Even the word sounds ominous. "Slumps!" You can almost hear the bottom drop out. And no one is immune. It strikes us when we least expect it, and for no apparent reason.

You can always tell when someone is in a slump, even if you don't see them play. Those affected just stare into space shaking their head. Sometimes they seem to be praying while waiting their turn to shoot; head bowed, eyes closed, lips moving as they murmur something unintelligible to some pool god. A god on vacation.

A slump is like chronic choking. The collar tightens- and stays there. A slump is like Mr. Stupid moving his luggage into your living room. It's as though something has reached into your brain and removed everything softer than concrete.

What causes a slump? Is there a cure? Here are some possibilities.

Burn-out: I believe it is possible for some people to play too often, or practice until boredom sets in. It is difficult to focus when you are tired or disinterested.

Distractions: I believe problems at work or in the home can force people to put pool on a back burner, at least mentally. Who cares how well they are shooting if their wife just left a note on the dresser to the effect that she needs to find out who she is. Especially if she took the TV remote to help her find her identity!

Poor practice habits: Maybe we invite the slump by failing to practice often enough, or with enough purpose. The slump may be just a loss of confidence that can be recovered with more serious practice sessions.

Cures? I have never heard of a cure. I do know most experienced players offer the same advice: play through it. I find it also helps to just take a vacation for a week or so. Get away from the game and enjoy something else- like your wife.

There is another reason for slumps that I believe to be more common than most players realize.

At times we start searching for ways to improve our game that causes us to experiment with different techniques. When we invest our practice time trying new things, it makes us vulnerable to inconsistencies during competition. We may have been practicing the use of directional throw as a means to improve certain shots, and then try to return to our old way of aiming during competition.

If this is a problem for you, there is a cure.

First, it is not only okay to try new things during practice, it is the only time you should try them, and try them you should. We should never stop looking for ways to improve our game. However-

If you practice new techniques that you know you are not ready to use in competition, be sure to invest the last part of your practice time confirming your old skills. In other words, new things must be added to your weapons chest, but not before you are confident with them, and not at the expense of what you already know.

So, slumps can be caused by inconsistencies introduced during practice. If this is the case, change your practice routine. Now, go forth and slump no more.

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