Self-Awareness, Pressure and Intensity: Keys to Mastery for Pool Players

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This is an interview with Robert Greene with the guys at London Real.  Robert Greene is a fascinating guy.  He has written some really great books about greatness and how to be successful.

I’m always looking for nuggets of wisdom that can help people get past road blocks in their life or their pool game.  This interview touches on some areas that are very interesting.  Here are a couple of the talking points that I found most valuable and interesting, as it relates to playing competitive pool.

The Power Game:  Self-Reflection & Self-Awareness (@13:00)

Fascinating discussion about the characteristics in people that have mastered their craft and, specifically, about how they deal with adversity.  How they respond when they have taken a loss, got beaten, swindled, screwed over, etc.  As many people would do, they may get angry or pissed-off, initially.  However, the greats tend to  take a step back and reflect.  They have the ability to be self-aware, when things are happening to them.

They use this self-reflection to think about how they got in that position.  How did they allow someone to pull one over on them.  What did that person do better that helped them to win.  What did the other person do to be successful, versus dwelling on the fact that they just lost.  This process enables them to improve and learn how to avoid repeats of the same situation.  Without this self-awareness, they would be susceptible to having the same thing happen again.

Even after a win, the greats are honest in their self-reflection and realize why they won.  If they won, because they got lucky, they realize that and they identify any other weaknesses that would have cost them if it weren’t for the lucky rolls.  Without this honest self-reflection, they may just bask in the glory of their recent victory.  They won’t learn the hard lessons, that will eventually make them great.

This self-awareness trait exists in “powerful” people in all walks of life, whether we are talking about sports or the business world.  This is a trait shared with people that have mastered their craft.  I think it is a trait of the people that are considered “innovators”.  It would be hard to innovate, without being self-reflective or self-aware.

To illustrate my point, let’s think about the break shot.  Who, in the pool world, is considered to be an innovator of the break shot?  I think Corey Deuel is an obvious example.  Just check out this great article about his philosophy on breaking.  How did he get to be thought of as an innovator in this area?  He has taken some very different approaches to his break shot, over the years.  Specifically, he has mastered the art of the “Soft Break”.  I know this is a bit of a controversial subject.  Some don’t think the soft break is good for the game of pool, but let’s set that discussion aside.  I want to focus on how Corey mastered his break.  I haven’t talked with Corey, so I don’t have first-hand knowledge of his process, but I know how he didn’t do it.  He didn’t hit the ball as hard as possible and not watch how it unfolded, leaving it up tot the pool gods to determine his fate.  This is an all-to-common approach to pool, especially the break shot.  Just hit it hard and square and hope for the best.  Rather, I would bet that he breaks, watches what happens and self-reflects. He analyzes what happened…good or bad.  Trying to stay unemotional.  I’m sure he is self-aware of a lot of factors during his break and trying to determine how they affected the results.  Whether that be body position, cue elevation, speed, reaction of the cue ball, reaction of the corner balls, his grip, etc….hell, I bet he reflects about the sound of the break.  This “innovation” isn’t because he has some “imagination gene”.  It comes from his ability to be self-aware, when he is playing.  Just read his article.  You can see that he is reflecting on what is happening on every break shot.

How many players have you seen complaining, because they see other players having success on the break…yet, they aren’t having the same success.  A lot, right?  Now, imagine that you are playing Corey and he is making a ball on every break, but you can’t make a ball on the break.  What is the conversation going on in your mind?  Is he getting luckier than you?  Is it unfair that he is “soft breaking”?  The truth is that he has already made the commitment to be self-aware about his break shot.  He has taken the emotion and unpredictability out of the break shot.  Every break shot he makes, he is fine-tuning where that corner ball goes…where the 1 ball goes…where the cue ball goes.  He is learning and applying what he learned.  That is one of the things that has made him a great player. I think this is a trait that puts separation between strong players and world-class players.

Bottom-line, the key to becoming great or powerful in your endeavor is to not allow your emotions take over and prevent you from being self-aware.  You must look backward and give an honest analysis of what just happened…good or bad.  Identify what you did well and what you can improve.  If you stop using this practice, you’re likely to hit a plateau.

Hard Work Trumps Talent (@24:00)

Maybe it seems obvious, but most world-class players are born from tons of hard work.  It is often discussed that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill.  However, it is important to note that it takes 10,000 hours of focus.  The 2 hours a day of reading Facebook posts of your favorite pool players, does not, necessarily, count towards this achievement.  The 10,000 hours will be much more productive if you really focus on developing your skill, instead of just putting in time on the table.

It may even take 20,000 hours to really master the game.  It really comes down to how effectively you use that time, whether it be on the table or off the table.

I love this quote from Robert…

“Five hours of intense work, all in a row, has more value than five hours stretched out over 2 days”.

This is an interesting statement.

He is suggesting there is a “compounding effect”, when you add pressure and intensity to a learning task or performance session.  I think this is why long competitive gambling sessions can really forge a great pool player.  Of course, there are a lot of variables to consider in a long gambling set.  All things being equal, which one of the following activities would create the biggest gains in skill & learning…

  1. A 24 hour long gambling session with a player of equal or greater skill.  A big enough bet to motivate you.
  2. A 2-day tournament, where you play 12 sets of about 2 hours each.  Spread out over 2 days.
  3. Going to the pool hall for 3 days in a row for about 8 hours each.  A mixture of practicing and playing with some other players of varying skills.  Just hanging out and playing a lot of pool.

All 3 of these activities can be good experience and can be a lot of fun.  Most would consider them part of their “pool playing experience”.  When thinking about putting in the 10,000 hours towards “mastering” the game, most might weight them all equally.  After all, they are putting time in on the table, right?

Well, I agree with Robert Greene’s assessment, that there is more value in the long stretches of continuous intense competition when something is on the line.  Therefore, I think scenario #1, above, yields the greatest result.  Set aside your thoughts on the act of gambling.  I’m just looking at it from the perspective of how the brain learns.  The brain gets into a groove that allows it to focus and process great amounts of information, when in that high-intensity state.  If you can find another activity that produce the same type of brain-state, it could produce the same results.

The 2nd scenario is good, too, but the intensity is broken up more into smaller time-frames.  Multiple short sets over a couple days. Of course, there are differences between gambling and tournament play.  Different types of pressure, mental demands and physical demands come into play for each.   They are both great ways to develop your game.  However, I believe that a player’s skills will develop faster with 100 24-hour sessions, compared to 100 2-day tournaments (all other things being equal).

Think about the components of “pressure” and “intensity”.  Scenario #1 has continuous pressure and intensity for 24 hours, straight.  Scenario #2 has pressure, but it is more spread out.  Also, the financial pressure is less, because you know the maximum amount you could lose, before you even start the tournament.  Now, let’s say that you have to get in the money or you won’t have anywhere to sleep, that could add extra pressure.  But generally, the long gambling session is going to be more pressure, especially if it is your own money.  Does #2 have more or less intensity.  Most likely the intensity is going to be less, mainly, because the sessions are so spread out.  The intensity might be more, because you know that you have to win to keep playing, unlike a gambling set.  However, I’m just looking at if from how the mind learns.  It seems to me that the long set would have bigger results, when it comes to accelerated learning.

Scenario #3, above, is much different, from the previous 2.  The amount of pressure and intensity is going to be much less.  That is why these hours on the table are not going to result in as much improvement.  I’m not saying that they aren’t valuable, but they just won’t yield the same results over time.  This is why many players play pool for years and never get much better.  They aren’t subjecting their game to the correct amount of pressure and intensity.  At least, that is part of the reason.  Of course, there are a lot of other factors that could be holding them back.

When you look at great pool players, consider how many hours they put into their game when the pressure and intensity was high.  Compare that to another person with the same number of hours or years of experience, while playing at low intensity and/or pressure.  Many times, the former player will be considered to have more “natural talent”, but is that really the case?

Are you exposing your game to pressure and intensity?

I’m not suggesting that the only way to be great is through gambling or tournaments.  I just want you to consider that finding ways to apply pressure and intensity to your game can have compounding effects.  There are other ways to introduce some pressure and/or intensity, without gambling.  Everyone will be different in this regard.  Think about ways to add some type of stakes, when you play.  Think about how to add intensity to your sessions on and off the table.  Even adding intensity and focus to reading about pool, can yield better results than just casual reading.  Something to think about.

This interview got me thinking about those two points and I just had to explore them a little deeper, as they relate to mastering pool.

How do you add pressure and/or intensity to your game?

Are you self-aware or self-reflective when you play? After you play?  Even when you win?

I’d love to know your thoughts on both of these topics.  Leave me a comment, below.


The Breakdown

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