The Art of the Choke

Written by David Sapolis

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Article Index
The Art of the Choke (page 1)
Satellite Interference (page 2)
Self-Communication (page 3)
Centering (page 4)
The Center of Mass (page 5)
Breathing (page 6)
Using Centering to Deal
      With Past Failures (page 7)
What is the problem? (page 8)

Using Centering to Deal With Past Failures

Centering can also be used to reprogram your mind on how it views past failures. Think back to the last big mistake you made at the table. Lie down on a couch and close your eyes and recall this incident as it happened. Perhaps the score was 8-8 in a race to 9, and you were shooting the six ball. You made the six, but came up short on your position for the seven ball, and you have no shot. Your best and only prayer is to kick two rails just to make contact. You feel your breathing tighten up, and you start to experience the onslaught of negative emotions that go with making such an error. Your situation may be different, but I want you feel the entire situation unfold. Feel the emotions, feel your breathing, your anxiousness, and feel all of it. When you are right in the middle of the situation and the emotions, I want you to start directing your breathing towards your center of mass. Do this in the same way you would perform this as you were centering yourself at the table. When you feel yourself entering the “centering zone” I want you to replay the experience in your head while you are in your centered state. Replay the experience over and imagine yourself dealing with the situation calmly and effectively. Perhaps you kicked two rails and made the shot. Perhaps you visualized yourself performing the perfect safety. No matter what you decide, change the outcome for the positive. Experience the positive emotions that come with making the shot or playing the perfect safety. Do this over and over, until the positive outcome image becomes clearer and clearer.

The purpose of this exercise is to link the mistake with a positive outcome. The goal is to trigger the positive emotions with the situation. This way, when faced with the same error in the future, you will pause, concentrate on your breathing techniques to remain centered, and move forward towards the positive outcome. It works a lot better than crapping your pants and slamming your cue - and it gets easier to do if you use it on a daily basis. This is a version of what I call burning the leaves, or taking out the trash. We recognize the error, and take steps to ensure that we deal with the situation differently in the future. We do this at the expense of ditching the negativity related to the situation.


If there is one area of everybody’s game that can use work, it is in the area of adaptability. By adaptability, I mean the ability to adapt your game to your surroundings, the atmosphere, and the equipment. When adaptability is mentioned to most players, they immediately think of adapting to their opponent’s style of play. While this is necessary to some extent, I am more leaning towards the play of the table, and how the balls are reacting. This is where YOU need to adapt YOUR game and put it into action.

You can focus and utilize breathing techniques to get centered, but if you cannot perform when it is your turn at the table, none of that will matter. Many players get discouraged when the balls don’t roll their way, or if they are having trouble pocketing balls, or judging the cloth speed. I wish I had a dime for every time an opponent talked himself out of a match because he gave up instead of adapting his game to the conditions of the table. So how do you do it?

Many believe that that prior to the match, you should stroke the cue ball around the table a few times to judge rail and cloth speed. Perhaps you can pocket a few balls to judge the pocket speed as well. For the most part, this is a smart move if you want to loosen up, but doesn’t do a thing for adapting you to your surroundings. I say this because: As soon as the game or match begins, your surroundings and your environment will be completely different. Your senses will react differently during competition than in practice. Your senses will process information differently. Your breathing will change, and your perception of your surroundings will be slightly altered. I have seen many fine players look deadly during their warm up, only to watch them enter the sixth dimension, a dimension I call Drained-Brain. They know what to do. They know how to do it, but something inside is making them do it all wrong, and they feel that there is nothing they can do about it.

There is something you can do about it, and I could care less what the table conditions are. Focus and concentration are very powerful tools. What makes some opponents so deadly, are not there physical skills, but what goes on behind their eyes. It is how different players deal with different situations that set them apart from each other. A camera flash would send Earl Strickland into a tirade, yet Efren Reyes might not even acknowledge the occurrence. You might have trouble pocketing the balls cleanly for whatever reason. It is what you do in response to your environment that will measure your adaptability to the situation. In the camera flash example, I gave the probable reactions of two different players. Neither response is wrong for either player, as each response serves a positive purpose for each player. They have a different way of reacting and adapting their playing styles to the same situation. When faced with situations that challenge your adaptability, ask yourself these questions:

What is the problem?

What is causing the problem?

What is making it worse?

What can I do to make this work for me?

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About The Author: Blackjack David Sapolis played professional pool for 20 years in The United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia.

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