Beat People with a Stick
By Tom Simpson
I’m a maniac about fundamentals. Weaknesses in our fundamentals are what I believe hold most of us back. Great fundamentals-and pretty good vigilance about it-allow our games to improve as we incorporate new knowledge and more advanced strategies. Advanced techniques are of little help if you can’t execute them accurately and consistently.
Without solid fundamentals, shots requiring finesse (which is pretty much every shot) are literally “hit or miss.” To play pool at an ever higher level, you need to continually refine your touch-your ability to consistently get the shot result you want. Fundamentals are about developing and burning in a simple, repeatable, highly functional set of physical techniques, techniques that make sense to you, techniques you can trust under pressure.
The most common thing students say when they track me down for help is, “I’m not getting better any more. I’ve been stuck at the same level for a long time, and I’m frustrated about it.” I hear this from players who’ve been at it anywhere from a couple of years to a lifetime. They have realized that whatever they’ve been trying, if anything, is not working. Something will have to change if they are going to move forward again.
As long as you keep doing the same things, you’ll get the same results. If you’re stuck, and you’re ready to develop rock-solid fundamentals, you are going to have to be willing to make changes. Because you have already developed deeply ingrained habits of stroke, stance, grip, setup, etc., anything a little different from those approaches is going to feel weird at first. A small change in where you grip the cue, for example, may feel completely “wrong” to you. You’re out of your comfort zone. This is where learning happens.
The problem, of course, is where do you go to learn good fundamentals? Unfortunately, we don’t have enough instructors yet, but there are a few excellent books and tapes out there. Or you can figure it out on your own. To try to make fundamentals improvements by yourself, you’ll have to start really paying attention to your body. You’ll find little places where you’re holding clenches, places where you’re using a lot of muscle to hold your head in position, places where you’re fighting yourself, places where you’re doing extra stuff.
As you pay attention to your body, you find things are connected. Where you place your feet, for example, has a great deal to do with how comfortable your neck will be. Try to find ways to let your skeleton do the work, not your muscles. Find when you’re off balance and figure out how to correct it. Try to feel athletic in your stance.
Simple is better. A lot of aspects of fundamentals have to do with alignments. Check yourself in a mirror, or better, through video. You want everything about your swing to be aligned to the vertical plane of the shot. That’s the imaginary wall that comes up through the center of the cue ball on the shot line. In other words, your swing should be lined up perfectly with that vertical plane-your cue, your forearm, your elbow, your shoulder-the whole arm. You should feel you can see down the shot line with a high degree of confidence.
The swing should be simple and consistent. The cue should feel light and lively in your hands. It should feel like you’re tossing the stick through the cue ball. No death grip, not a lot of muscling.
As your fundamentals develop, it gets easier to become consistent. When you know what you’re doing and why, it makes sense and fits together well. The next level is to begin to develop a pre-shot routine. The idea here is to create your own personal shooting ritual, one where you know how to do it, you can remember to do it in a game, and it gives you confidence. When you go through the same set of steps every time, and that set of steps is one you’ve chosen because they help you succeed, you become a more solid player.
Find things to put in your routine that help you line up perfectly to the shot, that give you more precision, that settle you down, that get you comfortable, that help you feel the cue and find the right touch. Study each little component of how you approach and shoot (and react to) a shot. Get rid of the stuff that doesn’t help. Get better at the things that do help. Your pre-shot routine gets you ready. Ready on purpose, ready when you need it, ready every time.
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