Pool - The Missing Manual Chapter Thirteen: How To Get Your Head Together (And Why That Isn't The Problem)
Patrick Baumann
Dec. 31, 2015
In this series we're publishing the book "Playing pool - The Missing Manual" by Patrick Baumann - every week, one chapter at a time. Consisting of 20 chapters, "Playing Pool" teaches you 20 important lessons for beginners and advanced players.
Patrick is a certified pool coach from Berlin, Germany. He writes about how to play better pool at www.playing-pool.com. He also operates the Bata Bar & Billiards in Berlin and an online store for billiards equipment.


It's your basic techniques that save you under pressure.
Most pool players consider what's going on in their head − or nerves, or concentration, or pressure − as their biggest area needing improvement. Let's sum it up as “high-pressure situations in which one is not able to call on ones best performance.” We would like nothing better than to have “stronger nerves” and to not miss shots under pressure. Just like our opponent, who has the greater “killer instinct”. Mental strength is turned into a miracle weapon with which we simply don't lose any more. At least not against weaker players or equal opponents who only have stronger nerves.
I'm sorry, but I have to disappoint you, this miraculous weapon doesn't exist. If you commonly play worse under pressure, then this is totally normal. All players, even the best in the world, play worse when they shoot it out in the last game of a world championship final. Nothing is relaxed about this, even if they had nerves of steel beforehand.
So what's the difference between these players and us? Two things:
1. They play better than you.
2. They have practiced more situations under pressure.
Yes, that's right. The better player under pressure just plays better than we do. Because under pressure we play on the level that we can always play at, and that is worse than how we play at our best. But we always orient ourselves on our best game. So we played a marvelous game against an opponent where we didn't feel under pressure, but in the next set against our most feared opponent, we can't hit the side of a barn. And then we think that we just have to get stronger nerves. Wrong: We have to have such abilities as a player that even our lowest performance is still competitive under pressure. So: You are obsessed with the wrong idea if you think that you have to work on your mental strength. Your head doesn't get you anywhere if your body doesn't know how to do it. And when your body knows how to do it, then your head has to be really messed up that you can't execute the right shot.
So it doesn't matter if your head is not together?
It does matter. You can train mentally to function better under pressure. However, it should not be isolated from the physical side of practice, but rather in combination with it. I can only train mentally to function better while playing pool. Otherwise you are just mentally strong (“I will squash him like a bug, I'm the greatest!”), but your body can't put your mental strength into practice. And pretty soon you won't believe yourself anymore either.
If you want to win more games under pressure, then you should do these three things:
1. Accept that you will seldom play as relaxed under pressure as you do in a fun match. That is simply so. Don't fight against this, accept it and concentrate on playing the game.
2. Work on your playing skills. Start with the basics: Stance, stroke, shot routine, alignment – on to aim, positioning, all the way to tactics, game pattern, break, jump, and so on. And when your through with that, practice some more. Because you are never finished with that. Practice! These are the basics that will save you when you're under pressure.
3. Practice pressure situations. That is what the pros and “mentally strong” players have over you. They regularly play tournaments, play for money, or practice drills that simulate pressure under competition, such as X-Ball or Equal Offense (see the drills booklet).
One of the best pool pool players, Darren Appleton from England said some very interesting things about this (he knows what pressure is as the 9-Ball World Championship Final 2012 proves: bit.ly/wm_finale_2012).
About the basics:
“Keep your head still. Keep a really loose grip on my cue and they are the two most difficult things to do when you’re under pressure. You have to keep your fundamentals simple. A lot of people start panicking. They start playing too quick. So that’s the key. Just compose yourself a little bit more.“
About practicing for pressure situations:
“When you’re practicing it’s important to put in really good quality practicing, to put yourself under pressure in practice. And it’s important to try and train your mind for that pressure situation [during play and not through purely intellectual exercises – author's note].”
About being honest to himself:
“I think it’s very important to be true to yourself when you do lose and you do mistakes to lose and you admit the mistakes you made and you try and learn from that. There’s a lot of players when they lose matches, they come off and they say they played perfect. And I say, ‘yeah well I saw you miss like two or three balls.’ And they are saying they haven’t done anything wrong and they played perfect. And they are only lying to themselves. And you’re not going to learn things by not being true to yourself. That’s what a lot of players do wrong.”
Go here to see the original video on YouTube: bit.ly/darrenappleton
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