Sometimes playing pool is like cruising down an interstate. You’ve got your machine in overdrive, and that’s all you need. The hills and turns are gradual and banked, and you don’t need to shift or brake or even slow down. You can engage the cruise control, put a great CD in the player, and lean back in your cushy padded seat and steer.
It would be great if pool were always like that, but it’s not. Pool is more like a country road. Sometimes you hit two-lane blacktop, but a lot of the time you are on gravel or even mud. Sometimes you hit unexpected curves and hills, and sometimes the bridge is washed out and you have to come to a dead stop. Sometimes you have to drive right through the center of town, jogging left and right as the route threads its way through congestion, stopping and starting again and again.
Lucky for you, your car has a transmission so you wouldn’t blow out the engine by overstressing or overheating it. If you have an automatic, it puts you into a low gear at a full stop and shifts you into higher gears after you get going. If you hit a sudden load, like a hill, it downshifts and takes the strain off of the engine.
No matter what gear you are in, however, the motor still works exactly the same. The spark plugs fire and the valves go up and down. Outside the engine compartment, the drive shaft and the wheels continue to turn round and round. The mechanical actions remain the same. Only the gearing in the transmission is different. Oh, but what a different result this change makes in the overall performance.
We’ve been talking about consistency in our examination of the shot process, and I hope I have convinced you of its incredible value. Truly, you cannot play masterful pool unless you have developed the ability to do the same thing over and over. But now that you have that down pat, let’s talk about adapting it to meet the constant and ever-changing flow of challenges at the table.
Forgetting the jump, break, and other specialty shots for now, I suggest you develop three different gears for general play. First gear is for the shots that are difficult to pocket and difficult to control. Think of long shots where you have to get into a small cueball position or jacked-up shots where you have to stop the cueball. I’m talking about shots that already have two strikes against them. In other words, there are two significant things to be concerned about. (If there are three or more significant concerns, forget about it! Do something else!)
Second gear is where most pool is played. Here you have only one significant concern. Either the shot needs precision and the position is easy or it’s the other way around.
Third gear is for the open road. You use it a lot at the end of the game when you’re in stroke and cruising to the finish line. Shift to third gear when it’s easy to pocket the object ball AND get position. This does not mean relaxing your focus or hurrying your physical routine at all. It does not mean getting sloppy.
The engine of your machine is the execution phase of the shot. It always stays the same and keeps your stroke consistent, predictable, and natural. You may have to take off or add a little power from time to time, but it’s always in reference to your normal stroke.
The changes in gearing take place in the preparation of the shot—in the way you visualize and communicate with your body and nervous system and, in some respects, how you get down on the shot. I’m not going to get into specific details in this column, but I address it thoroughly in The Advanced Pro Book, which will be out this year. I have a couple of pointers, however, that should get you started in the right direction.
First of all, some shots require extensive preparation. They are tough and you owe it to your nervous system to give it the detail and time it needs to get ready. Once ready, though, you can proceed normally. Other shots are easy to see and easy to execute. They don’t require a demanding mental preparation.
If you try to force your mind through a rigorous routine when it isn’t required, it will rebel, and your confidence will be negatively impacted. It’s like trying to explain an action in detail to a child when he already knows how to do it. He doesn’t want to hear it. He doesn’t need or want your nagging interference.
Likewise, if you let your body move forward into the shot without proper preparation, you have also put yourself at risk. You have mismanaged the mind-body relationship and reduced your confidence again. You have asked your nervous system to produce something, but you never showed it exactly what you wanted. You never gave it the time to understand.
Getting back to the automobile metaphor, you asked your machine to climb a hill in third gear, and it couldn’t. If you had downshifted properly, you would have cruised right by the competition. Learn your gears! Keep one eye on the tachometer and learn to shift at the right time. Keep that power flowing smooth and easy. Good luck good shootin’!