Back in the day when I played competitive billiards I had an excellent mentor, he was highly experienced, a champion and has forgotten more about billiards and the mental aspects of winning and losing than I will ever learn, but what I did learn from him has served me well in all aspects of my life.
Let me share with you one of his gems of advice: He explained to me that there are only so many shots, postures and position plays one can learn, once you’ve mastered the technical aspects of the game that’s only 25% of the game, the rest is played in the mind of the players. He further explained that when I find myself equally or even out matched in a game to be very careful with anything I say – ‘No matter what you’re feeling, thinking or what you may believe, do not speak it’.
That was confusing. Why did it matter with regard to what I said? He told me that the mind is a funny place and all players, no matter their level feel a bit of nervousness and insecurity, what opponents look for, to get the edge, is even more nervousness and insecurity in their opponent. From this short lesson I learned that we all look for security, a safety blanket, if you will, even the best do it whether they ever admit it or not.
I remember when I beat my first champion player, I was nervous out of my mind, but thanks to the advice of my mentor I didn’t show it in my mannerisms and I especially didn’t speak it. I approached him calmly, shook his hand firmly and played my game the best I could and won. It was perhaps the first time I didn’t wear my fears and insecurities on my shoulders, didn’t speak them and played my game.
A few weeks later I played another champion in the final round of a larger tournament, I was winning 7 to 2 in a race to 9. Perhaps I felt overconfident at 5 games ahead and allowed a few powerful words slip from my mouth just before breaking the next rack. I quite honestly and regretfully said to this experienced champion that I hadn’t expected to beat him. Why in the world did I say that? Was it just an excited, impulsive ADD moment? Yes, it probably was and like many of my ADD moments, it was disastrous! No balls went in on my break and I never got back to the table, my words had somehow sparked this champion, gave him the fuel he needed to gather himself and play to his full capability. I never got back to the table and lost 9 to 7!
There were several lessons I learned by the end of that match, but perhaps the most important was that I spoke my anxiety out loud and like blood in the water, the shark approached and devoured me. It wasn’t an opening in the game he needed, to defeat me, he had already had a couple of those; it was in the mental aspect of our game where I was beating him until I spoke. I spoke aloud my anxiety and it was all he needed, the chink in my armor.
Trust me, it took far more experiences like what I shared with you above until I finally learned to hold my tongue and frankly, I am still not a pro at it. However, I want to get to another point in my mentor’s lesson to me about speaking my anxiety, insecurities and fears. Sometimes it is important to talk about those thoughts, feelings and emotions with a trusted friend, coach or mentor, but it is very important to take care about what we say, not only to our opponents in life, but also to ourselves. To ourselves? I asked him. Yes, indeed to ourselves, the power words have upon others pales in comparison to the power they have over ourselves.
That’s when I first started to learn about negative reinforcement. He explained that what we consistently say to ourselves is the most important factor between winning and losing, succeeding and failing, living a fulfilling life or living in mediocrity. That revelation helped change my life and put me on a higher road to overcoming my most difficult opponent: myself. It would still be many, many years before I was finally diagnosed with ADD, but I was already on the road to recovery thanks to my mentor’s insights in winning at billiards.
Today I wrote about my experiences with billiards at the request of a reader. I enjoy traveling back in time to the days of lore and playing pool. If you would like to read more about what I learned from my mentor in billiards and how I came about finding a mentor in the first place, please read my book “One Boy’s Struggle: A Memoir” I think you will enjoy reading about the lessons I learned. I truly believe that sports are excellent for young children and teens with ADHD, especially if coached by a great mentor who’s willing to share his insights and teach the young the mental aspects of the games they play, because more often than not, those lessons serve us well in everyday life.