Joe Waldron, Ph.D.
Chris Everet was asked how she practiced for a major tennis match. She stated that in addition to practicing, she very carefully rehearsed every significant detail in her mind’s eye. Dr. R. Suinn from Colorado State University conducted scientific studies on the use of goal rehearsal to improve the athletic ability of athletes. As consultant to the U.S. Olympic Ski Team he had skiers relaxing and then imagining the actual race. Skiers were asked to try to imagine every part of the course. From the beginning, across every slope and turn and to see themselves traversing the most difficult areas in a highly successful manner. Dr. A. Lazarus one of the most respected behavior therapists presents the use of imagery in his book, “In the Mind’s Eye.” Lazarus writes in a conversational non technical style and presents an in-depth discussion of the complete use of imagery for any interested pool player.
The general consensus of the field is that imagery works amazingly well when used to improve skills like pool shooting. In the early stages of learning to shoot practice is important. Those who do not have easy access to a pool table can take heart from the idea that beginner’s skill s improves by an average of 40% when imagery replaces 50% of the training program. In other words, simple mental rehearsal of the skills to be acquired can be improved by roughly 50% if the student of the sport will simply attempt to imagine and rehearse the skills that are to be learned.
Advanced players have trouble with different aspects of the game. Perhaps rail shots, or calculating the angle of deflection cause problems. It may be the development of a consistent power break that seems unattainable. Any act that requires a specific behavioral pattern can be improved with imagery.
In addition to specific patterns of behavior imagery can be used to improve attitudes or personal reactions while at the table. You can reduce your level of irritability or learn to play the table instead of the opponent.
To benefit from the use of imagery you are not required to have a good imagination. Some people can easily visualize a face, a table layout or a particular shot. Others simply cannot see things in their mind. Either type of person derives the same benefits from the use of this technique. The key seems to be in the idea that thinking through and attempting to visualize a process activates the muscle patterns that are used in the process. Scientific studies have conclusively demonstrated that mental rehearsal is a very significant contributor to the improvement of acquired skills. Practicing in your mind seems to be nearly equivalent to practicing in reality. That may seem strange but it is, none-the-less true.
Complex skills such as maintain attitude, thinking before shooting and not thinking while shooting, maintaining stroke and power while the non verbal parts of the brain shoots are the types of processes wherein the shooter can actually derive more benefit from imagery than from actual practice. During actual practice we tend to become easily distracted by a single element, especially if it is a fault. These distractions do not allow the shooter to focus on the overall process. When imagery is used every practice is a success and the shooter builds a complete, wholistic, successful behavioral patterns. In psychology the technical term would be constructing a gestalt or “whole” process.
I suspect that advanced shooters can derive more benefit from imagery than beginners. A 60 – 70% improvement in the current level of play would not be unexpected. Advanced players have all the pieces that are needed to form a whole process and the use of imagery does require that you and your body must know what is to be done and how to do it. Imagery integrates the bits and pieces into a smooth “dead stroke.” That is a shooter who uses little to know thought in the process of executing any type of shot. As some of the excellent shooters phrase it, “the shot seems to shoot itself.” The cue is an extension of the body and one simply point to the pocket and position where the cue should land.
To use imagery in your training try the following procedure that should be adjusted to your style. Select a part of your game that needs work. I will use shooting off the rail as an example, but any aspect could be taken up as a topic. For 10-15 minutes play nothing but rail shots at the practice table. Keep track of the percentage of shots that you make. Play your best and pay particular attention to all of your movements from stance, through stroke, to execution. At this point you have attempted to become acutely aware of all of the facets involved and you are determining exactly how well you can shoot rail shots.
Before going to sleep at night relax yourself (as discussed in previous articles) and practice rail shots in your imagination. Go though all of the steps that are needed to successfully execute the shot. Forget the bad shots, attempt to imagine only the good shots. Begin with the easier shots and progress to the most difficult rail shot (with position) that you could make. Attempt to see your self from a position outside your body as though you were a fly on the ceiling. Do not be concerned if you can not visualize the situation. Just let your imagination do the best job it can. Use this technique for four nights. The fifth day go to the practice table and see how well you can shoot the same rail shots. Nearly all of the research literature indicates that if you seriously pursue imagery for 10-15 minutes a day your ability will improve. Interestingly, most top athletes use imagery as a training device.
Another place where imagery can be used is in shot making. When you are over the cue ball, attempt to see the line to the object ball and the line the object ball will follow. Try to see these lines and the movement of the object ball and the cue ball before you actually hit the cue ball. Whether you can “see” it is not the important point. Attempting to see it will improve your stroke and your aim, if you will take the time to imagine the balls moving before they are struck.