There is a tendency in all of us to desire to be our best selves all the time. We hate it when we are not doing as well as we know we can. “I am a little off today – I am usually much better”.
I love nights when I am confident and feel like I can do anything – “the good nights”. These are the nights that I am completely in the present moment and not inside my head. I am “in the zone”; doing things better than I have ever done before.
But not every night is like this. All of us also have nights when nothing seems to be going right. You can either call these nights “bad nights” and hate them, or call them “learning nights” and use them to grow.
All of us also have nights when nothing seems to be going right. You can either call these nights “bad nights” and hate them, or call them “learning nights” and use them to grow.
A few days ago I had a really “off night”. A night when I was missing even straight in shots. Where I was second guessing everything I did. Where I didn’t have the confidence to run more than two balls, even with ball in hand.
I never realized how important these nights are and how much they help improve my game…
I love nights when I am in dead stroke. Every shot seems so effortless and I am aiming without aiming. I don’t have to care about position play – If I can see the ball, I know I will make the shot. I don’t care whether I have three balls in front of me or seven. All I need is a turn at the table. I know that I can run all of them. On nights like this, I win lots of games by intimidation alone. Opponents start over thinking after watching me shoot and end up choking just because they know that if they miss, it might be their last chance on the table.
Next come the nights when I am not in “dead stroke” but I am still in stroke. I still have to think about position play because I don’t have the same confidence to make any shot. I have to think about what I am going to play before each shot, plan the english, wait till my mind is settled and make it. However I can reasonably execute anything that I decide I want to. Days like these are when I have to consciously remember to play one ball at a time and not rush it by thinking too far ahead. I have to concentrate on each shot or I might miss it.
This is how it was last night. I was winning several games, but the amount of concentration it took was almost exhausting, and I had to stop after a few games and take a break. Its definitely not as easy as being in dead stroke, but I can still do it. If I never had a night like this, I would never be able to build the stamina to concentrate for several games, one shot at a time, while being out of stroke. If I ever had an important match and was not in “dead stroke”, I would end up losing because I wasn’t prepared for it.
But the most important nights are the ones when I am completely out of stroke. Where every cut shot seems to miss the pocket by a few inches and even the straight in shots rattle out.
But the most important nights are the ones when I am completely out of stroke. Where every cut shot seems to miss the pocket by a few inches and even the straight in shots rattle out. Where I have to stop thinking about position because just making a ball seems like a miracle. Its as if I just started playing pool for the first time. As if I am not the same person who gets “rackless night” patches and can run tables. These nights usually happen when I am really exhausted from a long day or have a lot on my mind.
I had a night like this a few days ago. I had no confidence in my ability to make more than one shot with ball in hand. I just could not make cut shots. My opponent was on the hill because I kept missing shots and giving him the turn with a reasonably easy leave.
This is when I realized that I could either cry about not being in stroke and blame the entire situation on fate, or I could use all the knowledge I had, consciously focus on playing with a good stroke and play within my abilities.
I started shooting one or two balls and then playing strong safeties. There were times when I thought to myself, “if I had been in stroke, I could have easily run all five of these balls, yet I’m playing a safety”. I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and focused on playing the perfect safety. I think my opponent gave me at least 10 ball in hands during that time. I won all the remaining games and the match without ever being able to run more than two balls at a time.
So why do I like these bad nights?
Nights when I am out of stroke force me to improve my game consciously so I can play better on the nights that I am not playing with subconscious competence. I was forced to learn by observing flaws in my own game, asking people for help and looking for good reference material. I did things like making a checklist of things to focus on for a good pool stroke. I discovered and started practicing the bottle drill to improve my stroke.
The mark of great sportsmen is not how good they are at their best, but how good they are at their worst.
The thing I discovered is that as you learn to push yourself on these “off nights”, your off nights start getting better and better. With each “bad night”, you get closer and closer to playing like your best self.
Use the nights you are your best self to inspire you. Use the nights you are not playing well to improve, by discovering your weaknesses and working on them. Aspire to be your best self, and work towards it consciously every day. That way, every day you are working towards becoming the best that you can be.
You also start winning on your bad days.