Adapting – The most underrated skill

In 1984 I was at a Snooker tournament in Cartwright Manitoba. All the best Snooker players from Manitoba and a few from Saskatchewan were there. The venue was a small pool room with four 5’x10’ snooker tables. I don’t remember what brand they were but two of the tables had tight pockets and slow cloth and the other two had large pockets with fast cloth. The night before the tournament all the players and some spectators gathered together at the town banquet hall for dinner and to watch Cliff Thorburn (World Snooker Champion) perform an exhibition. After the exhibition one of the players invited a few of us to a party in Cliff’s honour back at his motel room. During that party I had the pleasure of talking with Cliff for about 30 minutes. Never one to miss an opportunity to learn something I asked him what he was the best at in the game of Snooker. I really thought that he would say that he was the best safety player (his nickname was the “Grinder”) or that he was the best high “break builder” (he was the first person to run a perfect 147 in the World Championships on TV). However he surprised me by saying that he believed that he was probably the best adapter in the game of Snooker. I was not only surprised but also intrigued so I asked him what he meant by that. He said that his years of experience traveling all over North America and Europe, having to perform in very different climates and conditions, has convinced him that the most important skill for him to perfect was a way to adapt to those different conditions because they were not going to change for him. He explained how easy it was for us to get frustrated and lose confidence when something (table conditions, atmosphere, opponent’s pace, etc.) were not as we were used to or what we like. He said that he refused to be a victim of circumstance and realized that the only way to do that was to learn and adjust. I’m not sure that these were his exact words as that was 30 years ago but the essence of his message was clear to me and this is what I learned from that conversation. It was so clear to me and so powerful that I started my own “Search for Excellence” that night. I set out to be the best adapter in the game and am still working on perfecting those skills. My own experience of competing around the world for over 20 years has convinced me time and time again that Cliff Thorburn had it right. There is a powerful equation here that is true for pool, snooker, and everything else we wish to excel in. Here are the exact steps that I follow to perfect my learning and adapting skills:
Step #1 – Set a goal
Step #2 – Desire it and believe in yourself
Step #3 – Focus on the method. Be aware of everything you have control over and don’t focus on what you don’t have control over
Step #4 – After each shot stay down long enough to become aware of what you just did and why it happened the way it did. Make learning the most important desire and goal.
Step #5 – Evaluate it, file it. If you performed it perfectly, copy and paste for the next time you shoot that shot. If you made an error in performance, evaluate it and consider what adjustment you need to make the next time.
Repeat, repeat, repeat!!
There is an old story about someone who was lost and wanted to find Carnegie Hall. He noticed a young man carrying a violin case so he asked this young man if he could tell him how to get to Carnegie Hall. The young man said “Practice, practice, practice.”
Well, my experiences have taught me that the young man was wrong. He should have said, “perfect practice, perfect practice, perfect practice!
I hope this will help you in your own “Search for Excellence”.
Enjoy the process!
Paul Potier