Friday, September 09, 2005

Pigeons, White Rats and You

A word of encouragement from the world of experimental psychology…

As a psych major back in the 1970’s I was well indoctrinated in the virtues of positive and negative reinforcement as well as the influences on behavior of various reinforcement schedules. In regards to my personal pool development program, however, I think the simple act of making a good shot or winning a match is all the reinforcement I or anyone will ever need.

Still, there is one fact I recall from my school days that I still find encouraging. It regards this basic tenet of learning: The probability that a task will be performed correctly increases with the number of attempts a subject makes. In other words, the more we try something, the better we get at it.

I have applied this dictum to my pool game and am convinced that it easily transfers to our beloved game. A case in point: I devote much of every practice session to working on shots that are a problem for me, for example, long shots from various angles where the object ball rides the rail to the pocket. Not long ago, these shots were virtually impossible for me. During a recent session I pocketed 10 of them in a row. More than anything, I attribute my improvement making these shots to my repeated practice. During every session, I set aside time for them, even when I have other shots to work on.

(A note: I have to admit that I lost a recent match because I missed a shorter version of this very shot. Unfortunately, it’s hard to practice “not choking.” I’m hoping entering more competitions will produce the desired effect.)

Of course, the results of this kind of practice can be amplified by the degree of concentration you bring to the table. I, for instance, make careful note of my perceived contact points on the cue and object balls and follow the cue ball’s path to the object ball on every shot. When I miss, I make adjustments. I believe that this kind of applied practice will allow you to advance at a faster rate.

One last observation: I believe the reason there are so many lousy golfers in the world is directly related to the fact that for the most part they avoid working on their weaknesses. They go to the range, flub a few shots with the clubs they can’t handle and quickly switch to the clubs they have confidence in. Because of this, Uncle Jimmy, the family golf nut who has a closet full of golf outfits and a couple thousand dollars worth of golf clubs, couldn’t break 120 if his life depended on it.

Thankfully, most pool players are smarter than golfers.

Good luck and good shooting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with your "practice the weak parts" of your game! I too just got back into playing after moving down here from Pa. a few years back. I'm at about 80% speed from my best. Right now I"m practicing off angle break shots in 14.1 (a weakness of mine!)I see your in Florida, maybe we can play some time since I can't find anyone here who knows what straight pool is:). I'm near Daytona. seeya round.....Gerry