Mentally Strong

Although pool is a physical game, it’s almost impossible to win a match without a strong mindset. But why do some players thrive on pressure while others choke? In this article, we will attempt to find out.

Whether you consider yourself mentally weak, or have the mental fortitude of Shane Van Boening Joshua Filler, or Jason Shaw, players of all skill levels can improve their mental game. In fact, mental toughness is something that can be learned through training techniques.


Losing from a winning position is never fun. Which begs the question: what happens when a player chokes?

Players who choke are likely struggling from a lack of ability to stay focused on what’s important.  For example, a player who takes the game easily may already be thinking about winning the match instead of playing in the present. Or a player can be so disappointed about missing a shot, or losing a game, that he or she loses focus and can’t stop thinking about past mistakes.

I like to call it living in the past or the future and the secret is to try and play in the present all the time. The quicker you can do that, the better. When a player chokes, they generally take their eye off what’s important in that moment.


I like to advise players who struggle to close out matches to adopt certain routines. First, you need to train your mind to be able to accept that something can go wrong. This can be done off the table by talking about “What if?” scenarios. What if you lose your first match 5-0? – what’s your response going to be? What if you win the first match 5-0? – what’s your response going to be?

By talking through the various match scenarios, players will learn to control the controllable aspects of the game with mental training. In other words, they won’t get anxious when something happens that’s outside their control.

It all comes back to: what is the process you are going to follow, what have you practiced, and can you replicate it during a match?


What is mental toughness? It’s most likely the ability to stay focused on what you are doing, at the expense of everything else that is going on.

So, if you’re playing on an unlevel table with slow cloth that’s all irrelevant. I like to call it noise, it’s just interference. If you can ignore that interference and focus on what you are there to do, then you’re giving yourself the best chance to have your very best performance.


Here are my five top tips for this subject:

1. Work on your self-confidence

Pool players need to call on their inner reserves to maintain self-confidence during a game. Studies have shown that champion players in any sport report high levels of self-confidence and low anxiety and are able to control emotions before and during competition.

2. Develop performance routines

The brain and memory are very complex. Sometimes we find it difficult to remove negative thoughts in situations that require us to be positive. When I work with players, I try to encourage them to record as many positive features from their training and competition as possible. For example, where players have had a very good session practicing their break it is important that they recall as much information from that practice session as soon as possible.

3. Accept you won’t always play at your best

Not even the game’s most successful players perform their best in all their matches. Let’s say a player competes in 30 matches. The player may view three of those as great while three might be perceived as not very good. It is how they perform in the other 24 matches that will likely determine their level of success – so have that in mind for 80% of the matches you play.

4. There’s no such thing as having a “bad day”

Never speak in terms of having a “bad day” as this gives you an excuse to continue having a bad day.  Making excuses beforehand is a form of self-handicapping behavior, which stops you changing the situation.

5. Be comfortable being uncomfortable

This attitude epitomizes our journey in sports.  Being uncomfortable is part of playing pool so learn to be comfortable with it.