In my last column, we wrapped up our examination of advanced fundamentals. If you want to work on them even further, check out my new book, The Advanced Pro Book, due to be released by Bebob Publishing sometime in the next few months. Since I want to begin an in-depth look into the shot process in the next issue, let’s use this column to look at a concept I call calibration.
The dictionary defines calibration as “systematic checking and adjusting.” It refers to complex systems that have a tendency to fall out of alignment and therefore need to be re-aligned on a regular basis.
The excimer laser, for example, is a complex machine used to correct near-sightedness. People who undergo this treatment actually have the curvature of their eye reshaped by an accurate and powerful laser. This machine measures and cuts 6,000 specific points on the surface of the cornea.
The excimer laser is so precise that it needs to be recalibrated on at least a daily basis. Sometimes patients have to wait an hour or two while this takes place. Nobody ever complains or demands faster service because, after all, it’s their eyeballs getting machined.
Playing pool demands an extreme level of precision, and the human body is also a wonderfully complex machine. It, too, has the tendency to fall out of alignment from time to time. This can often be seen in the relationship between the real and the perceived vertical axis of the cue ball. The perception of this axis for many players tends to drift slightly, over time, to either the left or the right. Usually this trend is toward the dominant eye.
This concept plays a major factor in slumps and lackluster performances. A slight error in perception, which could be as small as one one-hundredth of an inch, is subconsciously corrected with a compensating error in aim. Eventually it builds to a head in a vicious circle of compounded errors until the whole system collapses. When you are missing balls you shouldn’t, or if you feel slightly off, you may only need a simple perceptual recalibration.
Many players, when first developing their stroke, have worked on the following exercise but may be unaware of its very productive maintenance value. Give it a try the next time you are off your game, even if you are in the middle of a tournament. Just do it between matches.
1. Place the cue ball on or just behind the spot.
2. Cue the ball slightly above center and precisely on the vertical axis.
3. Shoot directly into the exact center of the far short rail and attempt to bring the cue ball right back to the tip of your cue stick.
4. Repeat this several times to determine a pattern.
If your pattern is irregular, you have stroke defects, and regular sessions of this exercise can help correct them. If you already have a consistent stroke, however, the cue ball will show a pattern. If it comes directly back to your cue tip, you are seeing and hitting the real vertical axis of the cue ball. If it veers to the left or right in a consistent manner, always going to the same place, your perception of the vertical axis is in error. Simply move your aiming point in tiny increments to the left or right and repeat the exercise until you are adjusted and back in stroke.
If you already have a good stroke, this exercise will only take a couple of minutes, but the payoff is large. It can prepare you for the next important match and strengthen your confidence and concentration. Why not take the time? After all, it’s your cue ball.