before, During, or After Shooting
Only your back arm (from your elbow and down) should be moving.
Your shoulder, head, legs, etc. should NOT be moving during your shot. You need to isolate your energy only into your stroke and your back arm. This means that there are no other variables that could mess up your shot.
Stay Down After Every Shot (minimum 2 seconds)
After stroking through your shot – Stay Down! This ensures you are not jumping up immediately after you shoot. So many beginner players make this mistake and it will mess their shot up. Stay down.
Play in Different Sound Environments
If you only practice when it’s quiet, how do you think you’ll do when the bar is playing loud music and people are drunkenly talking/yelling around you?
Exposing yourself to playing pool with different sounds will help you become accustomed to hearing all sorts of sounds while still playing at consistent skill.
I have a table at home so I like to look up YouTube videos of distracting sounds/different genres of music to blast while shooting. If you don’t have a table at home, try bringing some headphones to the pool hall and have a few videos or songs of music you aren’t used to. Here’s a link to YouTube of Bar Sounds playing for 2 hours!
Here is one with the “most annoying sounds ever”.. Good luck with this one.
Take Your Time, Don’t Rush
When you are rushing a shot, you will usually end up missing or not getting the type of leave you wanted. It’s funny, when you see other people rushing – it is so obvious. But, when it is you who is rushing, it’s a different story. If you take each shot with a good amount of time (I’m not telling you to take 10 minutes on each shot), you will increase the chances of you making the shot successfully.
Another simple tip that most people easily forget. Don’t rush. Take your time. Just don’t be a snail.
APA recommends 20 seconds for an easy shot and 45 seconds for a hard shot. Try to keep that in mind. If you are taking 5 seconds or less, you are probably rushing.
Stop Thinking People Care About You
I am the king of overthinking. I can’t help it. When I get in my own head, I often think negative thoughts of what I think other people perceive me as
“He doesn’t know how to play” “He sucks” “He’s getting lucky” etc.
It doesn’t matter. It may cross someone’s mind watching you shoot, but it passes in an instant.
The people watching you really don’t care. You are your biggest critic.
Pretend To Be Really Confident
When I get nervous and my palms get sweaty, I pretend to be really confident. It’s like “faking it til’ you make it” kind of mentality.
“You are going to win 100%. You can’t miss. Every shot you’re going to make and get the perfect leave every time. You are literally a pro pool player.”
It also ends up giving me more confidence which is awesome because sometimes I always need some of it. Additionally, it tends to make you shoot more naturally too.
Don’t Get Careless After Making A Few Balls
When people find themselves making a couple balls, sometimes they tend to get lazy. Not taking the same time and steps they did earlier on that really tough shot.
Don’t get lazy.
Use the same focus on those hard shots, and apply it to the easy ones. I don’t care if it’s a straight in shot you’ve done a thousand times. Always. Stay. Focused.
I don’t know how many times I have ran an entire rack out to choke on the 8 ball. That is the most devastating thing ever. I feel the pressure. I know the 8ball is coming up. I let it get to me. I didn’t refocus, I didn’t readjust, I didn’t get back up and start my pre-shot routine over.
I executed on a bad mentality and I should’ve fixed it. Don’t let this be you every, single, time.
Forget About The Numbers And The Names
How many balls behind are you?
What’s the name of your opponent whose really good? They just happen to be a 7 in 8-ball, a 9 in 9-ball and never misses.
Forget their name and the numbers. Your real opponent is yourself.
Take The Pressure And Enjoy It
Imagine you are playing in a tournament. You make it to the finals. All eyes are on you. Over 20 people watching you. A lot of people will feel pressure in this moment. It is totally normal. But if you can take even a FRACTION of that pressure and embrace it. You are going in the right direction.
Start Your Pre-shot Routine Over When You Get Distracted
Do you ever go down on a shot and then realize it doesn’t feel right? Or you are aiming at the wrong spot? Need to double check and look up just for a little bit? Damn. You lost the spot you were looking at.
Oh well, I’m still going to stroke through and hope for the best!
Stand back up. Start your Pre-shot routine over. Get back into rhythm. Hear a loud sound? Stand back up and do it all over. Don’t stick with a shot if you are even slightly rattled.
This sounds like a weird tip and it may only work for some people. If I chew gum while playing, it distracts me. I can’t do it.
But I know people who it helps, so give it a try if you want. It could take off the nerves and make you focus on chewing gum instead. Just don’t let it distract you from shooting good pool.
I feel like this needs its own section even though I have mentioned it before. If you do a pre-shot routine 10x in a row, and then skip it your next 2 shots, you are not being consistent.
Make it a habit to apply the same focus and steps each time. If you skip it a few times a match, it can easily snowball into a bigger issue.
Worry About The Shot Before You Shoot, Not During The Shot
It is smart to plan your shot out beforehand. What English or Side spin to apply, how much energy to put into it, etc. This is normal and a good habit to have.
The problem enters when you are thinking about this DURING your shot. Once you are getting ready to execute your shot, you need to let all your thoughts go and just DO IT.
Treat Practice Like Practice Time
If you are planning to go out and practice and your friends want to join you, it’s probably not ‘practice time’ anymore.
Now, it’s you hanging out with your friends shooting pool. This is different from doing drills, playing the ghost, and focusing on improving your weaknesses.
If you really want to improve, it may be best to have dedicated time alone to practice or with a coach. Make sure that you stick to that agenda.
If you shot pool with your friends 3x a week and it was just hanging out, did you really practice? Did you work on that long cut shot you usually make 50% of the time?
Treat practice like practice time.
Don’t Get Upset
I have lost track of how many opponents I have faced who have lost their cool. If you are an angry player who lets your emotions get to you, you will lose.
Try meditation, anger management classes, or even a psychologist. If you need to seek help, that is okay.
No one is perfect, we are human. Overcome your weaknesses, this is how you become the best version of you on the pool table and off of it.
Don’t Talk To Your Friends While Shooting
Zone yourself away from your friends and teammates. This is a match only you are playing. Try not to make small talk. It is distracting. Distance yourself away from everyone else if possible.
If there is an open chair away from everyone else, go sit in it.
If you are laughing with your friends, making jokes, being obnoxious – this tells me you are not 100% focused on the game. Think of the pro’s you watch, they are quiet. They are waiting for their chance to strike at the table.
Don’t Look At People’s Faces
I’ve realized that as soon as I look at people’s faces, I instantly begin thinking about what they think of me and how I am shooting pool.
It is the beginning of a rabbit hole I don’t want to jump into. I do this especially in higher stake matches like Tricups, Cities (LTCs) or tournaments.
Instead, I look at people’s shoulders/chests or just stare down at their feet. It’s a weird one that I don’t think people often notice but, it’s really helped me personally.
Still Can’t Focus? Play Defense
When you start sucking, PLAY DEFENSE and regroup. If you are still unfocused from nerves or something else, play safeties and use the extra time to recollect yourself.
Other Things To Consider
Still missing shots after trying everything above?
What if it’s actually your mechanics that are failing you?
Get A Second Opinion
Have your teammates or friends look at your stroke. Ask a higher skilled player to give it a look. Your stroke is where everything begins.
Can I Use Headphones in APA or BCA?
APA and BCA actually ban the use of headphones in tournaments. What I have noticed is in normal league play, APA allows it, but beyond Tricups, it is usually banned.
I don’t think this is a good habit to pick up because you will need to get used to the sounds you will hear.
What If I Still Can’t Stay Focused?
Record yourself and see if you can notice anything that sticks out. Perhaps, you have a tendency to fidget before most shots that you miss. Seeing yourself in video form shooting pool is an experience most players have never gone through. It gives you an idea of what other people see.
Ask others how they stay focused. It may surprise you how others remain mentally prepared for billiards and could spark inspiration for you.
Hire a coach! These are professionals who are paid to evaluate your skill, train you, and help you to become better at pool in every way.
If its personal outside issues, you may even need to see a psychologist.
Other Resources For Conquering The Mental Aspect Of Billiards
Consuming billiards knowledge through reading or listening to podcasts is a great method when you are away from the pool table. You can’t spend 24 hours a day at a pool hall (although some people feel this way) so look to other resources. Here are some recommendations:
- Pleasures of Small Motions: Mastering The Mental Game of Pockets Billiards. A psychotherapist and pool columnist breaks new ground by applying good science to the mental game of billiards and gives invaluable insight on competitive play.
- Nail-Bending Focus – By Tom Simpson. He used to write for pool dawg but has passed in 2015. He was a Master Instructor and has written over the past 14+ years. His material is an amazing material.
- Develop Better Focus for Pool Success. Dr. Chris Stankovich is a nationally acclaimed expert in sport performance science, and regularly teaches athletes (including pool players) how to improve mental toughness and maximize athletic abilities.
- A Mind For Pool: How to Master the Mental Game. Phil Capelle has been a pool instructor for over 21 years. He has written 11 books. A great resource.
Remember that it is truly not a game against your opponent, but a game against yourself.
You are not losing to your opponent. You are losing to yourself. (With the exception if they run the rack out), if you had an opportunity to shoot once, and you lost, you are part of the reason why you lost. Don’t let losing focus be the reason you lose.
Thanks for reading and let me know if you think of any other great ideas. I will gladly add it to the list!