Thinking Outside The Box

Posted by : Samm Diep

In the pool room where I play and teach, the table lights cast a perfect rectangular shadow about 2 feet around every pool table. If the tables you play on don’t have this, let’s imagine they do. From now on, let’s pretend there’s a perfect imaginary box around every table you’re playing on and we’ll simply refer to this as “the box.”

We’re all familiar with the concept of thinking outside the proverbial box. We’ll now apply it to our pool game, but a bit more literally. As you imagine that box around the table, try doing all your thinking and deciding outside of it. That’s when your left-brain will be engaged, using logic and reasoning to calculate a plan. Once you’ve committed to your decision, step into the box and allow your creative right-brain to take over and execute.

From now on, when it’s your turn at the table, try applying this simple series of steps to prepare for each shot:


  1. Approach the shot. The first thing to always do is to check out the shot that you are presented with. Before you can make any decisions on what to do with the cue ball or where to leave it next, you need to get behind the shot to see exactly what you have to work with.
  2. Walk around the table. Always be sure to review all your options before making any decisions.
  3. Look around the table. NOW is the time and place to be looking around the table. If you have the bad habit of looking around the table once you’re already down on the shot, get up and start over. Look around the table as needed and try to avoid looking around the room. Stay in the match and the moment.
  4. Decide on a plan. All your thinking and decision making is done outside the box before you shoot.
  5. Commit to your decision. It’s not enough to just make a selection, but before you pull the trigger you have to commit to your decision. Having some commitment issues? Stay outside the box until you figure it out.



  1. Address the shot. Step into the box by walking into the line of the shot and getting over the shot. Lock in your alignment and start your pre-shot routine.
  2. Focus on the shot. Keep your eyes and your mind on the target. Focus all your energy on pocketing the ball or playing that perfect safety. Whatever your plan is now is the time to execute it.
  3. Visualize the desired outcome. Project with your mind exactly what you want to see happen. Then you can execute with confidence.
  4. Stay down. Keep your head and your entire body steady and lowered until after the shot is completed and all the balls have stopped moving (unless, of course, something is coming right at you.)
  5. Follow through completely. Upon completion of your shot, your cue should be in the forward position. This will help maximize the acceleration of that cue tip through the cue ball.


Follow these steps for every shot, rinse and repeat. Remember, some things are meant to be done outside the box, like thinking. Separating the thinking from the shooting will only simplify the game and reinforce those good habits.

For more information on youth billiards programs or to find out how to support the future of our great sport, visit the Billiard Education Foundation.