An interested reader very recently reached out to ask me a very simple question – “When you are actually shooting/cueing the ball on the final stroke, where are you looking? Where and what are you focused on?”.
Most players who have been playing for a while might not even be consciously aware of where they actually look during the aiming process. However, since I have been actively working on improving my potting consistency for snooker over the last few months, I actually happened to have written notes that I used to track, fine-tune and improve my technique.
I am now going to break it down into more detail than most people will ever care about. I realize it takes a little bit of obsessive behavior to micromanage or study this level of detail, and I do admit that I can be obsessive at times. However from my experience, once you actually pay attention and take these seemingly minor things to a consistent level, the amazing improvement in your aiming and shooting more than makes up for all the effort.
So here goes. This is the series of steps that I used to shoot more consistently now days.
- Before getting down on the shot, I see the line from the object ball to the pocket, and in my mind, figure out where the cue ball needs to go and hit the object ball. If you are just starting out, you can use one of the simpler aiming systems I have lined out in previous articles (How I really aim a billiards shot, A system for making long cut shots). However in the long run, this becomes more of a memory/intuitive thing. At this point, I “just know” from tons of shooting where I need to hit the ball. Use the aiming systems as a temporary crutch/approximation, with the intention of moving past it eventually in the long run.
- I then line up my body and cue so that I am pointing precisely along the line from the cue ball to that specific point near the object where the cue ball needs to go. Note that MOST of my aiming happens before I get down on the shot, not after.
- While being aware of this second line, and while watching the object ball, I slowly walk forward and lower into position. It is important to be aware of this line while placing your bridge hand on the table since your bridge has to be on the line. It is also important to be aware of this line while you lower and place your chin on the cue, since not doing so will mean you might lose your alignment and not be pointing the cue along this line (that you already KNOW is the correct line). For this reason, don’t allow yourself to be distracted while getting down on the shot, and continue to look along the line from the cue ball to the special aim point on the object ball, and keep that line in mind while getting down.
- After getting down on the shot, while wagging/stroking the cue, I double check that I am still in alignment and that the object ball will go along the line I need it to, by verifying both the first line and the second line. During this time, my eye moves back and forth between the object-to-pocket and cue-to-object lines while I do my practice strokes. With time you will get an intuitive feeling that the shot is perfect, and that the object ball will go exactly where you want it to. You can micro adjust your elbow slightly if necessary, until it feels perfect. If it doesn’t feel right after even a while, something is probably off with your alignment, so get up and repeat everything right from Step 1.
- I stop moving the cue, take a deep breath to calm myself down, and while relaxed and focusing on the object ball, stroke through and strike the cue ball. Make sure you are focused on where you want the cue ball to go on the object ball and are not focused on the pocket. In fact if you are making a cut shot where the pocket and object ball can’t be seen at the same time, it becomes extra important not to let your eyes wander towards the pocket (hard as it may seem). During the final stroke/shot, you have to be looking along the line where you want the CUE BALL to GO, and looking towards the pocket will probably cause you to subconsciously drift your aim line towards the pocket, causing you to miss the shot even though you had aligned and aimed correctly.
- Finally, after the cue ball has hit the ball exactly where I wanted it to go, I stay down and watch where the object ball is going, saving the information in my mind (so I can tweak/adjust my aiming in the future). If you didn’t hit the object ball where you aimed, you know to fix the earlier steps to ensure you aim correctly. If you hit where you aimed but the shot goes in the wrong direction, automatically adjust your aim line the next time. This way, whether you make the shot or not, you will always get feedback, learn, and improve your game with each shot.
This is pretty much it. There are a few more things that I pay attention to including where the cue is under my chin, how I grip the cue, where the cue touches my chest and waist and my follow through. However honestly, I think even this present level of detail will be boring for most people, and I don’t see any point in bogging you down with mind-numbing levels of detail. You can check out some of my other billiards articles to get a better idea.
Just focusing on these few things should be enough until you get to a strong intermediate level.
Now bear in mind, that on the days when you are “in the zone”, you will obviously shoot effortlessly and probably won’t remember or pay attention to a single one of these steps. And that’s perfectly all right – you probably won’t need to.
The advantage of using this system, of taking this much control, and micro managing each step, is primarily on those days when you are NOT in the zone.
These are usually the days when most players end up missing a lot, not being able to shoot even half as well as they are used to, feeling completely “off”, and in general getting very frustrated with the game. Now however, by following this simple set of steps, you should still be able to shoot reasonably well. Not as well as your “on nights” of course, but decently well.
With time, you will develop so much consistency that no one other than professionals will even be able to tell that it is an “off night” for you. And building this technique in your muscle memory will mean that on you “on nights”, you will play breathtakingly well.
If you are someone looking to improve your game, hopefully this discussion will help you in some way. Once I fine tune my current snooker practice routine and feel it is reasonably optimized, I can probably share it here for interested readers.
Please feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts and insights.