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)

Not all of us have graced the winner’s circle, nor have all of us enjoyed the accomplishment of achieving our ultimate goal. There is one thing that we all have in common though…. We have all missed shots we should have made. We have all experience the “shot that got away.“ Read through this example, a scenario we have all been through. We are playing the local hot shot. We have lost to him 9 weeks in a row, and the weeks we haven’t lost to him we’ve stayed home in fear of the usual outcome.

This week is going to be different. We’ve kept up with him and met him at the hill. You run the rack down to the eight ball. You see that you have two dead easy shots to make and you will win the match. You see what you need to do on the 8 ball and bend over to shoot the shot. You have wanted to beat this guy for a long time and now you have your chance! You bend over and address the cue ball, and then something happens. You can hear your heart beating in you ears. You feel your chest pounding. You look from the cue ball to the eight ball, and it now looks as if it is fifty yards away. The pocket has shrunk, and your shooting arm starts to shake and quiver. You abbreviate your pre-shot routine and quickly send the cue ball in the direction of the eight ball. You stand up quickly and watch as the cue seems to develop a mind of it’s own. The cue ball contacts the eight ball and sends it just wide of the corner pocket. The eight ball travels up table and sits about four inches from the top corner pocket. Ray Charles can handle this out. You sit down and experience a myriad of emotions. You say horrible things to yourself. You sit in the chair and beat yourself up as your opponent shoots his way to victory. You shake his hand, unscrew your cue and start to give yourself what is commonly known as a mental battering.

“I shoulda done this…”

“I coulda done that…”

“I woulda if I coulda…”

“Ooooh why I oughtta…”

That gets us nowhere, and in fact, increases the odds of it happening again. What happened? You choked. Happens to everybody. Grill Archer or Reyes long enough and they’ll admit to having it happen to them as well. Choking is part of our development. If we don’t experience it from time to time, we are not human. What causes it? A majority of things. Usually choking is caused by what is known as negative internal immersion. This is usually caused when you lose your temper, but it is also caused when you are over stimulated by the surroundings or the situation. When you are in dead stroke, everything is working out for you. The balls are dropping and you are getting the cue ball to what you want it to. Everything is going according to plan and you tell yourself that you can continue on autopilot, or unconsciously. Choking occurs when you become internally immersed in task-irrelevant issues, or cues. Internal immersion is not always negative, and external immersion is not always positive. It depends on whether the issues or cues you are focusing on are task relevant or not. Understand that when you miss shots or miss position, it is essential that you keep your focus external, therefore avoiding the mental battering. If you lose your temper due to a foul, something your opponent says, etc, it would be wise to shift you focus internally.

Just as “playing in the zone” is an altered state of consciousness, so is choking! When we choke, we lose control of our thoughts, our behavior and the whole situation. Choking occurs when we become so focused on internal cues (thoughts and feelings) that you cannot attend to external task-relevant cues. Our mind starts to focus on what we should not be doing, instead of what we are doing. This is what will make your cue shake from side to side when you are lining up the match winning 9 ball. Your breathing will become erratic, your cue will get a little heavier, and you will probably start to feel your heart beat in your ears. After a while, your heart is pounding so fast that it feels as if your head is throbbing. If this seems familiar to you, read on.

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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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