By Ken Tewksbury, Master Level Instructor

© 2010 by The Institute of Billiard Sciences

If you do not change the direction you are going, then you are likely to end up where you are headed. It takes a lot of effort to get where you want to go For example, let's say you climb a mountain. Once you are there on top and look around will you be thinking to yourself "I climbed the wrong mountain!" The same goes when you are playing billiards. You've given the game a lot of effort to improve your skill and you are good but you are still not happy with where you are in the game. The problem could be that you lack the guidance of a trained instructor to help keep your mind on the game. Here are a few tips you can try on your own to improve your game.

PATIENCE - Are you determined enough to succeed in whatever you choose to pursue? If so, you need the patience to stick with it until you reach your goal.

PASSION - As you become more successful in tournaments and earn a reputation for playing tough, you need a consuming passion to learn something more to keep from becoming predictable. It takes working with a good instructor and lots of study to increase your proficiency.

What will decide the tournament match is what's inside your mind.

DEDICATION - If you really want something, you must go after it yourself, with all the dedication you can muster, no one is going to give it to you, and if you waver or have doubt, you are sure to fail. Your mind must always be ready to learn at all times.

MEMORIZATION - Leaning pocket billiards involves the step-by-step memorization and perfection of movement and techniques. But all the technical skills in the world can't create a pool player, in fact, it will mean nothing if they aren't applied to a mind that will accept their use.

ELEMENTS - There are many elements involved which can be used to your advantage. Those elements that you can control often mean the difference between winning and losing. He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.

DISCIPLINE - Discipline is absolutely demanded by each player, you cannot advance without achieving certain goals and you cannot hope to achieve goals without adhering to a special set of rules. (What is your standard?) Those rules and disciplines serve a purpose by turning away all but the truly dedicated player.

ENLIGHTENMENT - The basic philosophy of any pool instructor is to bring you closer to yourself. That's what my school is for, to help you the student find the way to personal enlightenment. What goes on in my school requires more than physical movement, it also demands mental concentration. You are here to learn, and much of that learning involves discoveries that come from within you.

CONCENTRATION - You can't perform in pocket billiards if you're worried about some things in life like a marriage problem or some big business deal. You will not learn because you won't be listening to your instructor and you will not be able to compete because your opponents will see the gap in your concentration very clearly. What is a good concentration builder? Think of a card playing exercise where you have to match 11 cards out of 22. All cards are face down and you only turn over one card at a time until you remember where the matching card is and turn it over. Once all cards have been matched the exercise is finished.

If you are thinking of anything other then what you are doing you will begin to slacken up in your practice sessions and end up going through practice on automatic emotions. (You can't become mechanical).

What you are doing at the moment must be exactly what you're doing at that moment and nothing else.

FOCUS - Living in the present without permitting thoughts of the past or concerns for the future to intrude requires a special kind of concentration and focus. (Don't think about winning or losing). This means seeing what is really in front of you without permitting other concerns to block or cloud your vision. You will find that to be here (in the game) and not anywhere else is the key to total concentration. Learn to focus all your attention and your concentration on each individual moment.

HISTORY - Try to never lose the same way twice!!! (Learn from your mistakes). If you can't see the lesson in what went wrong, you're just condemning yourself to making the same mistake again. So work harder, talk to your instructor and he will teach you how to learn not to make the same mistake twice. There is no excuse for not doing your homework, for not being prepared!

CONTROL - You can't win in a tournament if you lose your "mental control"! Sometimes when the pressure is on, your mind and body tense up because you're nervous, you become mentally and physically inhibited and you will choke!

SUCCESS - If you spend time dwelling on your failures, it will put failure in your mind. Instead, think only of success and imagine yourself performing each movement with perfection.

CHOKING - Choking happens when you let the pressure control you rather than you controlling the pressure. The normal response to pressure triggers nervousness and your heart rate increases. This self-defeating response must be controlled in order to win.

EMOTIONS - You must be in control of all your emotions under pressure or you will not be relaxed and will lose your ability to respond easily and think clearly. You need to slow down, control your thoughts and control your movements. You will only get control from practice. Continuous repetition of the proper moves will cause them to be automatic!

Pace yourself, attend to each shot in its own time and you'll accomplish more than if you go all out at every opportunity, slow down and you will go faster!

When some part of your game doesn't work right take it apart and fix it. If your draw stroke is not working look at the angle you are shooting the shot with and fix the angle. Break down the combat part of the game into its smaller parts and react as necessary to each shot. When playing for position pick your spot and make sure you get there - if not, fix it!

ANGER - Anger is self-defeating, you need to clear your mind of anger and concentrate on why you are in this competition! The only limitations in this game are the ones we put on ourselves, there are no limits for the player who refuses to accept them. Set goals, visualize the results of those goals and then be determined to succeed by overcoming any obstacles in your way.

CALM - A calm mind is the real secret to success under pressure, because a mind that is not calm will fail to perceive correctly. When you are calm you can separate and examine your fears and perceptions, sometimes you just have to test your power of concentration.

EFFORT - You become a winner by playing with an honest effort, by putting into the contest everything you have, if you are not in the game or match, you cannot win.

CENTERING - You must center yourself mentally and physically, thus calming and preparing yourself to deal with any eventuality. Think through the problem to find the solution. As you learn to keep your mind in the present, ignoring the past and the future, you will discover the inner resources to deal with whatever problem you have on the table.

BREATHING - Control your breathing, it will restore calm, confidence and give you strength. It also allows you to bring your emotions and thoughts under control, so you can concentrate on what's at hand.

INTUITION - Intuition is not learned but instead awakens within us and it comes not from the tap of some magic wand but as a result of discipline. The way to true understanding must come through personal experiences and suffering.

KNOW WHEN TO ADVANCE - To be successful in pocket billiards there is another kind of discipline, but only for those who want to become very good. And that discipline should be that no student should be able to move on to more information until they have passed a clearly established level of proficiency.

The saddest words I hear at my school are apologies for failures, such as "couldabeen" "shouldabeen" or "mightabeen". Too many players fail because they fall back on these types of apologies, when the truth is; they just didn't try hard enough!

If you want to improve your game, sign up for a lesson by sending an e-mail to or by calling us at 603-545-2709 or 603-225-8298.