Back in 2015, a friend and I decided to pick up pool (billiards) again. We both played a lot during our undergraduate days, but since moving back to Fremont and getting real jobs, pool has kind of taken a back seat.
With the opening of California Billiards in Fremont, our desire to shoot was re-ignited. With the opening of a local pool room also came the introduction of pool leagues where there was organized weekly play. Our enthusiasm and desire to become competitive flourished. Playing in a league allowed us more opportunities to be competitive not only at the local level, but also allowed us to “flex our muscles” at the regional and national levels.
Over the last 3 years, as I moved from an APA Skill Level (SL) 4 to Level 7 in 9-Ball, and SL 4 to SL 6 in 8-ball, I’ve noticed several reoccurring themes. The biggest theme is that pool to us average folks is 90% mental. The theme I want to talk about is:
Playing better opponents or in harder leagues or (insert text here) DOES NOT make you a better player.
Anyone that tells you that it does is lying to you.
Yes. Playing better people is a component of becoming better, but itself alone is not enough for you to improve. And this really is true for any other passion or hobby, whether it be sports or autocrossing.
Most of the improvement and growth happens outside of the match. Ask yourself these questions after your match or during practice:
Before my match, did I adequately prepare? Did I warm up? Did I dial in my shot or stroke? Did I practice enough so that I am confident in making common shots? Did I work on my weak spots? What are my goals for this match? (Consistently run 3 balls? Make good decisions for pocketing vs. safeties? Execute key safeties? Minimize the number of mistakes I make?)
During my match, what did I do well? What didn’t I do well? Which shots did I struggle with? Which shots carried me? What were some of the critical mistakes I made? And how could I have avoided them? Or what was a better way to go about the situation? Was I fully invested in my match? And did I give the match the best effort I had?
After my match, what can I take away regardless of winning or losing? Did I practice key shots or safeties that I either struggled with during the match, or completely missed? Did I practice and improve on troubled areas or concepts of my game. Do I understand my mistakes? And did I make an honest effort to do any or all these things?
These are the key questions you really need to ask yourself if you want to improve. More importantly, being disciplined about critically analyzing your game and committing to practice in order to improve is key.
There’s nothing wrong with playing pool at a casual level. You can improve a little bit by playing casually, but modest improvement at most. However, if you wanted to get to that next level, you need to input the work that is needed into becoming a better player.