Calibrating Your Arm
Today we will work on calibrating your shooting arm. First, I would like to make a prediction: I bet I can improve your game without ever seeing you shoot. Here’s some free advice that will immediately improve your game: Stop hitting the balls so hard! Almost all players hit the balls too hard for the same reason; when we are insecure about a shot, we tend to overcompensate by hitting the balls too hard.
In this part of the series, we will lay the foundation for improving what I believe to be the most neglected pool playing skill: the ability to control the distance the cue ball travels after pocketing the object ball. I must be honest with you, the drill that I’m sharing with you today could be the most boring drill you’ll ever perform; hence, the reason so few people ever practice it. Although it takes some mental firmness to execute it for more than a few minutes at a time, I PROMISE YOU that every minute you invest in this drill will be repaid a thousand-fold!!
Take a look at Figure 1. This is your standard pool table. Let’s divide it into five zones. The first zone starts at the top end of the table, and is one diamond wide; the second, third, and fourth zones are two diamonds wide, and the fifth zone at the bottom is one diamond wide. For the purpose of this practice drill, all we are going to do is simply hit the cue ball up and down the table. We don’t have to hit any object balls and we don’t have to make any balls in any pockets. Wow! What could be easier?! Sounds really simple huh?
The objective is to hit the cue ball at different speeds, and by doing so make the cue ball come to rest in different zones of the table. In Figure 2, I’ve plotted the theoretical path of the cue ball as it moves through 15 consecutive zones. When doing this drill, always start with the cue ball in the position as shown in Figure 2. Why do I start numbering shots at the top rail? Because you will almost never hit a shot softer than that. Why do I stop with shot number 15? Because you will almost never need to hit the cue ball hard enough to make it travel more than 15 zones. The reason is that it’s nearly impossible to hit the cue ball any harder and still maintain any semblance of control. The only shot that you could possibly hit harder is the break shot. For this drill we will keep it simple and only attempt five different shots; shots 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9.
Let’s get started. First, place the cue ball near the position indicated in Figure 2. Get into your shooting stance, and hit the cue ball very gently towards the top rail so that it rolls to a stop in zone 1. It doesn’t matter if the cue ball stops short of the rail or bounces off the rail, as long as it stops within the zone labeled “1”. It may take you a few attempts before you successfully complete the shot because I know you have been conditioned to hit the ball much harder, but fear not, you can do it!
After you successfully complete shot number 1, next try shot number 3. Place the cue ball at the starting position again, and hit the cue ball a little bit harder, bounce it off the top rail, and have it roll to a stop somewhere within zone 3. Repeat this shot until you can do it a couple times in a row, then move on to the next shot. Try shots 5, 7, and 9. After completing each of these successfully, now comes the really fun part: randomly pick a number in your head between 1 and 9, place the cue ball at the starting point, and then execute the shot so that the cue ball stops within the zone that you picked. Repeat this process again, and again, and again.
Did you think that was tough? Don’t worry, it will take some time to master this. Here’s the good news: In 98% of all pool shots that you will take, the proper speed of the cue ball will be somewhere between 1 and 9. If you can teach your arm/brain system to consistently perform shots 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, and you can do it on demand, you are on your way to mastering this game! If you have the discipline to practice this drill a couple times a week, the time you invest will pay off big time with improvements to your game. In the sixth part of this series, we will revisit the skills you are learning here, and apply it to a real world game. Tomorrow, I will discuss the angle of deflection, a concept that will allow us to predict the initial path the cue ball takes after it collides with an object ball.