On Thursday night I was playing in a cheap $20 race to seven 9 ball match. I lost the first two games, then bore down and won five straight racks to take a 5-2 lead. I was well on my way to winning the next rack, having run balls 1 through 8, but I missed the 9 ball shot as illustrated below. The miss proved to be a huge turning point in the match, and I subsequently lost 6-7.
Later that night as I replayed the match in my head, I kept asking myself why I missed the shot. I thought about possible explanations. I thought about factors that contributed to the miss, the thoughts that were in my head when I took the shot, my lack of focus, my lack of adherence to my normal pre-shot routine, etc. I identified several things I had done wrong, and promised myself I would work on them in future practice sessions.
This morning as I was lying in bed, still thinking about (brooding over?) the lost match, I suddenly realized I was asking myself the wrong questions. Sure, figuring out why I missed the tough shot and improving upon those parts of my game is a valid path to getting better, but was that really the most important question for me to be pondering? As I reflected on this, it became apparent to me that the most important question was really this: “How did I get myself into a situation that required me to attempt such a difficult shot?” Of all the items that may have contributed to the missed shot, the most glaring factor was poor execution of my PREVIOUS shot which directly led to the subsequent abhorrent position that I found myself in.
Given that there are a limited number of hours in a day, how should I allocate my practice time? In other words, how do I get the most bang for my practice buck? Should I spend time trying to refine my shooting and aiming techniques to an extreme level of precision, or should I simply work on improving my ability to move the cue ball from one simple shot to the next? The answer for me was glaringly obvious… work on my cue ball control. A couple hours working on cue ball routes will yield quicker and better results for my overall game than the same amount of time spent refining my already pretty good shooting and aiming skills.
The next time you miss a shot, ask yourself this question: “Did I miss the shot because of a simple execution error, OR did i miss the shot because I had to take a difficult shot which resulted from poor cue ball control from a previous shot?” If you are an APA level 2-4 player, it’s likely your miss was the result of an execution error. APA level 5-7 players primarily miss shots due to cue ball position errors which lead the shooter to progressively more difficult shots until a miss is inevitable. Think about it, then use your practice time wisely!