Playing Music at the Table

In music, individual notes express themselves powerfully when they are part of something larger, either chords or melodies. Even then, a power chord on an electric guitar normally commands more attention than a few individual notes on an acoustic. But if you have the wrong notes in the chord, or if they are in the wrong place, then the chord loses its effectiveness. You have to master the parts and the sequence before you can express it as a whole.

It’s the same with pool. The quality of your performance relates directly to the degree to which you have polished the essential routines. If your routines are consistent and dependable, they become habitual systems and take on a power and presence that is greater than their individual components. Instead of focusing on one small step at a time, you express yourself in terms of massive action. You make a statement.

This is especially true with the shot process. As the most important routine in pool, you want to express it as one powerful action, over and over, but to get to that point you have to master the parts and sequence first.

In the last column, we broke it down into four major sections, the standing address, the transition, the set-up, and the delivery. Let’s use the rest of this column to examine the first section.

The standing address begins the moment you commit yourself to a shot and includes how you visualize the shot, how you focus your mind, and how you align your body to the shot line. It ends before you start to lower your body down on the shot. In other words, this entire section of the shot process happens while you are still standing. Your body is erect and you are viewing the situation from a standing perspective. At this stage you are not “in” the shot but are separate from it. You are in a planning and preparatory phase.
By definition, the standing address begins with a single committed shot in mind, so making that commitment is the last part of the shot selection routine, not the first part of the standing address. The whole purpose of the standing address is to visualize the committed shot, project how your body needs to be to execute, and adjust until it feels right. In other words, you are lining your body up with the shot line so you can come directly down on it.

Different shots might, however, require more comparisons and visualizations to get to a final standing alignment. If you KNOW the shot as a unit, you recognize it as a unit and immediately assume the correct posture. You don’t necessarily have to visualize the exact path of the cue ball as it comes off of each rail or even how you intend to cue it. It happens automatically. Using the guitar analogy, you don’t have to think about where to put each finger to make a “D” chord if you already KNOW it, you just grab the chord as a unit. If you didn’t KNOW it, you would have to place your fingers on each string individually.

Similarly, if you don’t know a shot as a complete unit, you need to mentally create, or extrapolate, a shot from what you do know. In this case, the standing address will take longer, because you have to put the pieces together in your mind before you assume a final standing alignment.

But the process is the same, and regardless of what you need to do to visualize the shot, or how fast that happens, you end up at the same place. Eventually you have to narrow your visual focus to the shot line, the line on which you plan to place the cue stick to make the shot. When you “see” the shot line on the surface of the table, you want your eyes already in the proper position, relative to that line, to shoot the shot. To guarantee this happens naturally, make sure you are looking directly down on the shot line and not from the side. Train yourself to always approach the shot line from this perspective.

Pool is a hand and eye sport, and the eyes must come first. As you prepare to come down on the shot, all other parts of your body must defer to and support the position of your eyes to the shot line. You build the foundation for your eyes just like a mason builds a brick wall, from the bottom up. For most people, the first part of the body to place is the back foot. If you are right-handed, for instance, your right foot “anchors” your eyes to the shot line and sets the entire right side of your body.

You set your body to the shot line while standing just like a guitar player forms the chord structure with his fingers before he actually presses them against the strings. At this point, the standing address is complete, and you are ready to move into the transition phase of the shot process. You are about to make a statement. Good luck good shootin’!

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