How to Teach Yourself
When you talk to yourself, make sure you're really listening.
I got onto my first pool table at the age of ten at my local community center. I wasn't tall enough to really reach the table, so I adopted an awkward stroke that allowed me to make contact with the cue ball. I started to play "seriously" in my twenties and hadn't realized that I was continuing to reinforce my bad habits and retained a rather awkward "chicken arm" stroke. I rediscovered pool a few years ago, and now I can think of little else. As a proponent of evolution, I have gotten on the path to steady improvement.
Pre-pandemic, I took a few lessons with Samm Diep, who captured a few of my fatal flaws—I still have the pictures of the brutal evidence—but it's not been possible to have live lessons. So like so many of us who have a passion, I've tried to teach myself. More than just practicing, I have started critiquing myself. My goal isn't to berate myself. I just want to get better. After watching great players talk about how they approach the game on Joey Ryan's podcast, and watching hours of pool tournaments online to refine my understanding of key skills, I found myself searching tournaments by who was commentating almost as much as who was playing. I was drawn to the commentators who were able to instructively dissect the game—and not just give "color." "He's probably going to use a little inside english to hold the cue ball" was much more helpful than "He's got that blue tint in his hair to spice things up."
Modeled after commentary by Jeremy Jones and Imran Majid, I started narrating my own workout sessions. So in a Texas, British, or Tex-British accent, it might go something like this: "Markus has a pre-shot routine where he takes three practice strokes, let's himself get to what we sometimes call 'quiet eyes,' says to himself 'no reaction', and then takes the shot. That 'no reaction' means no matter whether he makes or misses the shot, he wants to stay calm and carry on. He's been really working on his mental game." I find that if I have the discipline to give commentary to my practice sessions, I can often teach myself quite a bit about why I make and miss shots. In addition to honest critique, I also remember to praise myself. "Markus missed it but great position on that cue ball for what would have been the next shot. He might have just overhit that. Overall, this was a solid rack for Markus."
The next time you're teaching yourself a new skill or refining an on-going passion, maybe try talking to yourself. It might not work for you, but I encourage you to give it a try. There's no substitute for a great teacher, but while you're going it alone, you might just be your best bet.
Markus Hunt is an educator, writer, speaker, and musician. He currently lives in Aurora, CO.