October 2008



Ken Tewksbury

Life is full of choices. On the pool table, we have a multitude of choices, as every shot is different. Most people are afraid of making the wrong choice. Some people become frozen, afraid to choose. Risk takers make a choice knowing that it can be the difference between success and failure, but that it will be a new exciting learning experience. Are you ready to change your game?

Is your potential held back by fear? Do you feel you can't break through your performance barriers? Are you spinning your wheels? Chances are, a wall of worry regarding your own fears limits you!

Having a good mental game means changing your thinking to accept that you cannot know everything and cannot control the outcome of your game. All players want to win. What they don't realize is that the more energy they put into winning, the less control they have. You can only control what is happening to you in the present!

Pool is not a sport where there is a fear for your physical safety, (even though some players have been injured), but most all players experience fear due not to physical factors but to psychological factors. Psychological fear leads to tension that is the ultimate stroke destroyer.

What is fear? Fear comes in many forms; fear of success, fear or embarrassment, fear of failure and so on. Many players hit a wall of worry caused by these fears and many others.

More than any other fear, fear of failure limits players from performing their best and can cause players to give up their dreams in playing pocket billiards.

Fear is an agitated feeling aroused by an awareness of possible trouble. It is an uneasy feeling that something may happen contrary to your desires. When you feel fear, your emotional state brings up situations where you have experienced those fearful sensations in the past and you find yourself in a loop that escalates the fear. Fear is a sense that we are not in control.
Fear on the pool table can be caused by: negative thoughts of past shots such as rattling the ball in the pocket when using draw; miscuing; scratching on a shot; or generalizing about how your game is going (such as, it's going to be one of those days). Additional causes of fear are; your reputation (believing that you should win this match) will damage your ability to shoot; embarrassment (afraid that you may look bad because you made a mistake or may make a mistake); or worrying about results of the game. All these fears will hurt you more than you may realize. These fears on the pool table can result in:

1. not finishing your stroke,
2. not following through to your target, or
3. thinking that someone is watching and judging you.

To overcome these fear thoughts that you have conjured up in your mind, you need to focus your strength and energy on positive and productive activities until your mind is totally occupied and you are in the moment. This is accomplished by using positive affirming self-talk and a consistent pre-shot routine.

Do you feel like you are constantly banging your head against an imaginary wall because you work harder and harder to perform your best, but only become more frustrated with a lack of improvement or results?

For many players, it is far easier to work harder and harder than to address their internal demons that hold them back. Most players will make a change in strategy or technique to improve performance long before they attempt to look inside at self-sabotaging beliefs.

It does not matter how hard you work at your game. What matters is that you work effectively and work on the right areas. All the hard work you do to race towards your goals can backfire when you hit a brick wall of worry caused by fear of failure.

Focus on what you want, not on what you fear. Whatever you focus on becomes your reality. Here are some fears that you could encounter on the pool table.

Perfectionism is based on a belief that in order to feel good you need to hit every shot perfectly. Players who have this belief describe their shots by what they did wrong because they can't live up to their perfectionist expectations. These players are primarily driven by the fear of failure. It is what motivates them. The downside is that they aren't motivated by good shots, only ones they consider inferior.

Playing in an amateur tournament, players get very nervous and worried about failure. A "best matches won" tournament can cause the fear of not playing well and letting your team down. Instead of being self-critical and dwelling on what isn't working, build your self-confidence by remembering times you did play well and congratulate yourself every time you do hit a great shot.

Pool is about managing imperfection. The mental game is about how to manage yourself around the pool table.

Fear of success:

Fear of success occurs on a more subconscious level then fear of failure. When you win, the fear of success means that people will expect you to win or you will place greater expectation on yourself to win. This creates pressure. Fear of success creates an anticipation of future negative outcomes. When you win the club championship or your game, the pressure mounts to do it again the next year. To keep from turning it into a pressure cooker situation, turn the fear into a positive challenge and just do your best instead of focusing on winning. Focus on the game instead of the fear. It will bring you a greater sense of accomplishment.

Fear of embarrassment:

Beginning players have a fear of whiffing the shot. Low handicap players' fear missing an easy shot or missing a shot that should be simple. The fear of embarrassment comes up because the player perceives these shots as so simple they should never miss them. Putting pressure on yourself to make these "Simple" shots increases the fear.

First shot fear: All players have a degree of nervousness on the fist shot. In addition, the fear is compounded if you are playing in a tournament, before a gallery, or with better players. Even the pros admit to it. Nevertheless, know how to overcome the fear with mental preparation. The pros don't shoot until they have visualized the shot landing in the pocket and getting the position they wanted. They trust that it will happen as they imagined it. The pro will let the stroke happen instead of making it happen.

If a player doesn't see that the shot he/she is going to shoot will scratch in the side pocket and they shoot that shot anyway and it scratches, his/her body will respond accordingly. A more advanced player will see the scratch before hand and set the tip placement to avoid it.

What do players do when their cueball ends up in the side pocket? They don't walk to the chair with a smile on their face. Most players are not looking forward to that prospect, and are muttering to themselves about their bad luck, complaining about the situation. For those brief moments, the player has put himself or herself into a state that changes their feeling from good to bad, their physiology has gone from relaxed to anxious.

Fear of a pressure shot:

Players tense up over a certain shot like drawing back to the end of the table, as they know they are gong to rattle the shot and not get position anyway. Players miss shots because they fear missing it. What is the type of shot you fear? When you are thinking of missing, then you are going to miss the shot. You make the margin for error smaller by aiming to a specific part of the pocket instead of just putting it in the pocket.

Players think too much about the speed instead of smoothly accelerating through the cueball. Lastly, they think that they are taking too much time on an easy shot and this over thinking will cause them to miss the shot. Even if it is easy!

The bottom line, most players have lofty goals, love to train hard, and want to be successful. However, they are too engrossed with their regular practice routines to stop and address the biggest roadblock on the path of success - fear of failure and beliefs that limit their physical potential.

Several mental game challenges are stuck to fear of failure like flypaper, such as low self-confidence, worry about making mistakes, fear of rejection or embarrassment, and the list goes on.

One of the biggest downsides of fear of failure is having an intense avoidance mindset. Players with an avoidance mindset strive to avoid pain instead of striving for success. These players' minds are conditioned to avoid making mistakes and emotional pain at all cost.

How to control your fear:

1. Fear is the result of remembering a past missed shot and being concerned about doing it again before it even occurs. Since you created this fear thought, you can replace it with a positive thought of what you do want. Changing the thought will change the feeling.

2. When you experience the emotion of fear, take time to take a deep breath, tell yourself to relax and focus fully on the process of preparing to stroke to your target.

The first place to start in order to stop fear of failure is to identify what type of fear causes you to bang your head against the imaginary wall of worry. Keep in mind that most of these fears are born out of an intense desire to succeed or to avoid negative social scrutiny.

Most players with fear of failure are afraid to fail or lose because they work so hard to achieve their goals and succeed. This intense desire to succeed causes players to worry about not getting what they so desperately want.

A player becomes so worried about not achieving (or gaining social recognition) that he or she thinks too much about avoiding failure. The next step or change you must make to breakthrough the wall of worry is to focus your mind on striving for success instead of avoiding failure. When you focus your mind on obtaining success, you will come closer to obtaining it.

It is impossible to be relaxed and anxious at the same time. When you worry or doubt you don't have any room for trust or for positive thoughts to exist. In pool, as in life, these doubts are based on your expectations of the outcome. This doubt moves in when you miss a shot, or remember a missed shot from the past that undermines your feeling of confidence or self-worth.

Everyone longs for control, or a feeling of being in control, in his or her game. When you feel that you are not in control of your stroke or your game, doubt creeps in which then leads to worry which leads to fear. Detach your identity from your actions, know that there will be positive, and negative which will balance out. Into every life some rain must fall - just don't think it is a monsoon every time you feel a little shower. Stand back from it - let the fear go! By thinking and visualizing positively about what you do want to create.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993) Champion of Positive Thinking and author of several books including "The Power of Positive Thinking" wrote, "If you expect the best, you will be the best. Learn to use one of the most powerful laws in this world; change your mental habits to belief instead of disbelief. Learn to expect, not to doubt. In so doing, you bring everything into the realm of possibility."

Players get extremely frustrated and angry when they hit a bad shot and it stresses them out. How do you release your anger and stress so you can enjoy your game again? Hey, you work hard at your game - practice and prepare for hours. You even feel confident at the start of competition about performing well - and wham! One costly mistake and you're frozen in turmoil by your own negative emotions. You are so upset you can't see straight. You beat yourself up endlessly for the mistake. Your unrelenting anger causes you to blow the next play, shot, or safety. By this time, you start to hate the game that is supposed to be fun.

Wait a minute - this player sounds as if they are a victim of their own anger and frustration - as if they had no control. Instead of being a victim, shouldn't they win back control over their mental state, squashing the anger and bringing back the fun of playing this great game?

Yes, old habits are hard to break for many of my students. That is the big battle within; can you break old habits of thinking and replace them with positive habits?

Let me tell you, there is no better feeling you can have than being in control of your mental game and not being a puppet to your own frustration. That is why I developed the "Circle of Dragons" program.

The "Circle of Dragons" program is so powerful it's like having your own mental game coach. Are you ready to change your game? Do yourself a favor and get started enjoying your game again. I know of two kinds of players: Those who feel victim to their own frustration and those who take action to get their heads in the game. The "Circle of Dragons" program teaches you step by step how to take action to make your game enjoyable again.

One more tip for today, make sure that all the mental pictures or movies in your mind help you strive for success rather than cause you to avoid failure!