Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Mind of Steel

Use Imagery for Pool Success!

Dr. Christopher Stankovich

Imagery is simply the creation (or recreation) of mental thoughts.  Imagery can be used in a variety ways, including faster skill acquisition, faster skill mastery, increasing self-confidence, and even faster injury rehabilitation.  Thousands of elite-level athletes use imagery every day for athletic success, and I would like to show you how you can use imagery for success in pool!

First, it is important to say there is no wrong way to use imagery.  If you can create an image in your mind, you are using imagery.  When you stop to think about making your next shot and actually see the ball roll toward the pocket and drop, you are not only strengthening neural connections in your brain, but also eliminating your sensors to outside distracters (i.e. your opponent, the fans, etc).  When your focus is entirely on the shot, it is impossible to also think about the “other things” around you that often get in the way and prevent you from playing your best.

For imagery to be most effective, consider the following tips for immediate success:

Control & Vividness:  Try practicing taking total control over the shots you play in your mind – and always be sure to make your shots successfully while using imagery!  Try closing your eyes as you rest at night and see yourself taking total control of the table and with each successful shot make the situation as real as possible in your mind.  With a little practice, you will be amazed at how quickly you will be able to imagine your local pool hall, the stick in your hands, and the sounds of the balls cracking off the break!           

Internal/External Imagery:   Internal imagery is as if you are looking at the pool table through your own eyes, using your own point of view.  External imagery is as if you are watching yourself play through a camera sitting across the room.  Both types of imagery can be effective, so try both and see which type best suits you.  In my personal experience, internal imagery seems to work best, but either type is far better than doing nothing at all.

Use All Your Senses:  Imagery is more than just visualization!  Think about what it feels like to hit the perfect draw shot (kinesthetic imagery), or feel the pool stick in your hand (tactile imagery), or even the smell of your local pool hall (olfactory imagery).  Quite simply, the more you can incorporate all the sense the more real it will become in your mind – and the most confident you will be when playing in pressure situations (because in your mind you will have already been there a million times before!). 

Pre-shot and Pre-game Routines:  Use imagery the night before a tournament (pre-game routine) and briefly before each shot (pre-shot routine).  Imagery will help you keep a good pace and block out unnecessary things (i.e. the crowd watching), while also helping with self-confidence.    

Try using imagery today, and allow yourself time to get used to using imagery.  Remember, always keep your imagery positive and productive and you will never go wrong!

Dr. Christopher Stankovich is a nationally acclaimed expert in Sport Psychology and the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems.  For more information on performance-enhancement products, including the exclusive “Mind of Steel for Pool Success” and the world’s first Sport Performance Assessment for Pool, please visit

Friday, March 30, 2012

Setting Goals for Pool Success

Mind of Steel

Set Goals for Future Success!

Dr. Christopher Stankovich

Goal setting is arguably the best technique an athlete can use to immediately improve his or her performance.  Interestingly, although this statement is true, very few athletes actually know how to set effective goals.  In other words, far too often athletes set what we call “do your best” type goals that are extremely vague (i.e. “to become a better pool player”) and without any timelines to measure success (re-read the example I just gave – how will you know when you have become “better?”).

Research studies in sport psychology clearly show people who set specific, measurable goals almost always out-perform people who set “do your best” type goals (or people who set no goals at all).  By setting and achieving goals, your self-confidence will dramatically improve – and so will your pool game.

This month I would like to share a few tips so that you can begin setting goals for immediate success:

  • Begin by brainstorming all the goals you want to achieve, and for now don’t worry about how vague the goals might be (we will refine them later).  Take out a sheet of paper and start writing down as many things as you want to accomplish and try to do this in just a few minutes. 
  • Once you have your list, go back through each goal and look to see whether it is vague (“win more”) or specific (“make at least one ball on every break”)
  • When writing your goals, try to develop as many process goals as you can.  A process goal is a goal you can control (i.e. starting each match confident and composed), whereas an outcome goal is a goal typically beyond your complete control (winning tournaments is great, but ultimately you never control ‘winning’ if the opponent has a shot to win, too).  By reaching your process goals, you will ultimately reach more outcome goals (and win more games!)
  • Try to break your goals into three areas: Physical, technical, and mental.  An example of a physical goal can be making sure to get 8 hours of sleep the night before a tournament or to have water on hand all day in order to stay hydrated.  A technical goal might be to practice until you can successfully make 90% of spot shots.  A mental goal could be making a point to use a deep breath between each shot.
  • Your goals should always be in writing and you should have dates attached to each goal so you can monitor your success.  It is also wise to develop short-, mid-, and long-term goals.  We call this technique developing a “goal ladder,” and it has been found to be a very effective technique.
  • Other tips include being realistic with your goals, as well as being somewhat flexible if you don’t first succeed. 
  • Keep track of all your progress by keeping a journal.  While this may sound kind of funny, you will find that our memories are really not that great – and a journal will actually help you recall some of your better moments.  Your journal should include all of your goals, as well as regular entries that allow you to update your progress along the way.  

Dr. Christopher Stankovich is a nationally acclaimed expert in Sport Psychology and the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems.  For more information on performance-enhancement products, including the exclusive “Mind of Steel for Pool Success” and the world’s first Sport Performance Assessment for Pool, please visit

Friday, December 23, 2011

Overcoming Choking

Mind of Steel

Overcoming Choking!

The Sports Doc - Dr. Christopher Stankovich

“Choking” is when you know how to do something and have successfully done it before, yet in pressure situations you fail because of a lack of focus and execution.  In the game of pool choking is a common occurrence, especially during tournaments when it seems as though the table gets longer and the pockets become smaller.  This month I would like to share with you why choking occurs, and what you can do to minimize choking the next time you play when the stakes are high!
Choking always begins with fear.  Interestingly, for human beings fear can be real (i.e. somebody shooting a gun at you), or irrational (worrying about what somebody might think if I miss this next shot).  Regardless of the source (real or irrational), our bodies respond with anxiety in the same exact way.  In other words, your body doesn’t care if it hears gun shots or is afraid of your opponent standing over the pool table – the physical anxiety (i.e. increased heart rate; tense, tight muscles; and shallow breathing are examples) will be experienced the same exact way!

Once fear kicks into negative anxiety, your mind will begin to exclusively focus on the physical symptoms of nerves (the shallow breathing, increased heart rate, etc) instead of thinking about the shot you need to make on the table in front of you!  From there, most players will start talking to themselves and say things like “don’t screw up,” or “don’t miss this next shot.”  Guess what happens next?  You got it – the shot is missed!  Once your self-talk becomes negative and conservative, you are basically done (Don’t believe me?  Try NOT thinking of a pink elephant and see what happens.  Now go tell yourself NOT to miss the next shot and see what happens).  

Once the shot is missed, the player usually experiences more negative energy, more fear, more anxiety, and in some cases the day may end up being lost completely.  It’s amazing all this starts from fear – and irrational fear at that!  Think about it – there is no real fear when playing pool, yet how many thousands and thousands of players allow their minds and bodies to experience fear as though they were in fear for their life?!  Seriously, who cares about who you are playing or how many people are watching – they cant take the stick out of your hands and make you miss shots!

If you want to minimize choking, try the following tips:

·        When you start getting nervous while playing, where is the fear coming from?  Are you worried what somebody will think if you miss?  Are you concerned who is watching you shoot?  If you are feeling any of these kinds of things STOP immediately, stand up, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself you are experiencing irrational fear!

·        Breathing through your stomach is the best way to immediately calm your body down.  Try taking 2-3 deep belly breaths and watch how your body responds – its pretty amazing.

·        Self-talk (what you say to yourself) is also a great way to refocus and remain calm in tough situations.  Tell yourself words like “focus” or “stay cool” and your mind and body will respond accordingly.

·        Once you conquer fear, confidence will take over – leading you to synchrony between your mind and body, experiencing “the zone” more frequently, and positive self-talk (and more wins, too!).

 Dr. Christopher Stankovich is a nationally acclaimed expert in Sport Psychology and the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems.  For more information on performance-enhancement products, including the exclusive “Mind of Steel for Pool Success” and the world’s first Sport Performance Assessment for Pool, please visit

Monday, December 12, 2011

Focus Your Mind for Maximum Success

Mind of Steel

Focus Your Mind for Maximum Success!

The Sports Doc - Dr. Christopher Stankovich

Practice, practice, practice – that’s all there is to pool success, right?  While it is true that playing more pool will typically lead to better skill development, if you really want to maximize your abilities – and work smarter, not harder – then tune in to this months column on the three pieces of peak athletic development that can be immediately applied to pool for maximum success. 

Whenever I work with elite-level athletes looking to improve athletic performance, regardless of sport, I always suggest we begin by examining the three pieces needed for athletic success:

1. Physical conditioning

2. Technical instruction

3. Mental preparation

As I begin to discuss how each of these components leads to athletic success, think about how you are doing in each area, as well as what you need to do to improve (and take your pool game to new levels!). 

Physical conditioning relates to your strength and stamina.  Before tournaments, are you well rested, hydrated, and well stretched?  Do you typically eat something light and energizing, and not something that sits in your stomach like a rock?  If you are not paying attention to your physical conditioning and usually end up tired and sore while playing a few hours of pool, it doesn’t matter how good your shooting eye is or how cool your nerves are as you will eventually beat yourself by playing sloppy pool due to physical fatigue!

Technical instruction includes your shot-making ability, offensive and defensive strategies, and anything else related to improving your play (i.e. watching instructional videos, reading books, etc.).  Technical instruction relates to practice, and successful practice relies on you being in good physical condition to play your best.

Mental preparation is the execution piece to playing your best pool!  Mental preparation includes developing self-confidence, controlling nerves, and moderating arousal levels to maximize your ability.  Mental toughness allows players to “play to win,” rather than “play to avoid losing.”  Mental toughness is what allows players to go beyond being a great “practice player,” and play to their best ability in crucial tournament situations.

All three pieces are vital to pool playing success!  You have to be in good shape (and free of drugs and alcohol), know the game of pool, and then be able to replicate what you do in practice in tournament-like situations.  Sadly, many average pool players only focus on one thing – shooting more pool – and then get frustrated when they play great in practice but below their ability in tournaments.  In these instances things like having been physically unprepared and tired and stiff, or being mentally unprepared by allowing nerves to get out of control, never get addressed and he or she goes back to the pool hall and just shoots more balls in practice over and over again.  Do you see the problem?  The systematic approach I am discussing in this article will allow you to isolate your strengths and weaknesses – and win more games!

Next time you think about improving your game, start with the following questions – chart your progress and watch your game improve:

  1. How “ready” am I when I play in competition?  Am I loose and limber?  Am I well nourished and hydrated?  Am I free of drugs and alcohol?
  2. How well do I know the game of pool?  Can I successfully make shots, play strategically, and get out of trouble situations?  Do I need to get additional instruction to improve my game?
  3. How mentally strong am I when I play?  Am I confident I can win at any time?  When I get nervous, do I know skills I can use to control nerves and regain my confidence?
 Dr. Christopher Stankovich is a nationally acclaimed expert in Sport Psychology and the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems.  For more information on performance-enhancement products, including the exclusive “Mind of Steel for Pool Success” and the world’s first Sport Performance Assessment for Pool, please visit

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mind-Body Synchrony for Pool Success

Mind of Steel

Mind – Body Synchrony for Pool Success

Dr. Christopher Stankovich

Developing a smooth, rhythmic synchrony between your mind and body is essential for many things in life, and it is especially true in the game of pool.  You already know what I am talking about when it comes to synchrony, so you don’t need any fancy definitions here other for me to say that when things just feel right, when you are seeing the balls really well, and when your pace and shot execution is at its best then you know that you are in synchrony – and probably in “the zone.” 

Players get out of synchrony for a number of reasons, but a few of the more common reasons include:

·         Allowing missed shots to get them frustrated

·         Thinking about something else other than pool while playing

·         Worried about what others will think

·         Fear of failing and playing to “not lose” rather than win

·         Trying to win 10 games in one shot (usually happens when you are far behind and trying to do too much)

·         Just having a bad day

The good news is that just as quick as you got out of synchrony, you also have the power to get back into synchrony again – and probably faster than you would have thought.  Change and momentum can happen in a moment, and in pool the same is true.  Just ask yourself how many times you have seen the tides turn, where in one moment a player was getting crushed, and then a few minutes later he is running a rack and all of a sudden you can just feel him coming on!  The problem is that in the heat of the battle we often forget this, and as a result we tend to allow outside things to enter our minds, resulting in nervous energy, and you guessed it – no mind-body synchrony!

So what can you do the next time you get out of synchrony?  Below are a few tips to consider:

  • Remember, change can happen in one shot, so stay positive!
  • If you are really feeling the heat, take a quick pause and step away from the table.  Think for a few seconds about a positive thought, boost your spirits back up, and take one deep breath all the way into your stomach and exhale.
  • Watch what you say to yourself and keep it positive!  Rather than swearing at yourself and calling yourself all kinds of names, try some instructional self-talk like “stay calm” or “let’s work to get this rack.”  It’s amazing how your body will follow what your mind thinks!
  • Another good trick is to squeeze and relax just your hands 2-3 times.  Oftentimes when we feel agitated we experience the shakes or tremors in our hands – this often happens in pool since it is a fine motor skills sport (meaning there are a lot of precision shots to make).  Therefore, by squeezing your fists a couple times you will actually “shake out” the anxiety, allowing you to make more synchronized shots.

Make sure before you go out and shoot that your mind and body are on the same page – good luck!

Dr. Christopher Stankovich is a nationally acclaimed expert in Sport Psychology and the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems.  For more information on performance-enhancement products, including the exclusive “Mind of Steel for Pool Success” and the world’s first Sport Performance Assessment for Pool, please visit

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Trust Your Stuff

Mind of Steel

Trust Your Stuff

Dr. Christopher Stankovich

If you want to immediately improve your pool game, you must learn to “trust your stuff” and shoot with great confidence every time you approach the table.  When you are confident and believe in your shot-making ability, you allow your mind and body to work together in perfect synchrony – like a well-oiled powerful machine. 
Players who struggle with confidence end up over-thinking situations, leading to high anxiety and shaky shots.  Confidence is king when it comes to pool, and in order to play your best you must trust your stuff when it comes to making big shots!  This means that instead of over-analyzing shots and worrying about all the bad things that can happen, simply bear down and calmly stroke the shot the exact way you do when you make it in practice.  Trust your stuff by knowing that you will make the shot and relax, focus, and follow through all the way to the pocket.

Too many times when faced with pressure situations, players will forget how good they are, and instead over-think the table to the point where they lose their rhythm, focus, and confidence.  Rather than go through a normal pre-shot routine and trust their stuff, they begin to engage in self-doubt, resulting in poor synchrony between the mind and body.  When this happens, shots are missed, usually because of a relatively small error (i.e. slightly over-cutting a shot).   

Of course every shot at the table requires thinking, and some deserve extra-thinking.  The key is not thinking to the point where you lose your emotional groove and throw off that great flow that often comes when you are playing your best.  Fortunately, if you have played pool for awhile, your mind and body have already become conditioned to automatically see and make shots, so it is important that you believe you have what it takes to play successfully.  By simply thinking like this, potential negative nerves will transform into positive adrenaline!

Dr. Christopher Stankovich is a nationally acclaimed expert in Sport Psychology and the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems.  For more information on performance-enhancement products, including the exclusive “Mind of Steel for Pool Success” and Sports Performance Assessment for Pool visit

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Watch...and Learn!

Mind of Steel

Watch….and Learn!

Christopher Stankovich, Ph.D.

Obviously physically practicing your pool playing skills will lead to you becoming a better pool player, but did you know that you can also improve by simply watching others play?  This type of learning is known as vicarious, or observational learning, and has been found to be an effective way to increase skill acquisition.  In fact, if you really want to speed up the learning process you can add the skill of imagery to your repertoire (in simple terms, imagining yourself make shots successfully).

Vicarious learning and imagery allow you to witness successful pool play (shot making and defensive strategies), allowing you to do the following:

a)    see that the shots can be made, and

b)    give you the confidence that you can one day consistently make the same shots, too

When watching someone who is better than you play pool, it is important that you “lock in” and minimize outside distractions (yes, you should do this even when you are at home watching pool on ESPN!).  As you are watching, it is important that your mood state is positive and that you are open-minded – the better you feel, the more likely the learning will be strengthened and easy to recall down the road when you need to use the skill. 

Later, when thinking about what you witnessed earlier, it is important to rehearse in your mind making the same shots again (this is called using imagery).  As you go through these experiences (watching others and then later reliving it) you are essentially strengthening your neural connections in your brain – leading to more automatic, muscle-memory movements when it comes time for you to put your cue together for competition.

When it comes to learning, you will get out of it exactly what you put into it.  Interestingly, while most average to below-average pool players would like to attribute the success of better players to their “natural ability,” this is usually not the case.  Sure, some players may have a slight advantage when it comes to vision, coordination, and other factors that impact pool success – but what really makes them better is their work ethic and their willingness to learn from as many people as possible!  Successful players watch other players, and they relive the shots in their head over and over again until they feel they can consistently make the shots themselves. 

Remember, science backs up the importance of vicarious learning, so be sure to tune in whenever you have the chance to watch great players play.  Later, think about what you witnessed and how you can begin to incorporate this new thinking into your game.  Before long, maybe it will be you that we will be watching on ESPN – good luck!      

Dr. Christopher Stankovich is a nationally acclaimed expert in Sport Psychology and the Founder of Advanced Human Performance Systems.  For more information on performance-enhancement products, including the exclusive “Mind of Steel for Pool Success” and the world’s first Sport Performance Assessment for Pool, please visit