Maybe you’ve been playing long enough to have developed a ‘method’ or ‘style’, and HABITS (good or bad). Then you may choose to get pool training from a local instructor or from books, online videos or DVDs. One crucial thing to remember is:
YOUR PRE-SHOT AND SHOOTING ROUTINES INVOLVE A LOT OF ‘MOVING PARTS’. IF YOU WANT TO APPLY NEW IDEAS IN YOUR PLAY, WITHOUT SCREWING UP YOUR PERFORMANCE IN COMPETITION, YOU SHOULD ONLY TRAIN ON AND TRY TO CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT YOUR GAME AT A TIME.
IF you try to change more than one part of your game at a time, you will most likely see a reduction in your performance and happiness. DON’T DO IT!
TRAINING is the more mundane, repetitive shot performance drills we go through to get the ‘feel’ of what has to happen when we ‘do it right’. ‘Muscle memory’. Ingraining the brain, etc.
PRACTICE is applying what we’ve trained on, to see if we’re ‘getting it’ or if we need to take a step back and train on certain shots more.
PLAY is where the rubber meets the road. Your hard work at TRAINING and PRACTICE get applied when you PLAY competitively.
Master instructors Scott Lee and Randy Goettlicher say it best, I think, when it comes to TRAINING, PRACTICE and PLAY:
WHY do we TRAIN and PRACTICE? Becasue in PLAY, we want to be able to perform every shot
- ON DEMAND
- UNDER PRESSURE
- IN ONE TRY.
So why change anything about how you play? Obviously because you are unhappy with your performance or you feel you need to do SOMETHING to raise your win average. Some people think they just need to practice more. Practice, practice, practice. However, if they don’t even realize that some of the things they are doing are wrong, they are just reinforcing bad habits, by committing them over and over and over.
Classic example is the student who says to an instructor ‘…but I like doing it this way.’ Well, unless you have to do it “that way” because of physical deformity or some chronic pain, please consider that your instructor (or your book or DVD) is trying to get you to realize your ‘way’ needs to be changed, IF you want to raise your winning average.
SO – what to consider changing? Remember – only one thing at a time. An in-person or video review from an experienced observer (i.e. a BCA / PBIA instructor or maybe a pro player) would be a great place to start. With or without that, my opinion on WHAT to change, and the order in which to consider these changes, would be:
1) Number of practice strokes. This should be the easiest thing to work on, as it doesn’t affect anything else about your delivery, if you approach it within reason. If you are 6-8-10 or more practice strokes, try deciding on a number like six. Do that until it feels ‘normal’. Then start working your way down from there. Get to four or three and you’ll probably like the rhythm it gives you. Just be consistent. Why is it important? Do a web search on ‘quiet eye study’, because how long you’re looking and stroking is related to how quickly your mind is going to start wandering. Aside from looking at the right thing at the right time (quiet eye/eye pattern), you should not be trying to intensely focus on one thing for much more than 6-8 seconds because your mind will start to wander. Brain says: ‘Allright, I know what that looks like. What’s that over there?’
2) SET position. (see the Set Position page) So many players have no consistent set position OR their set position is well over an inch from the cue ball. This just increases the chance for cue tip to cue ball contact errors, especially on draw or follow shots. Stop yourself during your practice strokes, or right before you practice stroke, when the cue’s tip is closest to the cue ball, and see what that distance is. 1/4 inch would be great but can be dangerous, if you get that close on every practice stroke. Suffice to say that the greater the distance your cue is from the cue ball, at set position, the greater the chance you end up with stick contact on the wrong point on the cue ball.
3) PAUSE at the backswing. It doesn’t need to be a long pause, just a controlled changed of direction. You can’t move forward and backward at the same time and trying to quickly change that direction leads to loss of control. Helpful hint: people who believe they just can’t draw the ball are often trying to pull their cue back just as fast as they expect to stroke it forward for the draw shot. They jerk on the change of direction and lose control. If they smoothly and slowly pull back, pause for at least 1/2 to one second at the end of the backswing, then deliver the stroke with speed, a loose grip AND the right contact point on the cue ball, they are way more likely to get the draw shot they want.
4) FINISH and freeze at the end of your stroke. Don’t freeze so long you get hit by balls in motion, but keep your body down and frozen after that delivery. People who don’t do that are often seen starting to move their upper body even before they’ve contacted the cue ball with the tip of their stick. That CAN’T be good.
5) EYE PATTERN. Unless you have a consistent number of practice strokes, training yourself on eye pattern will be difficult. The pattern itself is simple and you have a choice of two, but the one you favor needs to be the one you stick with. See the EYE PATTERN link.