See Challenges Instead of Fear

Human perception is a really funny thing – what people “see” is really as individual as each person.  In fact, have you ever heard the saying “one mans garbage is another mans treasure?”  Think about that for a moment – what is essentially useless to one person is invaluable to another.  E-bay has become a worldwide institution based on this idea.

So how does this apply to pool you ask?  Very simply – what you “see” when you look at the lay of the balls on the table is a very unique, subjective human experience and will ultimately play a major role in whether you run the table – or choke on the first shot you attempt.  More specifically, seasoned players will typically see challenges when they look at the table, whereas inexperienced players will tend to see overwhelming, fearful situations that they perceive to be more than they can handle.  In reality, both players are actually looking at the same table, yet both players end up experiencing the situation in two completely different ways.

Teaching yourself the importance of perception, especially how it plays such a major part in pool success, is vitally important for your self-improvement.  When you look at a bed of roses, do you see the flowers or the thorns?  Both are there, yet it is the individual who determines what to focus his or her attention toward.  With pool, teaching yourself to interpret tricky situations as challenges will help you “play to win,” whereas allowing tough situations to scare you will consequently put your mindset in a “play to avoid losing” perception.  

When you perceive situations as challenges, your mind and body work in synchrony and confidence emerges.  Research clearly shows that confidence is directly related to peak performances, and your perception is actually what helps you develop confidence.

On the other hand, when you perceive situations as catastrophes, your body will immediately respond with anxiety, which will in turn cause all kinds of problems with focus, concentration, and ultimately shot success.  When you “choke,” more often than not you missed the shot not because you didn’t know what to do, but instead because you never really felt as though you were going to make the shot in the first place.  Again, your initial perception of the situation probably played a major role in this situation.

Next time you go out and play, think about the following tips for success:
Only YOU can determine whether a situation is a challenge or a threat.  Remind yourself of this each time you approach the table.
If you begin to get nervous about a situation, try to reframe the problem.  For example, if the table looks downright ugly and its only the first game of the match, remind yourself about how much time you have to still come out on top.
When you see a tough lay on the table, try to put all your focus into just your next shot.  So many times players look ahead a shot or two and end up blowing the first shot (and often the match)
There probably isn’t a shot on the table that hasn’t been made at some point, so remember to tell yourself that the next time you get down on a challenging shot.  Try to put all your energy into positive self-talk and work hard to channel all your confidence into the shot you have at the moment and watch what happens.  Pretty amazing, huh?!

Dr. Christopher Stankovich is a nationally acclaimed expert in Sport & Performance Psychology and the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems.  For more information on performance-enhancement products, including the popular  “Mind of Steel for Pool Success” DVD please visit