Staying Positive

When it comes to pinball, I’ve found that it’s as much of a mind game as it is a flipper game - quality of play and scores when you’re nervous, irritated, or otherwise not focused is definitely lower than when you’re on point. Throw in some bad beats, rough games, and intimidating scores in a tournament and you could have yourself a rough outing if you don’t recover.

My question is really two-fold. First, I’m definitely guilty of holding on to rough games, rude (to me) comments, and disappointment when it comes to matches and qualifying. I know that it leads from an overall negative mindset, and I think I’m taking my serious level a bit over the top sometimes. How can I keep that from getting to me and quickly bouncing back?

The second part is about a healthy competitive mentality. Pinball is a game where the community encourages great games and stories, but as I tense up I tend to find myself rooting against people internally as I’m trying to hold on to points/keep from taking strikes in competition play. I know it’s not a good thing for me and the game and I’d like to follow in my favorite words from Bowen and say “don’t do that.” How do other people keep themselves supportive and positive as they play?

I hope someone can share their insight because I do love pinball a lot. I just want it to be fully positive, as the spirit of the game says it should be. Thanks! :smile:


I struggled with that for a really long time, to the point where I wouldn’t play in events because I knew it was just going to be too stressful and not fun, which it should be. Well, for some it might not be about the fun but…

Nowadays I try to tell myself that even the best players lose most of the time, which isn’t unique to pinball, and sometimes you just get screwed. Add to that that people are insanely good at pinball and you should cherish those victories over really good opponents, even if they’re few and far between. Giving fewer focks and enjoying the company of the people I’m playing with makes it more fun. I just try to play my best and if that’s good enough to beat my opponents, then woo!

I still stare laser beam death ray eyeballs at the back of people’s heads sometimes, but it helps, and my play has gotten better for it.


I like your thinking. Maybe I should treat this like I would a friendly practice game, with the exception of a few minor changes. I’m not smacking any loose balls free if it means I risk tilting in Pinburgh! :sweat_smile:

I try not to watch my opponent so I wander around. Exception being Pinburgh where we were pretty much trapped in the finals area. Watching Raymond and Kevin shoot the vari-target on super orbit while I cringe at that strategy lol :wink:


[quote=“ScoutPilgrim, post:1, topic:1540, full:true”]The second part is about a healthy competitive mentality. Pinball is a game where the community encourages great games and stories, but as I tense up I tend to find myself rooting against people internally as I’m trying to hold on to points/keep from taking strikes in competition play. I know it’s not a good thing for me and the game and I’d like to follow in my favorite words from Bowen and say “don’t do that.” How do other people keep themselves supportive and positive as they play?

Regarding that, it is impossible to completely hold back negative thoughts about other people. They will suddenly burst into your head, and the best that you can do is just keep them low and not let it seep into your physical actions, which is all you need. That you know that they’re wrong will go a long way towards that.

That’s why referees in large international sporting events like the World Cup will come from places completely unrelated to any of the players, for example. It is impossible to be completely unbiased and impartial, especially if you have an emotional stake in the game.

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Usually my strategy is to just try and come up with a plan for the current game and just have razor-focus towards that plan. I just keep telling myself that I can still win if I just shoot this, shoot this, shoot this, multiball, etc. If part of that plan involves some shot that could potentially just drain me through no fault of my own, I just shrug and tell myself that it doesn’t matter, I did the right thing, it just didn’t work out (in addition to being on my toes to try and save the ball of course).

For the “hoping your opponent drains” thing, it’s just something that happens. You want to win the match, right? If your opponent never drains, you’ll never win :slight_smile:
But to help work on this, I just start preparing in my mind what my reaction should be when they beat me. I tell myself that they beat me fair and square and good for them, and get ready to shake hands or whatever. Then later you can curse at yourself for not playing better :slight_smile:


This is a problem I’ve been running into as I’ve had more success in tournaments. I now have an expectation of myself to perform well and to achieve a minimum result or else I’m not happy with myself. Because of this I put more pressure on myself to win, adding pressure and nerves which kill my ability to play, and I get sucked into a generally shitty mindset. I feel like my average tournament finish has actually dropped as I’ve gotten better. Sometimes I feel like I’m just trying to show that I’m a good player when that is irrelevant and immature. I feel like I’m playing not to lose rather than playing to win.

A lot of the sports psychology that I’ve read talks about being outcome independent. Playing your best, and trying your hardest to win, but being okay with the possibility that you still might lose. Brushing off bad balls, bad mannered opponents, and losing in general is a big skill that people don’t actually talk about that often. One thing I try to do is use all of those things as fuel to improve, instead of letting them drag me down. Ultimately you are responsible for your own emotions and how you handle them. The people I see who have the most success rarely rage, and are gracious opponents. They’ve learned how to lose.

I’ve also been trying to remind myself to ‘play to learn’ rather than ‘play to win’. Telling myself that I just need to play better isn’t really useful and usually has the opposite effect since I start trying too hard and putting pressure on myself. Instead I’ll try to understand what mistake(s) I made, and why. Giving yourself something to work on is more productive than blind frustration. For example if I get a house ball, did I plunge it incorrectly? Could I have done more nudging? Could a slap save have worked?


If I’m stressed, when I get to the machine I say to myself “This is exactly where you want to be right now.” And try to think of something else good and happy. Music can help; family stuff can help. When I was down and out and out of gas at IFPA against Jon Replogle, I almost crawled back from my son’s reading of “The Monster at the End of This Book”. Then I blew it :wink: But, be happy, and good things come.

A long memory for why things happen and a short memory for how it felt to have it happen to you also helps, but your guess is as good as mine about how to pull that off 100% of the time.


These are both great mentalities to stick to.


Bowen, that’s a great book. We still have it on one of the many book shelves :slight_smile:

Back on topic, I am enjoying reading this. Similar to sk8ball, I also prefer to not watch my opponents play during finals. Of course if I ever have the chance to play in a match with him, I’d probably watch :slight_smile:

There are so many great tips out there on how to deal with tournament pressure, nerves, anger, etc., but for me the greatest lesson came from my son.

My son has a very casual attitude toward tourney pinball. He does very unorthodox things while playing : he dances, spins, listens to a wide variety of obscure music, plays Nintendo in between balls, and just plays for fun and enjoys meeting people and being in the moment. He could win it all or come in last. He honestly doesn’t care, because he is enjoying himself.

Several years ago, people were telling me at tourneys how much they enjoy playing with him, and that it was a pleasure having a young kid around since he lightened up the atmosphere. In other conversations, they would often compliment my play, but tell me how intense I was and I took competing too seriously. (They didn’t say they did not like playing with me, but the implication was there)

And then it clicked-I need to follow the example of my son and be more like him. After doing so, HE commented to me that I seem to be having more fun and that I was less stressed. He obviously noticed I was stressed, but had never told me.

When he told me that, I wanted to try even more to be even keeled at tourneys to keep setting a positive example for him and those around. I don’t want to be “that guy” nobody wants to play with and more importantly I don’t want to disappoint my son.

It was an eye opening experience for me on how to approach playing (and other life experiences), and channeling his “just have fun” attitude has helped me tremendously enjoy competing. It has not cured my tournament nerves or magically made me a world class player, and of course there are still disappointments, but I do not get angry, stressed or upset, thanks to him.

It’s more fun to compete. (The key word is fun)


TMatEotB - a childhood favorite

I need to read the rest of the thread, but I’m very, very similar. But in addition, I have this weird thing where if I beat someone, regardless of who it is I ALWAYS feel at least a pang of guilt.

It might sound outrageous, but I have a niggling feeling it’s the anticipation of that which has sabotaged me when I’ve had a decent chance to bring home the bacon :confused:

Maybe I just need to win more!


I know that feeling. “Learning to win” is something that’s not easy to work on but it’s a skill to learn. Whether it’s a close match or someone got a bad beat, always have a compliment and a smile. Also, it’s okay to admit that you’re not used to it. This is pinball, and you’ll be faulted less if you’re genuine and honest.

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(Pardon the double post, my phone won’t let me edit my other part.)

I totally agree! Even with the ball of stress that PAPA 19 was, I had one of my best days because I was expressive to the machines. Something between the @bkerins self-commentary and Jon’s playful jabs. I just don’t know how to keep that expression flowing at times, and there’s a lot of great ideas in this thread to try! :smile:

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Great thread. Although I am very new to competitive pinball (played in less than 20 tournaments), I have enjoyed every bit of it. I learned a long time ago to control my emotions and just have fun, so I am definitely one of the guys that is going to be easy to play with. I find it so silly to see some people acting the way they do, but they are in the minority in my experience so far. I’ve actually met some really cool people so far.

One thing I will say about certain people that put off a negative vibe, as there is one person that does it in our local monthly tournament. It is not fun for the others that are playing, but it is really not fun for the new comers that are thinking of getting into competitive pinball. If someone who has never played before comes and sees people all pissed off, yelling, being confrontational, etc. They are not going to want to come back. I have said this to this one individual and he has since learned to enjoy himself a lot more and not be so serious.

Just stay positive! Be social, and let the chips fall where they may per se. I promise your experience will always be rewarding if you keep positive. It has for me so far.


I really struggle with how to welcome people to the sport. One of the things I am personally working on right now is playing every game like it is the final game to win the tournamnent. In the past I lost games because I was too casual, and not focused enough. I know what it feels like when I am playing to win. When I can find the balance, I play better.

Now to my point. I really feel bad when playing a casual player (especially if I am player 1) and I have a huge lead. However, there I am like a jerk playing to crush the machine, and I get visibly frustrated when I make mistakes. I don’t think I am the worst around, but I am not the guy who just accepts the outcome without assigning good or bad to it (I am working on getting better at the inner game). Some new people seem to respond well and seem thankful for getting to see a impressive game. But I have seen lots of people at their first match play tournament just beaten doen by the end of day.

However, regardless of outcome or who I am playing I will always wish them luck before the game and thank them for the game at conclusion. If I lose, I will congratulate them and I mean it.

It is interesting number I players talking about walking away and not watching. At the same time TDs state it is the responsibility of all players to watch their opponents and verify that the game is functioning correctly and no one is violating rules. I get it. But I also find the extra 15 minutes it can add to a game when it takes 1 minute to find the next player between every ball.

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The monthly tournament in Cincinnati has this situation fairly regularly as there are a lot of beginners and a few great players. I have found that the beginners in our tournament are really having a good time playing regardless of how bad their scores can be compared to other players. As TD I always try to encourage them to come back and practice on non tournament days. It has been really cool to see the players getting better each month. The only thing I have gotten a complaint about so far from the beginners is the crazy outbursts from frustrated players. That really turns them off.

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When I get way up on someone that I feel is unlikely to beat me, I continue to pour it on. I never really get astronomical scores, but there is that moment where a substantial lead can cause me to want to relax. To me, continuing to have goals and try your best is showing respect for your opponent. It signals to them that you understand that a comeback is still possible. Of course, they always are.

I also feel guilty when I win. Or maybe it’s just a slight social awkwardness. It’s not exactly like there’s a crowd cheering me on to say “Your win was totally socially appropriate!”


I rarely get shook by my own play, but if I feel like I got a bad break on an unfair ruling (in my opinion) or someone is being intentionally irritating, it can get to me. It does get hard to recenter myself, but I know that if I don’t, I’m not going to do well going forward. I try to find some humor in the situation and change my point of view on a problem, and often that works it out for me.

Recently I had a tournament where I was annihilating the other guy going into ball three. I was over 10x his score, and ball three was really a formality. I was player two, and he had a stuck ball that caused the game to kick out another ball after several failed ball searches. The ball came loose, and he had an unofficial multiball, but when one drained it ended his ball. They ruled major malfunction and we replayed our game on another machine. I lost that rematch because I was so upset about the ruling that I couldn’t focus on the new game. Luckily it was double elimination and I still made my way back to the finals, but I definitely dropped that makeup game due to poor attitude about the situation.

Huh?? Unless that was a repeat unfixable issue (stuck ball/ ball coming loose issue that led to premature loss of ball), it should have just been a compensation ball for your opponent… if following PAPA competition rules. Not a replay of the entire game. Section VI.3