Diagnosing “Mental” Issues with Pool Players

We use the term “mental” in a lot of different ways when it comes to sports. We praise athletes who are “mentally tough” and marvel at their ability to play their best when the game is on the line.  We also use the term “mental” to describe athletes with poor focus and the ability to stay calm in pressure situations.  But what does the word “mental” actually mean when applied to sports?  

Breaking down “mental” issues

If you are a pool player and sometimes struggle with mental toughness, it might help to begin by breaking down mental challenges into two categories: Cognitive and emotional.  To help you better understand this breakdown I have provided further description below:

A.) Cognitive. Mental breakdowns that are rooted in cognitive psychology include lapses in what to do while at the table. Examples include taking the wrong shot, playing the wrong out, or simply putting the wrong English on the cue ball.  Players can improve their cognitive abilities by continuing to learn about the game and allowing experts to teach them better ways to manage the table.

B.) Emotional.  When we talk about emotional hurdles in pool, we are talking about how a player stays calm and cool when pressure increases.  Does the player remain focused, or allow anxiety to distort his/her thinking?  These kinds of breakdowns have little, if anything, to do with knowledge of what to do on the next shot (cognitive), but instead relate to challenges managing nerves, anger, sadness, and other emotions that can steal focus away from the next shot.

Improve your mental toughness

Regardless of whether you are challenged by cognitive or emotional issues, you can improve in both by learning more about how you can keep your head in the game.  Cognitive challenges are usually improved upon by taking lessons and learning the game of pool from more advanced players.  Learning how to address the cue ball, get shape on the next shot, and execute a run out are all skills that can be learned if the player is willing to put in the work.  Emotional challenges can be addressed by developing a pre-game and pre-shot routine, using skills like imagery and breathing, and coming up with a bounce-back mechanism for those times where you feel like you are allowing negative emotions to take over your game.  Regardless of the type of mental challenge you face, it’s important that you are proactive and seek the assistance that will best help your game.