June 17, 2024 - The Surprise Test

When you miss a shot, how do you react? If your first reaction is anger or disgust, you are going about it all wrong. Yes, some top players do show anger or disgust when they miss a shot, but that’s usually a secondary reaction, one that hits them only after their first and primary reaction.

And what is that first and primary reaction? Surprise.

If you want to improve, you need to have the mindset that you expect to make every shot you attempt. If you have that mindset, then you can get the conscious mind out of the equation and let your training – i.e. your subconscious – take over, so that the shots come fluidly and naturally. And if you do have this mindset, then when you do miss a shot, you will be surprised, because missing was unexpected.

The first step toward this mindset is understanding that you don’t have to develop your shots to a high level before you should expect them to hit. The expectation needs to come first, to better allow you to reach the level where they really do almost all hit.

The second step is to stop worrying about winning so as to take the pressure off individual shots. Then you can just let go and let your training take over in the knowledge that that is the best way to maximize your performance, and thereby maximize your winning. Then, when you miss, instead of anger or disgust at losing a point, you are merely surprised you missed a shot you know you can make every time. (No, that is not literally true, but if you believe it when you play, you’ll maximize how often you make that shot.)

The third and final step? Practice, practice, practice, so that this expectation that you can make every shot becomes closer and closer to reality, to the point that, unless the opponent does something to make your shot difficult, you will make nearly every shot where you aren’t pressed to the limit – and when you do miss one, you will be surprised since, with practice, you know you can make that shot every time.

If, deep down, you fully expect to make your shots, and thereby fully expect to win, then you will not be nervous. To use a metaphor, deep down, you expect to be able to walk, and so are not nervous about falling down and breaking your leg. Same mentality. But it all comes down to learning to expect to make every shot.

The grand test for whether this is working comes the very next time you miss a shot. Were you surprised?