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Tips and Drills for Getting Back In Stroke

Tips and Drills for Getting Back in (Or Improving Your) Stroke
By Gerorge Fels - Billiards Digest Magazine

In returning to the pool table after a hiatus of any length, two points should be noted before you ever put your cue together. First, there's no one right way. Pool is a highly individual sporting endeavor, and your approach to it should be too. Second, getting back in stroke is at least as much mental as it is physical.

Personally, I favor beginning with some simple tasks, in the manner of the (smart) golfer who begins his warm-up routine not by trying to drive the ball into the next county, but with a 6-inch putt. (That same golfer will likely double the distance for the second putt, and then add about a foot each time until six feet from the hole. It's not hard, but it does require a disciplined stance, grip and stroke each time, to get the golfer in touch with the feeling of scoring.)

1. The first thing I like to do, after being away, is execute a few straightness checks. One way is to put the cue ball on the foot spot, drive it into whatever pocket I choose, and freeze (Exercise 1, see below). If my follow-through isn't straight, or long enough, the spot will tattle on me every single time. Some players prefer to do this right on top of a side rail, using the seam between cloth and wood (or formica) as a guide. And some do what they did when they were kids: practice stroking into the mouth of an empty bottle without touching the sides. Sounds menial, but 30 to 60 seconds of this works wonders.

2. When we add object balls to this routine, we don't want to start with anything too hard. So set a line of balls across the table at, say, the second diamond, and bring the cue ball back opposite the side pocket (Exercise 2, see below). If you prefer, use diamonds 2-1/2 and 5; it's slightly longer but you won't have to stretch as much. What's important is that the object balls be exactly halfway between the pocket and the cue ball. Taking cue ball in hand each time for an absolutely straight-in shot, strike the cue ball in its exact middle - and, instead of focusing on pocketing the object ball, focus on a perfect cue-ball kill on contact. Imperfections in your stroke will result in the cue ball veering to the left or right. (If you successfully stop the cue ball dead on a perfectly straight shot, the object ball cannot help but find the pocket. The exercise, besides helping to groove your swing, aids greatly in cue-ball focus when you do compete.)

3. Put an object ball on the spot, set up a straight-in shot with the cue ball 14 to 18 inches away, and try to replace the spotted ball with the cue ball (Exercise 3, see below). In other words, that's one ball diameter's worth of follow, in a perfectly straight line. You will most likely accomplish this by striking the cue ball half a tip either just above or just below its center, with a little extra force. You can't accomplish this through soft-rolling the ball.

4. Put an object ball on the spot, and the cue ball 14 to 18 inches away again. This time, shoot the ball in with bottom English, and try to draw back on a perfectly straight line so that when you re-spot the next ball, you have the exact same shot (Exercise 4, see below). Three times in a row is good; anything over that is very good.

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