Before a big match there are certain drills that you can do to get your eye and arm in a straight line. One of my favorite drills for getting in the zone is a little method of torture that I devised one day when I was having difficulty "seeing" a certain shot. I call it the 'frozen to the back rail drill', and whenever I'm struggling with my mechanics, I shoot this drill until I start feeling better, especially if I have a big match coming up. The drill looks something like this:
The basics of the drill are:
1. The cueball is frozen on the center diamond on the short rail.
2. All fifteen balls are randomly strewn around the table.
3. The balls can be shot into either corner pocket.
4. After every shot the cueball is returned to the center of the back rail.
5. Any shot that goes in the wrong pocket is brought back up.
6. There is no punishment for a scratch.
7. Keep shooting until all balls are cleared.
What I love about this drill is that it only makes you focus on one thing; making the ball. Because you are frozen to the rail you are forced to hit the top of the cueball, and because you are hitting a smaller segment of the ball any accidental left or right spin is magnified, which helps you identify and correct any misalignment or steering during delivery. Another great thing about this drill is that the layout changes every time you throw the balls out, so virtually every angle on both sides of the table shows up at some point.
Sometimes doing drills feels like a form a torture, but the important thing to remember is that drills are meant to be diagnostic. Through the repetition, patterns will emerge that will guide you to the things you need to improve on. If you're just mindlessly trying to clear all the balls, you won't get nearly as much out of it as if you study and monitor your results. It's not a contest to see how fast you can get them all in, it is a way to collect important information about your game. Keep notes, and focus on the following things:
Are there certain angles that I'm struggling with?
If you find yourself missing the same type of shot the same way on both sides of the table, chances are you're not seeing the shot correctly. Now that you know it's a trouble shot, work on refining your aim.
Am I missing the same way all the time?
If you find that you are over cutting when shooting to the left and undercutting when shooting to the right (or vice versa) it may be the position of your head over the cue. Play around with putting different parts of your chin over the cue until you find the balls hitting the middle of the pocket.
Was I aimed properly only to have the cueball throw the object ball off line?
If so, you are accidentally adding spin either during set up or on follow through. Focus on getting your tip to the center of the cueball, and pull back slowly. Make sure your delivery follows straight through.
The most important thing about doing any drill is to do it in an environment where distractions are limited. If you can start to find enjoyment in the repetitiveness, sometimes you will slip into that pool nirvana known as the zone, however If that fails to happen and you start becoming angry or frustrated, the best thing to do is walk away.