First of all, let’s properly describe the term “sharking”. To people who lose, their first complaint (and justification for losing) was that they were sharked. Let’s set aside that notion immediately – you were not sharked when losing against someone of superior skill. You just didn’t have enough shooting competence, plain and simple.
Let’s talk about real sharking, better known among the rest of the sports world as “gamesmanship”. Gamesmanship is any intentional action by anyone, designed specifically to cause a competitor to lose concentration or focus.
Gamesmanship comes into play when one competitor abandons the concept of true sportsmanship and applies such tricks that do not specifically violate the rules – but do bend or even break the spirit of competition.
There are the juvenile tricks, most often seen when a group of teenagers are banging balls for the fun of it. These very obvious efforts are intended to guarantee the shooter cannot concentrate on success. As a result, no one in the group plays seriously – to the point where a dedicated pool player turns away to avoid watching the Green Game being abused.
But there are levels of gamesmanship far more sophisticated. This includes almost any conversation not related to the competition – including compliments, complaints, verbal self-analysis, and more. To be fair, most of these are not intentional efforts to distract, but more in the vein of “friendly” competition.
But a lot of players out there consider themselves to be “gamesmen”. Over time, through discovery and research, they have built a library of tricks and traps they apply whenever the circumstances require.
Many are very clever. They will behave appropriately as long as they can maintain a competitive advantage. They will be the very soul of sportsmanship, even to assuming the responsibility of pointing out others who fail his apparently high standards. But when they see the need for a slight advantage, they will begin the process of adjusting the mind of a competitor.
The first thing they do is start testing and probing their opponent’s attitudes and mental stability.This is done by seemingly unrelated inquiries, all probing for any weakness. On each question, the player’s response is carefully observed. Was there a slight wince, or a frown, or scowl? That indicates an emotional weak point. At a key point in a run, a carefully timed verbal comment can be used to reduce or destroy the focus.
And truthfully, some players openly hand a gamesman the tools needed to beat them. Many of these are very obvious. For example, complaining about having to shoot of the cushion is an open invitation for a gamesman to intentionally and continuously give you such setups. The same when a complaint is voiced about disliking the use of the mechanical bridge.
Here is an example of how a pool sharking gamesman would discover a weakness: A gamesman asks you a question about your day. You respond (for several minutes) by complaining about what a rough day it was. Right off, you have told the gamesman that you will have trouble maintaining concentration. And then, the one time you start stringing a few balls together, he says something about your doing well in spite of your exhaustion. And, you miss the next shot.
The key to managing players who think they are pool sharks is to recognize when they are making an attempt on your mind. If you can recognize the opening gambits, you can prevent tricks from affecting your game. When games are important – you can do a lot to help you win by following a few simple rules:
- Don’t show emotions (happy, sad, or mad), before and during a match.
- Avoid answering questions from opponents, especially general inquires of any kind.
- No matter where you are in a match, ALWAYS maintain a poker face.
Over your pool playing lifetime, you will be the target of dozens and hundreds of pool sharking attempts. Simple experience will help you identify the common attempts. When you do experience a new distraction trick, you will be affected once (maybe twice if you're not paying attention). But thereafter, it won’t work. Eventually, no one will be able to play mind games with you.
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