The art of playing, without playing

One of my favorite movie quotes of all time comes from a Bruce Lee movie titled, “Enter the Dragon”.  In it, Bruce Lee is traveling to a martial arts tournament on a small boat filled with martial artists.  One of the bad guys approaches Lee, and tries to intimidate him with a display of his martial arts acumen.  When Lee is obviously not intimidated, the thug asks, “What’s your (martial arts) style?” Lee responds, “I guess you could call it, the art of fighting without fighting.” The thug responds, “Let’s see it.” Lee waves his hand dismissively and turns to leave, “Maybe later.”

One challenge that I have with improving my pool game is that I love to play the game too much.  What?  Sounds contradictory doesn’t it?  Actually, it’s pretty logical.  When I get to the pool room, all I want to do is make balls and clear the table.  Although this may be fun, it is not a good way to practice if you want to improve your game, and it really just reflects a lack of discipline on my part!  I have recently begun to wonder if there is a more effective way to practice.  Why not just break down the key components of the game into a few discrete mechanics, each of which could be practiced AWAY from the pool table.  If I’m not at the table, I won’t be tempted to ‘play’.   That way, I can really focus on getting into the “Deep Practice” zone that Daniel Coyle describes in his book The Talent Code.

Sound nutty?  Maybe…maybe not.  In his book, Daniel describes instances where world-class performance has been developed using similar techniques.  He cites several examples, telling stories about the Russian womens’ tennis program and the Brazilian soccer program.  I won’t go into details here, as you can read the book for yourself, but I believe the same techniques could be applied to pool.  Without providing any further explanation, I will just tell you that I’ve made the decision to work on some of my fundamentals without going to the pool room.  Since I’m currently in Puerto Rico traveling on business, I’m not going to have time to go to the pool hall every night anyway.  No problem, I’ll just bring the pool hall to my hotel room!

Tomorrow, I’ll work on two aspects of my fundamentals:  Stance/Body position and Shot Execution.  For further explanations of these fundamentals, see the tab on my blog titled, “Fundamentals”.  In order to pull off a practice session in my hotel room, I’ll need to gather the following items:  (1) A table approximately 29-31 inches high (the regulation height for the surface of a pool table), (2) a cue stick (not sure where I’m going to get this since I couldn’t bring mine on this trip), and (3) a Coke bottle.  A Coke bottle?  Yes, a Coke bottle.  With these items, I will try to perfect the art of playing, without playing.  More on this tomorrow.


2 responses to “The art of playing, without playing

  1. Hi Michael,

    I had the same problem with having “fun” instead of really practicing when I played flute. Sometimes I practiced tough technical pieces by using a pencil instead of the instrument. Sounds strange, but I actually made a lot of progress that way.

    So, your plan to practice away from the pool table makes perfect sense to me.


  2. Yes, I think this is touched on in TTC when an instructor asks about how people spend their warm-up time (just playing around for fun was the consensus answer).

    Practice time shouldn’t be wasted. Indulgent time is wasted time. 🙂

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