How do you recover from extended periods of "bad beats"?

I enjoy among many things in competitive pinball the social aspect of it all, but lately it seems like my tournament performance has been unacceptably sub-par (primarily match-play or knockout tournaments). Just this weekend, there were two instances of playing old Bally SS games (on 3-ball) where, frankly, none of us were having a monster game, but I literally just needed to not get a houseball to survive another round (and you can probably assume what happened).

I usually always put up good games during pre-tourney practice, but as soon as I get hit with an unfortunate ball (which I know will happen to anyone), I seem to just get caught in a self-perpetuating death spiral, where I’m playing “just to survive” and lately, frequently choking at doing just that.

Are there any ways to deal with one’s “mental” game when it’s seeming like every one of your crappy games is always during the time it seems to matter? For what it’s worth I very much enjoy playing with our circle of regulars, but constantly failing to live up to at least modest standards of what’s expected of me cause of an abnormal amount of “bad beats” has been somewhat concerning.


Gotta learn to roll with it.



Play/Start a classics only league. You’ll be so exposed to house balls that they won’t phase you anymore in a regular league.


There’s a lot of possibilities. One to start: you don’t have an abnormal number of bad beats. You just know all of your own, really well. If it really is true that you have a large number of bad beats, then you are making mental errors.

On solid state machines, there is frequently a safer plunge.

As for the psychology, it’s tough, everyone is different. Losing the mentality of “all I have to do is ____” can be crucial. In those situations where you only need a small positive ball, set a goal for something much bigger.


One of the things I enjoy about the sport (and the hobby in general) is how inconsistent it can be. Everyone has off days. If you continue to compete, it tends to level out. I’ve been all over the place in league this season, but with one week to go, I’m about in the posistion I’m usually in at this time of the season. It all equals out. Just keep plugging and your luck will turn.

It’s the nature of the game. Not your fault. You may consider doing some side bets at upcoming events. You’re due.


It happens (happened) to everyone as far as I can tell. Some tournaments, I lost because I cared too much, my opponents were just having fun and won.

So get yourself out of that “I just need to do X” (that’s sabotaging yourself) and remember why you play pinball.

It also helps to cheer on the other guy, for every time you get screwed, someone else gets bailed. Cheer that guy on. Take the pressure off whichever way you can.

You play against 3 things in tournament. The machine, the other player and yourself. If someone doesn’t have the same pressure, they only play against 2 things. If they’re playing you and getting in your head, they’re only playing the machine. Easy win for them.

That’s why you do well during practice. It’s only you vs. the machine.

When I feel that way, I just go for a walk around the block, do some stretches, get a drink, remind myself why I play (fun), joke around, and focus on “let’s see what we can make happen here, one ball game! woo!”

I can’t remember who said “Playing good pinball is more like heading North than going to a certain address”. Brilliant quote. So just head North and “do the thing”.


Great advice Nic and Bowen, especially Bowen. I was in the same tourney as Corny, and I needed 6000 pts to survive on Paragon. I had the mentality “all I need is 6000 pts.” And once again almost every time, when I need to close a small gap I miss. No more! I’ll be aiming for bigger and definitely making sure I’m not playing against myself.

Most importantly, just have fun. That’s when I do my best. Thx guys!

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Yeah, I think the whole “only focusing on what I minimally need to do” is a definite area of mental improvement. Part of the challenge is not to trying to prevent myself from going “on tilt” when it seems apparent that the game isn’t going my way at all.

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Ups and downs are unfortunately common. I’ve been through quite a few trenches where I just couldn’t win, and then it became demoralizing.

My solution, go out and just have some fun with friends playing pinball without competition or dollar games, etc. I did that during my first big downer period and it really rejuvenated me, lightened things up and suddenly I was performing better again.

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its all about putting pressure on yourself. Pinburgh 2017 I had no idea how I would do in my first big tournament and I played really well. Pinburgh 2018 wanted to do better than 2017 ended up doing a lot worse on day one. Had nerves like I’ve never experienced ever! Next day just came in to enjoy the finals and came in the top of the E and played the best pinball I’ve ever played… I now just think about it as one ball at a time and its definitely helping me play a lot better.



I try to take the “one ball at a time” thinking to “one shot at a time” and just focus on that.

The main thing I remember from The Inner Game of Tennis is that you shouldn’t think of your current performance or the shot you just made as good/bad. Rather, try to observe it in more neutral terms and trust your body to do the adjustments for next try if necessary.

Some other things I’ve applied with relative success: stay positive, keep your chin up when focusing on how you want to perform. Know that everyone has bad balls/games. Good performance will make you feel good and that will help you maintain or improve your level. Vice versa with bad performance and feelings, so always try to enter a competition with a good feeling.


IMO, That book is required reading for anyone wishing to improve their mental game.


Yup, completely agreed (although I’ll offer the caveat that there’s a lot of stuff in there which is pretty stereotypically sexist in the way a lot of writing from the 70s is.)

That book was big in the pro foosball scene in the early 90s. Still has good info in it regarding mentality of playing.

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I played a lot of poker back in the day and it can be a very fine line between playing well, and not playing well…and the luck factor makes it difficult to tell the difference. You might not immediately notice that you’re tightening up and not using all the flipper skills that would come easily to you with nothing on the line.

Another vote for the Inner Game of Tennis. You should be watching the ball, controlling it, and flipping…not thinking about anything else. Not how many points you need. Not what happened to you on the previous ball(s). Not what will happen if you don’t score X points. Not how lucky your opponent has been.

I went through a phase where I shut out those thoughts with music. I was able to virtually eliminate the self talk in my head by distracting it with music. Not sure if it works for everyone.

In line with Inner Game of Tennis stuff, I try not to make judgements about my play to myself or to others at any point during an event. When people ask how I’m playing, I always respond with something line “fine” or “good”, without elaborating at all. It sucks a little bit not talking about it, but it does not help me play better to tell someone else about all the bad stuff that has happened. I’ll try to redirect conversations to pinball things that have nothing to do with my play, like strategy for a particular game, or discussing how a game is playing (feeds, etc).


I’m going through a funk the past couple months. It helps to hear all this. My friends remind me of this stuff, and maybe it’s stuff I’ve told them in the past, but ya know, sometimes you’ve just gotta hear it from some internet experts.

One of my pinball mates has this zen attitude. It’s about avoiding getting your head/mind in the way of playing well. According to him (and I quote): “You have to care just enough to almost not care.”