For those of you getting ready for the APA National Team Championships, this event is different than any tournament that I have ever prepared for. Every tournament I have ever competed in had been just me—not a whole team. Everything still translates of course, just a little differently. If I decide I want to play well, prepare with a lot of practice, and get a lot of sleep, I will do well. On a team, you can do all of these things individually and not win because someone else didn’t take Nationals as seriously, or prepare as much as you did.
I write this post for all players who are serious about doing as well as they can at Nationals. In past events, I have watched a lot of players get a bit crazy about being in Vegas. If you truly want to win an event of this caliber, you have to forget that you are in Vegas and ignore the whole “party” atmosphere. Wait until the event is over for your team before starting to get involved in all that goes on other than pool. You are there to accomplish a goal—one that your team has been qualified to do based on the performance you have shown during the season. You have relatively the same shot at the National title as any other team that goes there. You are going to be playing the best of the best from around the country. Your team merely having the best SL4 and SL6 and a super SL7 probably won’t be enough for you to just go in and win it. I guarantee you that there are at least a hundred other teams with that same formula. You can’t depend on this or that player to always be the winner for you now. The thing that is going to be the big determiner is not necessarily skill or how good you are at your Skill Level, but the smaller things that aren’t given as much credence as merely practicing. I am going to share those with you now.
So, how to prepare?
Everyone knows you must practice. This doesn’t mean going out with a friend and playing some games. This means setting up balls for shots that you may be having trouble with, or working on your stroke or speed. This is serious practice that involves focus and at least an hour of your time every day.
Even when I am getting ready for a bar table tournament, I still hit balls on a regulation size table. I believe that loosens my arm up the best, and since the pockets are smaller and the balls don’t seem to slide in as much, I am really getting the correct feedback on whether I am making the balls or not. You do not need to practice on a big table if you do not want to. Just putting in time hitting the balls is good for you. Not only do you benefit from the practice, but when you go into the event, you will know that you put in the time to succeed, and you will have confidence going into the match. You have worked on your game—you know that—and you will play better because you know that.
You do not want to be the person who says, “Wow, I missed that ball because I haven’t been playing; haven’t had the time.” All I am proposing is one hour a day. That means if you have to miss your favorite episode of ER, this is what you need to do to get ready. You shouldn’t approach a shot thinking to yourself, “I always miss this ball. I hate this shot.” Set up those shots and shoot them over and over. I promise you if you spend just 20 minutes of focused practice on most shots, you will not think of them in that way again. This is a big tournament, and if you truly want to win, you need to do everything possible.
Once you are there . . .
When you arrive in Vegas, it is a good idea to call a team meeting. The goal of the meeting is to get everyone on the same page with the expectations you have for one another. Talk about how important it is to do well. You should tell each other that you expect everyone to get an appropriate amount of sleep, practice time, and familiarity with the equipment as much as possible—and do not drink too much! Everyone should be accountable to everyone else. If you want to drink waaay too much, and have a good time playing drunk, go to the SWC. Don’t get that Vegas experience of the SWC confused with the Nationals. This is “go big or go home.” You can drink too much and play some Mini’s if you want to have a good time drunk while playing. At least the outcome only affects you, not your teammates. This is not the Southwest Challenge; this is the big show. Many teams shed a lot of blood, sweat and tears to try to get to Nationals.
When I am at a big event, I really try to spend as much time as I can on the tables I will be competing on with whatever cue ball I will be playing with. There is no way your team should be going into its first match without having spent a good amount of time getting acclimated to the tables. The cloth is newer, the balls cleaner, and the humidity is less than what you are probably used to playing on or with. Everyone should get familiar with those things, so the shot with follow on the 8-ball in the first game doesn’t follow the ball in because they didn’t understand that the table would play that fast. When I am at a tournament, I spend hours (and however many dollar coins that amounts to) to feel right with the equipment. You and your team should do the same.
More on the mental side of things . . .
When I know I have a match coming up at, say, 5:00 p.m., I start preparing hours before. I make sure that I have eaten something not very heavy (nothing fried for sure) at least 2 to 3 hours before; never right before a match. You do not want to be newly digesting something as you are playing. Food should never be a factor in anything while you are at the table.
While you are on your way to the tournament room . . .
When you are walking down that long hallway, imagine yourself playing your best pool. Prepare by seeing yourself make everything with that great stroke you have felt. Concentrate on exactly what it felt like to play that way. Playing great (really great) usually never involves someone just showing up, but by making oneself ready for greatness.
I never walk into the tournament room 15 minutes before my match. I want to give myself a chance to be a part of the environment, the smells, the temperature and the noises. I go early and watch a good match already in progress. I continue thinking about pool, being engrossed in only that. I get my mind ready for a high level of competition. I feel very calm and focused. I try not to talk to anyone at this point anymore. Of course, that is different when you on a team, but keep your conversations on the task at hand, not how troublesome your new dog has been at home, or how you just had some new floors put in.
While in a match . . .
There are many things you can do to keep yourself steady while in a match. This first thing is to NOT GET ANGRY. I know that you are feeling a lot of pressure, but getting angry only worsens it. Everyone knows that getting angry doesn’t help them with the next shot, but people still have outbursts. I used to show emotion when I missed, but while reflecting on it I found I was doing that for everyone else, a performance within a performance you could say. Years ago I worked on sitting down and waiting for my next shot after a miss. I didn’t curse or scream at anything. You need to remain on an even keel emotionally at all times. That means do not get extremely happy with the great shots, and do not grieve over the bad ones.
Between games, I smile with my teammates a little, and acknowledge a good shot on the 6‑ball or whatnot, but never in the middle of an inning or during the game. This concept might seem odd for many people. Try playing very focused and calm throughout the duration of a match, and I know you will see the difference. I have a good time at this game, not necessarily while engaged in it, but as I reflect on how good I played. Winning a match is not just making good shots, but knowing how to persevere and win through a match filled with bad ones. Staying even-tempered is one way to achieve this.
If you do miss a shot, when you go back to your chair, consider instead what happened. Do not waste your time saying some choice words to your teammates about the shot. Instead, think to yourself: “Did I stand straight up from the shot?” “Did I change my mind during the shot (what english to use) and not get back up and readdress?” “Was I generally unsure of what to do and I shot anyway?” You do not need other people to help you to play better. If you spend your energy constructively by staying actively aware of yourself in your game instead of getting angry and cursing, you can fix most problems that happen on your own.
About the rolls . . .
When playing 9-Ball, I have heard many people complain about the “rolls.” To me, there are none. Why? A long time ago, I would get upset when someone was slopping in balls or would hit a ball and got safe on me. Getting angry as explained above, would affect my game immensely. It was when I realized that the only reason that person got a roll was because I gave them the opportunity to shoot. I missed that position on the 5-ball because I rushed the shot, didn’t make all the necessary decisions in my pre-shot routine, and so I missed. It makes no difference to me three balls later if they end up slopping a ball in or leaving me dead safe behind the 9-ball trying to shoot the 8-ball. I gave them the opportunity to shoot because of my mistake; therefore, my fault. End of story. Since then, I have never gotten upset at a roll, ever.
I think this post is long enough for now! Teams, just show up and be smart about why you’re there. Do everything you can to make as successful a result as possible. I just wanted to share some suggestions of things that I did at pro events that helped me that you may not be aware of.
Congratulations to all the teams that made it to Nationals!