One of my coaches texted me the other day, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Being that I actually work at Carnegie Hall from time to time, I responded with detailed subway directions and the best tunnel to take if driving into NYC. His response was, “LOL, great directions, but it was metaphorical to stress the importance of your practice!” Well now I’ll never forget the phrase or concept!

Although I started playing pool at eight years old, I grew up playing 8-ball and wasn’t taught much strategy. After my first 9-ball competition in college I became hooked on the game. I picked up a job at a local pool hall (Campbell Billiards), played local USPPA events a few nights a week and would hit the bars to run the tables. At this point I shot fast, loose, and very aggressive. My cue ball control was weak, my patterns were elementary and my safety play was nonexistent. Yet in the beautiful fashion of inexperience, I thought I had it all and knew when to use it. Thankfully the more I competed, the more it occurred to me that I had to change to succeed. When I finally opened my mind, I started listening to others and found teachers to rip my game apart. Only then did my skill begin to evolve.

Now after a decade of competition, winning the BCAPL Team Championships in 2009, four years as a WPBA Touring Pro, and two international events, I am more humble than ever. I’ve learned, changed and grown so much, but now I’ve been given a taste of fierce World Championship level play. I’ve renewed my commitment to search for my weaknesses, swallow my pride and work harder than ever to improve.

If your goal is to take your game to the next level, here are my top 5 ways to help you on your quest:

1. Be honest with yourself & identify your weaknesses. People used to tell me that I didn’t play safe enough, that I shot too fast, and that I hit the ball too hard. Once I decided to listen, I knew they were right. Now I look for the areas that need improvement. Only when you recognize what you need to work on, can you begin to progress. Ask others what they think about your game and be ready to hear the response.

2. Detach from winning or losing. Some days you play perfect and lose, others you play lousy and win. What is most important is you analyze your performance objectively. In what areas did you meet your expectations and in what areas did you fall short? If you can have 3 shots back what would they be and why. Take notes and pay attention to why you lose and why you win.

3. Practice shots that make you uncomfortable. Often players will choose a certain shot or stroke over a better shot because they feel more likely to execute it. This is the correct choice during competition, but the more shot options you have the more you will win. In order to increase your shot selection in the heat of battle, you must identify shots you shy away from and practice them until they become routine. Once you have found a shot shoot it 10, 15, 20 times & then keep it in your practice routine until you are confident. Recently I have been focused on my two & three rails inside English shots. Depending on your level you may just shoot to make it or also add your cue ball position.

4. Recognize what you put in is what you will get out. Unfortunately most pool players do not have the luxury to play all the time because of the responsibilities of life. It is important to take into account how much time you play relative to your performance. For every player this is different, but you need to identify when you haven’t been playing enough to expect consistent results. Maybe you worked more than usual that week or didn’t get enough rest. The key is to accept the outcome of competition based on real time preparation and other relevant variables.

5. Practice will get you to Carnegie Hall. In most other sports players will have months of only training before the competitive season begins. Often in pool we are playing in leagues and competition year round with no break and very little quality practice. If you want to improve make time to get solo practice in, even if it means cutting out a league night. Find out what drills will help you with your weaknesses. Get an instructor or solid player to tweak or fix your fundamentals and then practice them until they are second nature. Develop a pre-shot routine, most importantly the way you line up and step into your shot, then practice doing it on every time. Lastly, sometimes take a break from league or competition to add new shots into your playing style and to work on your weaknesses. Give yourself a “training season”, this will also renew your passion for competition.

Bottom line is if you learn new things and then apply them with hard work, you will move closer to your potential as a player. Thanks for tuning in and I am thrilled to begin contributing to the PoolDawg Academy!