Poker and Sports Psychology Part 2
Last week Barry Carter started his program with sports psychology expert Jared Tendler, you can read Part One here
A few weeks in with my sessions with Jared Tendler and I am a new man, it's as if he had cured me of all my issues overnight. As soon as I got into the habit of talking about my risk aversion it seems to have disappeared. Any time I find myself feeling reluctant to take a risk (a calculated profitable risk, not calling all in with 6 high) I make a note of it and then study the hand and my reaction to it later on. I am finding it much easier to warm up and warm down from a session; in fact I am quite enjoying studying my hands and generally learning about poker, because I now feel like it is building towards something rather than me just trying to dig myself out of a ditch.
But I am also a little concerned that my new found zest for taking risks and working on my game away from the table is little more than a placebo. That I am doing these new things merely because I am aware I have been consulting a mental game coach and that it isn't the real me doing these things. Jared confirmed to me that my concerns were by no means unfounded:
What I was currently going through was the third stage of learning which is called conscious competence, which means that I am now able to perform a skill when I am consciously thinking about it. The first stage is unconscious incompetence (I don't even know that I suck at something), the second is conscious incompetence (I know I cannot perform a certain skill), then conscious competence (I can perform a skill when I put my mind to it) and finally the holy grail that is unconscious competence (I can perform a skill without thinking about it). Think about how nervous and aware you were whenever you got behind the wheel of a car after you passed your test and compare that to how easy it is once you have a few years no claims bonus, you could do it with your eyes shut, well not really, but you get the idea.
How will I know when I have reached the final stage of conscious competence? Well it seems hard to believe but when that arch nemesis known as tilt rears its ugly head. "Tilt is a good thing, its gives you a much clearer idea of your skill set" Tendler tells me. When you go on tilt, what you do at the table is now very reactive, instinctive. Tilting will highlight what you have really learnt and what still needs a lot of work. Obviously in an ideal world I'd never have to face tilt again, but when the chips are down it will give me the best idea of my progress so far. Hopefully also it will show that my C game has improved, although you don't really want to play anything but your A game, if how you play at your worst has also improved then it's a small victory too.
I was still getting a bit frustrated with bad beats, kind of unjustly too as I was dishing quite a few out and was by no means running bad. Although all three of my symptoms had dramatically improved, and I was certainly miles better at taking bad beats, this was still an issue. Jared asked me to explain how it felt and my reply was 'unfair' which we explored further. It seems that the idea of fairness was coming, a lot, from the fact that I was a poker journalist. I have spent the last couple of year's day in, day out, reporting on people who win huge sums of money. I have to interview these guys a lot of the time and have conversations about how great it was to win life changing sums of money every week.
I explained that I have always wanted to win a big live tournament, I had always wanted to be the guy in the picture holding his winning hole cards sitting next to a pile of cash and also I wanted to be the guy being interviewed for a change, when was it going to be my turn? Then I made what I thought was a meaningless and throwaway comment, I said jokingly at the end 'I guess I should stop playing SNGs and cash games and actually play a live tournament now and then' (I have barely played live this year at all) – which Jared immediately picked up on.
At first I thought, 'god no, it was just a joke, it didn't mean anything, don't waste the session with this'
But he delved deeper.
He likened this situation to one he noticed sometimes in sports journalism. Most sports journalists suck at whatever sport they actually report on (other than the retired pros who become pundits of course) and have no idea what actually goes on in the locker room, amongst the fans or on the pitch. The people who work in the sports industry KNOW that some well read journalists don't know what they are talking about and are often actually making just very generalized observations.
But poker is different; I am a poker player first and foremost and know not just what is going on in the industry, but also what it's like to play the game. Jared doesn't play much poker at all, but he knows enough to know why we call tournaments 'donkaments' and that winning a single tournament doesn't really mean much at all to prove you are a good player (Unless you do it consistently). He suggested that by me winning a tournament, it would only really serve to get recognition from the people in poker I DON'T respect. The casual observers, the journalists who know very little about the game and the mainstream media - rather than getting the respect of the people I actually admire.
Getting recognition as both a player and a writer has always been important to me, I think that's always been pretty clear, but this was a bit of a bombshell. We went further and discovered that part of my frustration as a player is that I am not winning something I don't really want to win in the first place????? It's pretty mind blowing but this has led to a very detailed discussion about goal setting and finding out what I really want from the game. I still love live tournaments and it would be great to bink a huge payday, but this has really opened my mind and it will be interesting to find out what I truly want from the game.
"Does it seem unfair now?" he asked me
"No, I am not sure how it feels now, but it certainly feels different" I told him.
Join us next week for part 3