: Liz Ford
Practicing pool is a deliberate process: you painstakingly replace bad habits with better ones, making sure that everything is just right before pulling the trigger. Though this is an important first step, there comes a time when burning in new habits at a faster pace can reap huge rewards.
Pool isn't a time-sensitive, reactionary activity (a 30-second shot clock is not the same as having to hit, catch or defend against a moving object). We often miss out on the benefits of the fast-paced shooting drills that exist in other sports such as basketball and soccer. These rote drills (in which you set up and shoot, set up and shoot, without time to second guess) help build your instincts on how to complete a successful shot. This process relies heavily on repeated agile attempts and quick unconscious corrections - instead of your lumbering will - to guide you to accuracy.
So what does quick-fire practice look like on a pool table? Using the following two shots you can fine-tune your fast-paced technique. The shots are basic and serve to strengthen alignment and aim.
Practice note: Use hole-reinforcers from the office supply store to mark the set-up of the balls for quicker shooting. Having a practice partner, who's also looking to improve, is extremely helpful.
Shot #1: Long Stop Shot
Cue low enough below center to create a perfect stop.
Stand behind the shot and walk up to the table with your stick along the line of aim. Get down in your stance and use your eyes to quickly finalize your aim, pull the stick back smoothly and fire (no practice strokes allowed). Stay down to observe the result. Quickly get back up, replace the balls and try again, letting your body and eyes make any necessary adjustments on the next shot. You should strive for a perfect stop (no forward or backward cue-ball movement or side spin). This whole procedure should happen at quick pace, stopping just short of being rushed or sloppy.
If you use any ball (solid or stripe) as the cue-ball, you can fire off shots faster. Your partner can stand by the object ball and set-up the cue-ball you just shot as the next object ball. Keep a cluster of balls next you at the cue-ball end of the table so that you can quickly set-up a new cue-ball and fire again.
Set a timer and do this without stopping for 5 minutes. Now it's your friend's turn. Repeat until tired!
Shot #2: Spot Shot
Same fast-paced technique. Cue slightly above center to create the cue-ball path shown.
On this drill, you can use the actual cue-ball on every shot because your goal is to get the cue-ball to return to the kitchen. Have your partner replace an object ball on the spot after each attempt. Practice for 5 minutes and then let your partner shoot. On your next turn, practice the mirror image of the shot (cutting the ball into the left corner pocket instead of the right). Repeat until tired!
This burn-in routine produces all kinds of shot experiences in a short period of time - some successful, some not. Both your muscles and your brain will become fatigued during this process, as it requires repetitive and exhaustive fine motor control and attention to detail. After a good night's rest (or a few), your relevant muscles will get stronger, as will the neural pathways needed to make the correct effort. The pleasure of completing the shot successfully and the discomfort of missing will aid your brain in sorting through all these pictures, strengthening the successful ones and avoiding the others.