By NYC Grind Contributor, Mark Finkelstein
I’m sitting here in Sedona, Arizona getting ready to fly home tomorrow. Vacation is a great time to mentally review your pool game and what you want to work on when you get back.
First is bridge distance from the cue ball. When you are playing your best, how far is your bridge from the cue ball? Being longer or shorter than this and you will not be as consistent. An easy way to learn what works for you is get a 6 inch ruler and set up a long straight shot. Shoot 10 shots with a close bridge, 10 with a medium length bridge, and 10 with a long bridge. How did you do? Which works better for you?
Next up is your back swing and how big is it. One glaring error I see in a lot of intermediate players is that they don’t have a big enough swing to let the stick generate power for the shot. A short back swing means you have to hit at the cue ball using arm muscles. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. A good guideline is to slowly pull your cue tip back until it touches your bridge hand. This will feel weird at first, but once you get the hang of it, you will see how easy you really can stroke shots.
Eye pattern is another area that we tend to over look in our search for pool excellence. Undisciplined eyes will cause you to miss easy shots. Ping ponging your eyes rapidly between the cue ball and the object ball is a recipe for disaster. Each player will have an eye pattern the works best for them, what is key though is to be consistent. Darting your eyes from the cue ball to the object ball quickly doesn’t give your pool brain enough time to process what you are seeing. Best practices include eyes on the object ball last, accurate aim point on the cue ball, and quiet relaxed eyes. This is a key area to look at in your game because when people are nervous and under pressure, their eyes tend to dart all over the place.
The grip of death on your cue stick will also cause you to miss when you least expect it. It is really amazing how lightly you can hold the cue stick and still get all the power you need for a shot. A light grip coupled with a big, slow back swing will generate all the power you will ever need in pool.
The sports psychologists call your pre-shot routine a “scaffold”. Essentially what you are doing is building a set of habits that have you doing the same thing on every shot. Watch good players and you will see how consistent they are in looking at the shot, getting down on the shot, and then executing the shot. Here are the components of a good pre-shot routine, how you put them in your game is up to you, but this consistent set up will help you play better. (Check out the YouTube video below to watch two players with great pre-shot routines: former Mosconi Cup opponents Mika Immonen & Shane Van Boening.)
Decide what you want to do, visualize the shot, feel the shot, chalk your cue stick, get in your stance, aim, warm-up, eye pattern, pull back slowly and shoot. How you put that together for your game is an individual thing. The important point is to have a consistent structure that covers all these points for each shot. Of course you can get away with not doing this pre-shot routine some of the time, but under pressure, this consistency will get you through the fire.
MENTAL TRAINING TIPS:
This week I’d like you to try something. Set up a shot that is tough for you. Try really hard to make the shot, and see how many you made out of ten tries.
Now, set up the same shot. This time I want you to focus entirely on your set up and stroke, not trying to pocket the ball. My guess is that you will pocket more balls focusing on a pure stroke than trying to pocket the ball.
If you define making every shot as making a pure stroke, you can make every shot. The vagaries of the game decide if you pocket the ball, but you can make every shot.
Keep your focus on the process, I think you will like the results.
If you have questions, or would like to see a particular topic addressed, you can email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.