I recently experienced a set of events so profound, which excited me so much, that it took me a full two days to calm down enough to allow me to sit and write about it. Where do I begin with this story?
In Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code, Daniel describes a curious phenomenon that he refers to as the HSE (Holy Shit Event). If you’ve read chapter 4 of his book, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The HSE is the feeling you get when a person who is “just like you” suddenly displays a quantum leap in skill level. It’s the feeling of, “Where did that come from?” Daniel describes the scene well: A person in the process of developing talent is being watched by an outside observer, and the outside observer, while watching, is “…dumbstruck, amazed, and bewildered, while the talent’s owner is unsurprised, even blasé.”
I experienced a mini-HSE event on Monday afternoon, then another one on Tuesday. As described in my blog posts from last Friday and Saturday, I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about shot making fundamentals and practicing away from the table (see October 28 & 29 posts). This Saturday, I conducted a two hour deep practice session at Santa Clara Billiards working primarily on my stance, stroke, and bridging as they relate to rail shots (see my November 28 post). The Saturday deep practice session was fantastic, and I thought about it all day Sunday. On Monday, I stopped by Edgie’s Billiards in Milpitas, CA with the intention of doing another hour of follow-up work from the Saturday session. When I walked into the room, guess who was already waiting for me? Mike! (See my post “Eating Humble Pie” from November 16).
Mike asked if I wanted to play a few games. I had originally intended to do some deep practice work that day, but I didn’t want to be antisocial, so I accepted. I broke the first rack but didn’t make any balls. Mike made a couple balls, calculated that the table was too difficult to run, and decided to play a safe and leave me with a very difficult shot. The shot that he left me is diagrammed to the right. (There were other balls on the table, but they aren’t relevant for this discussion.) I stood from my chair, walked to table, and an eerie calm feel over me. I thought, “Hummm. This shot looks familiar doesn’t it?” It was almost the exact same shot that I had practiced on Saturday; it’s my “new friend”! I carried out the exact same pre-shot routine that I conducted during my deep practice session; focusing on the approach, foot positioning, stance, level cue, rock solid rail bridge, smooth calm stroke, and then I pulled the trigger. Cue tip and cue ball collided, the cue ball traveled up the table, cue ball and object ball met with a gentle click, the object ball rolled slowly up table at “pocket speed,” traveling to the far right corner pocket without touching any rails and with just enough energy to barely fall into the pocket. A perfectly executed very difficult shot! But here’s the funny thing: I wasn’t at all surprised; I was just doing what I had practiced on Saturday. I stood up without saying a word, walked around the table, and kept shooting, and shooting, and shooting. An hour later I looked up, and I was leading 8-1. It wasn’t until I started unscrewing my cue stick that I realized that I had just played a nearly perfect match.
I know there will be good days and bad days. I had a couple bad days recently, but after the Saturday practice session, it seems that I’ve somehow magically rewired my circuits. My arm and body seem to be listening to my brain much better than before, almost on autopilot. I had difficulty falling asleep Monday night. When I woke up on Tuesday, it seemed almost like a dream. I thought to myself, “Is it really possible to turn yourself around that quickly? Surely not. Probably just a fluke”. I was itching to get back to Edgie’s and practice more. When I arrived the next day during my lunch break, Mike was not there, so I warmed up and hit practice shots for thirty minutes. Everything seemed fine. Everything was clicking.
Then for fun, I did something that I know I’m not supposed to do. I grabbed two handfuls of balls, threw them out on the table, and started practicing run outs. Usually when I practice run outs, I throw five or six balls out on the table, then try to pocket them in numbered order, similar to a game of nine ball. This is one way to judge your progress and ascertain where you are in your skill development, but not necessarily the best way to practice. I can usually run out about 40-60 percent of the time with six balls on the table, depending on how seriously I’m concentrating. I looked at the spread in front of me, and realized that I had thrown out eight balls instead of six. I have occasionally run out eight balls, but the percentages are very low, probably in the range of 2-10 percent. “Oh, what the heck,” I thought. I approached the table and started shooting. I ran the table. “Hah! Bet you can’t do that again!” I chided myself. I threw out eight more balls, and started shooting in order. I ran out again. A slight increase in heart beat. A shortness of breath. I threw out eight more balls. I ran the table for a third time in a row. Unbelievable. I threw out eight more. When the balls settled, two of them rolled up next to each other to form a cluster. I was unable to break the cluster during my run, so I couldn’t run the fourth set. I threw out another eight, and ran it out. Now I’m freaking. I stopped, sat in a chair, and looked around. No one else was in the room, except for a handful of three-cushion players who weren’t paying me any attention. I looked at my watch. My lunch break was over, and I had to go back to work. I guess it’s better to quit while I’m ahead.