Strengthen “Mental” Muscle Memory

Sport psychologists often teach athletes how to use imagery to improve skill acquisition and proficiency, but did you know imagery involves more than simply seeing things using only your vision.

Yes, “seeing” balls go into pockets is a part of imagery, but only when we include all of our senses (touch, feel, and even smell) does the experience become real in our minds, and imprinted on our brain hard-drive. Imagery helps with automatic movements, also known as muscle-memory, and this is a terrific skill for pool players to acquire. Why is this important? Just ask yourself the next time you get down on that last ball to win a game: Would you rather shake nervously and hope the ball goes in, or instead bear down, follow through, and confidently drain the ball?

One big, but often overlooked, aspect of imagery is what we call kinesthetic imagery – also known as imagery of position and movement of the parts of the body. Put another way, kinesthetic imagery (KI) is the overall body feeling of playing pool, including from the moment you grab your cue to the finish of your stroke. KI can be experienced by how you feel on your feet, getting into your stance, and following through with the appropriate English on your shot. I bet if you closed your eyes right now and concentrated on going through a few shots that you can “feel” what I am talking about.

Below are additional examples of how KI can be used to improve muscle memory, and over time, allow you to comfortably make balls without worrying about missing:

When getting into your stance notice how you position your body. Are you more upright, or crouched? Do you stand firm, or loose? Do you take your time seeing your shot, or follow through quickly?

When you address the ball, how many practice strokes do you take? Can you replicate this pre-shot routine in your mind, and feel your body getting ready to the shot?

Another great place to “feel” your shots is the English that you put on the cue ball. Can you feel a stop shot? Draw? Follow through? Think about how you stroke each of these shots and practice them over and over until they feel automatic.

While imagery is not a substitute for practicing and putting in the work, imagery can enhance the experience and allow you to more quickly improve your game. Try and use imagery at night when you are going to sleep, and during your pre-game routine while warming up. In fact, you can use imagery any time you can direct your thoughts to pool! Be patient, make the experience real, and before you know it your shots will begin to feel more comfortable and, hopefully, more balls will be pocketed.