One thing that I discovered with my new pool skills was that I could now walk into a pool hall and expect my first game to be pretty decent.
However, it took an hour or more of continuous playing before I got into “the zone” – The point at which every shot seems equally easy; where I know even before I aim, that the shot is going in; and where I can confidently face any player in the pool room; where I am aiming without aiming.
At this point, my game stops being just “decent” and becomes what I would call “inspired”.
I kept trying different things to see what really got me into the zone. I tried changing what time and how long I took a nap, what I would eat, even whether or not I drank red bull before heading out. I tried wearing lucky/comfortable clothing and a billion other things that I thought might affect my game. After months of experimentation I finally eliminated everything else and came down to a few essential things that helped me get into this zone.
The first thing is to ensure I follow all the tips that allow me to develop perfect stroke.
The three drills below take about ten minutes at the most, but leave me in the zone, fully confident that I can win any game I play (or at least make it very, very difficult for the other guy).
1. Table Length Draw Shot
Place the cue ball and object ball as pictured (on the diagonal line one third of the way from each pocket. Shoot the object into the opposite pocket, and draw the cue ball into the pocket closest to you.
Even if you don’t succeed in making the shot, just attempting this long straight shot while trying to draw the ball helps you develop perfect stroke. The closer you get, the better.
Ideally, do this until you succeed (both balls have fallen into their respective pockets) at least two times in a row. Increase this number as you get better.
2. Cue Ball Control – Closed Space Position Play
Lay out the balls as pictured (in a 3 x 3 rectangular grid around the center, on the spots where the diamonds meet). Run the table, starting with ball in hand, ideally without ever letting the cue ball touch the rails.
This drill isn’t too complicated. There is no “right” way to do this drill.
What this drill teaches you is very fine position control using soft draw, soft follow and the stop shot. Each time you try this drill, your subconscious mind observes and keeps track of what it attempted to do, what actually happened, what worked and what didn’t.
You learn to use follow and draw to stop the cue ball precisely within inches of where you need to be. You also learn the limitations of your positioning ability – what you can and cannot do. You learn to recover from going slightly off position and compensating appropriately on the next shot.
When similar two-three ball positions come up in a game, you will be able to run them on automatic pilot without having to think about it. The more you practice the drill, the more data-points your subconscious mind can fall back on when it needs them.
3. Running Tables Confidently
The goal of this exercise is simple – To get you warmed up for match/game playing mode. It also gets you used to the idea of running several balls and playing with position in mind.
Rack 15 balls, break them, and run all 15 balls in any order (like straight pool). The idea is to pick a ball, decide the next ball, and shoot so that you are in good position to play the next shot.
Just like the previous exercise, this teaches you to play position and to adjust and rethink your strategy in case you go out of position.
The more you play this drill, the more balls you will learn to plan ahead for. Starting from thinking one ball ahead, you will eventually be able to plan 6-7 balls instantly just by looking at the table.
4. Kaizen – Continuous, small improvement
If you still have some time left from the warm up, this is when you pick ONE shot that you missed during a recent match or game and that you feel seems to come up pretty often.
Not a 5 rail jump kick shot that you would only do in exhibition shows. Pick a shot that comes up again and again, that you are inconsistent with and can’t seem to rely on.
Now set it up and keep practicing the shot again and again until you think you can do it blind folded.
The final test? Once you get down on the shot and are ready to shoot, close your eyes, and shoot without looking. Open your eyes a couple of seconds after you shoot. If the ball went in, you have subconscious competence and can move on.
That’s it. This is all I do now days. And its all I seem to need.