Blame it on Myelin!

Figure 1

Arrrrrgggghhh!  There is one particular shot that seems to be my Waterloo.  I have depicted the shot in Figure 1, and I have no idea why this shot continues to give me problems.  Earlier today, I had a few minutes between meetings, and I stopped by the company billiard table (yes, I’m spoiled) figuring that I’d throw the balls out and practice for a couple minutes.  This shot came up at least 4 times, and I missed three of them.  HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?  How can I make shots that are easily ten times more difficult, and yet I still miss this easy one?!

Thinking back to Daniel Coyle’s book, The Talent Code, Daniel explained the role of myelin in the brain, and how it helps to create nerve signal superhighways.  These superhighways enable a person to recreate thoughts or actions relatively effortlessly and repeatedly.  For example, when you first learn to ride a bike, the nerves involved in maintaining your balance have not been optimized by myelin, so you have difficulty maintaining your balance.  When you practiced riding your bike (and failing) over and over again, the nerves involved in motor coordination developed thicker coats of myelin, and soon you developed a ‘talent’ for riding bikes.  The ‘talent’ learned was not just cerebral, it is actually a very real biological structure that has been built in your body.  That’s why people say that you never forget how to ride a bike.  In actuality, the issue is not that you don’t “forget,” it’s that your body has been physiologically programmed to remember the skills necessary for bike riding.

Back to pool.  Why do I keep missing this simple shot?  The only explanation that I can come up with is that throughout my years of playing, I’ve always had trouble with this shot, and whatever error in aiming I’m making, I’ve been reinforcing that error over and over again.  Hence, I’ve biologically programmed my brain to miss it.  When I get down to shoot the shot, my brain says, “Yes, that’s it.  Go ahead and shoot.”  When I actually pull the trigger and shoot, guess what?  I miss!  Damn Brain!  DAMN MYELIN!!

How do we rectify this situation?  I need to build a new neural pathway that delivers the expected results, and somehow block off the pathway that leads to misses.  Sounds like I need another deep practice session to work just on this shot and try to build a new habit.  Easier said than done.  Building a new habit that is so closely related to an old (bad) habit is going to be very difficult, because throughout the process, my brain will be screaming, “NO!  Don’t do it that way! Do it MY way!!”  Arrrrggghh!

Well, enough talk.  Time to get back to the table.


4 responses to “Blame it on Myelin!

  1. I’m reading a book called “Fundamentals Of Piano Practice” which has some good things to say about that (in concept). You probably want to make sure that you’re not practicing anything else while doing this shot, e.g. say you’re practicing your route selection, but you keep reinforcing certain bad habits while you do that, since you’re not concentrated on correcting your shooting errors.

    Also he says in the book that you should practice each thing on its own 100 times, although I have no idea where he got that number from. Another thing he recommends is practicing the thing you most want to work on slowly as your last practice session before you go to bed, and as your first practice session the next morning.

    Anyhow, that shot is everyone’s waterloo I think. It’s a tougher shot than it looks like, especially when you have to hit it hard and concentrate on other things like position.

    Hey, have you ever thought about posting video of your practice drills? It’d be interesting to see.

    • David, thanks for your comments, and thanks for reading my blog. I appreciate the feedback and your reference to the book “Fundamental of Piano Practice.” Sounds like the book you are reading is aligned with the concepts that Daniel Coyle presents in his book “The Talent Code.” To your point, I will initially just practice making the shot (~100-200 times), then add the complexity of making the shot and gaining position on the next shot (100-200 times also). Regarding your statement about posting videos of practice sessions, I think that’s a great idea. Let me ponder the logistics, and I’ll probably add videos to future posts. Thanks!!

  2. I’ve been practicing similar shots recently. One trick that I’ve found that really helps is to vary the angle. For hard cuts, I start with the straight shot, make it two or three times, and then move the cueball out into the table half a diamond or so and repeat until I’ve got to the shot that’s giving me problems, but with the knowledge that I can make a shot that’s almost the same.

    I’ve been trying this with the IPAT level 1 single ball shots, which are all length-of-the-table shots, but I imagine it would work for other types of shots too.

    I’m really enjoying your blog and wish you luck in your quest.

  3. William, thanks for the advice on the progressive cut shots. Also, I haven’t tried the IPAT shots, but I’ll definitely look into them. Thanks for reading my blog!

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