The third phase of the shot process is the set-up. It begins the second your hand touches the cloth of the table, and it is over when you start your final backstroke. It is a crucial part of the whole, of course, but not nearly as complicated as most beginning and intermediate players make it.
If you have been following the shot process conversation in this column, you no doubt realize that most of the formative work is done in the first two phases—the standing address and the transition. If that preparation is carried properly forward, then the set-up becomes a natural and duplicable action.
If your mental and alignment preparation is completed in the standing address and maintained throughout the transition, then it is your body and nervous system alone that assumes the set-up. In other words, if you get down and you’re still thinking, you’re in trouble. If you touch down widely out of aim and alignment, you are also in trouble.
That said, let’s take a look at the set-up in terms of components. Lots of things have to happen between the time your hand touches down on the felt and before you actually pull the trigger. You settle your body into your stance; you address the cue ball; you refine your aim; you confirm the straightness and plane of your preliminary strokes; and you set the balance, feel, and timing of your anticipated execution stroke.
“Hey…wait a moment,” you might say. “That’s a lot of adjusting and calculating going on down there. I need to think just to sort it all out!”
Well, maybe you do when you’re first learning to shoot or when you’re in the practice room honing your routine and training your nervous system. But as you bring your competitive game up, you will eventually hit a plateau and stay there until you learn to allow your body to make these adjustments in an unconscious manner. As long as you are directing your set-up adjustments with conscious thoughts, you’re never going to know your best game. Competitive pool happens in the real world, and, in addition to skill and knowledge, it is a battle of awareness and immediacy. If you’re thinking down on the shots, you’re not working in the present moment. There is a tiny gap between you and the physical world of cloth and balls. You will get beat by more advanced players who let their senses interact directly with the situation.
Let me simplify again. You have to learn to trust your nervous system to do what you trained it to do.
The key words in this statement are “trust” and “trained.” They go together and grow together. The more you train your body to perform consistently, the more you will trust it. The truer and finer you hone your set-up pattern, the more you will trust it, and the easier you will allow it to perform without interference.
Training yourself to perform all the components of the set-up in a refined and consistent manner, then, is the heart of the matter. You want to get to where you are doing the same routine on every shot, where you are never doing too much or too little. It is a mix of feeling, rhythm, stroke pattern, and eye movements. It is about ordering the necessary and eliminating the unnecessary. It’s about producing the highest level of efficiency possible.
In the next column, we’ll get into the meat and potatoes of this training, but until then, let me leave you with the following questions. Of the components listed above, which has to happen first? Which happens second? Are there any other components in this phase of the shot process? You will get a lot of value out of these questions, especially if you ponder them while watching a match video of Earl Strickland, Efren Reyes, or Ralf Souquet. Good luck good shootin’!