CUE-TECH Instructional Series Presents

The Doctor’s Office

Part One: Practice

By Leslie Rogers


If you want to improve your game, you need to practice. How you practice is every bit as important as what you practice. This is an area that’s rarely touched on by instructional books and videos. Generally they tell you to practice certain shots, stroke techniques, etc. without giving an idea of HOW to practice. With the proper approach, you could cut your practice time in half and get twice the result with only a quarter of the frustration.

Practice vs. Play

Some people take the stand that you should play like you practice, or practice like you play. These people are setting themselves up for a great deal of disappointment. The reason is that the goal of practicing is completely different from that of playing. The purpose of practicing is to create habits on the physical and mental level. These habits establish consistency which is the hallmark of a seasoned player. Playing is about performance. Allowing those habits established during practice to show themselves. It’s kind of like learning to drive a standard automobile. The first few times, the number of things you need to do seems overwhelming: let off the gas, step on the clutch, move the shift lever over and up, let off the clutch, step on the gas, etc. You might even stall the car a few times. After a while you’re driving down the highway, drinking a soda, eating a burger, changing the radio station, turning a corner, and talking to your buddy in the passenger seat. It’s become so much a habit that you don’t even think about what you’re doing. This is what you want when you play pool. You want your habits to the point that you don’t have to think about what you’re doing - you just do it. If you tried to think about what you’re doing, you won’t perform as smoothly - much like if you tried to think about what you do when you drive, you might grind a gear or two. By the time you think about what you need to do, it may be too late.


How to Practice

Psychologists tell us that there are three things a person needs to do to develop a habit quickly: Concentrate, Exaggerate, and Repeat.

Concentrate on the specific skill you are trying to learn. This means that you need to decide what it is you are going to work on and identify the individual components of that particular skill. Focus on what you are working on without thinking about other things. For example, while practicing your stroke, don’t worry about missing shots because you’re not focusing on your aim. If you do, you are no longer concentrating on your stroke so don’t be surprised when it does something unexpected. Likewise, when you work on aiming and pocketing balls, don’t think about your stroke. If you do, you are not concentrating on aiming any more so don’t be surprised if the shot goes wild. Your mind can only focus fully on one thing at a time. If you try to practice everything at once, you will have a hard time knowing where you went wrong and what needs work. Also, the mind and body would only get bits and pieces of the information needed to develop the proper habits.

Exaggerate the motion or mental process you are trying to achieve. Break down the particular skill you are developing into steps and exaggerate each step slowly and individually. This forces the mind and body to focus more fully on what is being done and helps to build mind/muscle memory more quickly.

Repeat 15 billion times - or until you’ve had enough. You might want to set a specific number of reps for each drill you do. How many is enough? If you start to get bored or frustrated, that’s a good sign to move on to something else. If you’re not having fun you won’t learn as much or as quickly.


Progressive Drills

Whenever you’re practicing shots or aiming techniques, start simple and gradually make it more difficult. If you want to practice long straight in shots, first start with the cue ball about one diamond away from the object ball for a few shots, then two diamonds, then three, four etc. until you’re at the maximum distance. If you find that you consistently miss more at five diamonds than four, go back to four for a few shots then proceed on to five. Treat cut shots the same way. First, start straight in, then gradually change the angle of the cut while keeping the distance the same. This approach helps build your confidence as you go along and the progression makes the hard shots become easy more quickly. You might find it helpful to mark the positions of the balls when doing these types of drills. I suggest using reinforcement stickers for three-ring binders (a round sticker with a hole in the middle available at stationary stores). The stickers work well and they peel right off whereas chalk marks need to be brushed out. Room owners hate dirty tables.


The Mindset

As you can see, there is a difference in the mindset between practicing and playing. Therefore it is important to decide what it is you are doing when you get to the table. Are you here to practice or play? If you’re here to practice, accept that you may not make some shots because you’re thinking about doing something rather than just doing it. Some people get frustrated during play because they are in a practice mode and they are paying conscious attention to what they are doing and as a result not performing well. If you’re here to play, whether it be league competition, tournament, etc., let your body take over and trust your muscle memory to do the right thing. When you are done, mentally go over your game. One of the benefits of separating practice and play is the ability to determine what needs to be worked on. Check if you are doing things the way you practiced them. Make note of the things you could have done better and work on them during practice. If you try to work on them during a match, you take your focus away from the game and your performance level will drop. This can break down your self-confidence and make you play even worse. Don’t experiment and try to fix your stoke in mid-play. The only thing to do during a match is the best you can at that time.


Let the Medicine Work

Anytime you learn something new, it takes a little time for it to sink in and become an automatic part of your game. Jack Nicklaus, when asked about practicing, is quoted to have said "Give the medicine time to work." Don’t expect to be able to use something new right away. Applying the principles of concentrate-exaggerate-repeat for 10 to 15 minutes a day will show real results in about two to four weeks. If you’re really serious about improving your game, you might even want to set up a practice schedule.


If you pay attention to these and other guidelines, you’ll get more out of your practice time and improve your level of play faster than you’ve previously thought possible.

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Leslie Rogers is a Master Level B.C.A. certified instructor at CUE-TECH College of Cueing Arts and Sciences. Classes are available by appointment only. For information call 1-800-707-0158, or visit the CUE-TECH Web Site.