Offensive Vs Defensive Mental Skills

Written by David Sapolis

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All great players know that developing mental skills in competition is crucial to their success at the table and while sitting in the chair. Pocket billiards instructors, including myself, have not done a great job of explaining why developing this trait is vitally important. We usually say that it must be developed, then we develop various teaching plans and mental exercises, yet we never get into the how and why these skills will impact you in competition.

There is also the truth that many players resist this training, either being fed by their ego that says they are mentally superior, or by merely just blowing it off. Have you ever heard of anybody becoming proficient at anything without having to practice? Probably not. If a wrestler did not physically condition himself, his opponent would mop the floor with him quite easily. The need for physical skills in sports as well as the game of pool is evident. We need to possess a stroke, aiming, pocketing ability, getting position. The problem is that all of these physical skills are visible. The mental game is invisible. As a coach/instructor, it is my job to explain why we need various mental skills and how they should work in situations that you will encounter at the pool table.

Without going too far deep into psychology terms, I will start off by explaining what happens when players are strong in some areas of the mental game, but are weak in others. This chapter will make the mental game visible to you. We will start by separating our mental skills into 2 categories: Offensive Mental Skills & Defensive Mental Skills.


Offensive Mental Skills allow an player to dominate during competition. Offensive physical skills might include a powerful break that makes 2 or 3 balls consistently. The player is always making a ball on the break, spreading the pack, and getting a clear shot on the lowest ball. After that, Player X is able to run out the rack. Games are strung together, and this gets Player X ahead of his/her opponent. When these offensive skills are clearly well developed in Player X, other players know Player X is a contender. Offensive skills and abilities are absolutely necessary to be a world class pool player.

Offensive mental skills can also allow a pool player to dominate an event. Tremendous competitive desire causes the best players to put in extra time learning new skills to take their game to a higher level. A clear example of this is Allison Fisher. Allison deserves to be where she is at because she puts a lot of time in at the practice table. It is quite obvious that she doesn?t practice just one specific area of her game, she practices it all. She develops and fine tunes her entire game and is always trying to learn new skills that will enable her to stay ahead of her competitors. In competition, Allison?s competitive desire helps her rise to the occasion and overcome great efforts by other players to defeat her.

A drive to set and achieve goals keeps the game?s best players striving for improvement, identifying and eliminating weaknesses and keeping training intense, realistic, and focused.

The ability to visualize success allows the best players to practice for excellence and keep thoughts simple and practical. For athletes under pressure, self-talk skills help them think in a positive and useful way. This will keep the player from mentally battering themselves in competition when they are not performing well.

The ability to develop effective competition plans is a critical mental skill for all players, as pool is a game that has frequent decision making. A willingness and ability to commit to a plan of training and competition is an offensive skill that allows players to give 100 percent in competition and get the most out of new and innovative training methods. They do not leave their best game at the practice table. They bring it with them.

Comfort with risk is an essential offensive skill for competitive situations where too much caution can be the difference between first and tenth place. The ability to maintain a relaxed "competitive" approach is a related skill that allows players to act without hesitation and avoid the danger of cautious over-thinking. An excellent example of this is Earl Strickland. Earl very rarely over-thinks a situation. This keeps him focused on the task at hand, which is overcoming the obstacle that is before him. No matter what the risk, Earl never talks himself out of the shot.

Finally, confidence in skills and the competition plan allows players to stay on the offensive in their matches and throughout the tournament.

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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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