Repeatability – The First Transcendental Milepost
It has been said that playing pool is the execution of flawless body mechanics. This is because flawless “body mechanics” enable repeatability…and without repeatability, you cannot learn. In our game, the body mechanics of each shot presents so many variables you must strive to eliminate as many as possible. Through simplification changes are then “studyable” and the effect of small adjustments can be discovered. Body mechanics must become ritual, generally through practice, before muscle memory can be found or relied upon. Muscle memory is a powerful gift and the first element of “in-stoke”. When you are “in-stroke”; conscience positioning of your body is not what you want in the front of your mind. Your awareness must be free to create and execute your plan. So, assimilate the list of actions in the next few pages (until your don’t have to think about them). You will begin to transcend the elements one at a time, make sure that you practice consciously to engrain good habits. I am not saying that you shouldn’t just hit balls for the sheer pleasure of making them dance, I’m saying that you must know the difference (and tell yourself the truth) between an excuse for poor results and a/the reason for unexpected results. I have developed two distinct gears. One is the game I bring to the pool hall when I want to visit with my friends and drink beer. The other is the game I bring to the table when I intend to win or work on my game. It’s a matter of volition. When I am trying to win; if I miss a ball or position, I want to assess the reason(s) and make adjustments. This is the gear we are working on…chatting and drinking beer will generally preclude excellence.
A successful stroke requires an amazing number of movements (and non-movements) to be coordinated but may generally be described as a compound pendulum. Take a moment to consider the diagram above. Ideally, the upper arm is motionless and level to the table/floor (as is the cue)…the grip is adjusted up or down the cue to allow contact with the cueball when the lower arm is vertical…the backstroke(s) is then pulled back to a position between 3 o’clock and 6 o’clock…and the contact stroke is initiated forward to contact the cueball…then at or near contact…the upper arm breaks straight down from the shoulder (elbow falls) to compensate for the unwanted rise of the swing in the second half of the pendulum swing…and the shot is off. There are many strokes which will not allow for this ideal positioning, but a player with the correct beginning concepts can adapt to the conditions. The idea is to roll the ball toward its target with the force of the cue.
For the sake of simplification, we will approach the stroke as a GRAVITY DOMINATED MECHANISM meaning the lower arm is hanging free and straight down from the elbow AND the elbow falls free and straight down from the shoulder. For now, the practice and contact strokes are powered exclusively with the tricep/bicep
Before you pull the trigger on a shot, you must: have a plan, a firm stance or base, align your upper arm with your eye, your eye with your cueforce, your cueforce with the cueball and the cueball with the object ball and the object ball with the target.These may seem obvious but a surprisingly high percentage of the errors you will make will involve one or more of these elemental steps regardless of your level of play. See diagram below.
We’ll address body mechanics beginning with the plan or approach because a successful shot begins before you lean over the ball. Begin the alignment process while you are planning the first of your series of shots. Your feet must be in position to approach the table (sometimes several steps away) and should allow you to fluidly assume a firm (foundational) stance. Many players pick up a rhythm or beat in their stroke and step (often provided by music) and may even circle the table from predominately the same direction to enhance this feeling of fluid flow. Consider, for example, that it is easier to get into position to shoot if your forward arm is to the outside of the table (which may be the cause of circling the table in one direction). Later we will discuss how to break this rhythm, but for beginners who lack repeatability, it will help ritualize the movement around the table. Generally, you should have your plan 99% complete before you address the ball and know at the precise spot (not the right side) on the object ball you intend to hit. Allow your eye to lead your body to the correct position. If you change your mind or become ambivalent, stand up and begin again.
This is a visual game so you must determine which eye is your lead eye. To determine this, focus on an object in the distance and make a circle with your thumb and forefinger, bring the circle in front of your eyes so that when you look through it with both eyes open you can see the object. Then close one eye…if the object is still there, close the other eye…when the object disappears; the closed eye is your lead eye. Generally speaking, your lead eye will determine what hand you shoot with. You may experiment with exercising conscious use of your lead eye on your approach by turning your head slightly to favor its’ position toward the shot. And finally, you must choose your height of eye. Height-of-eye varies greatly from player to player and generation to generation. The old guys (to me…who are almost all dead) generally chose a higher eye level and consequently, tended to stand more erect Modern players generally bend over more leading to a lower height-of-eye. The ticket is to get comfortable with a clear visual path between you and the object ball. Most good players will get lower on the ball for long shots off the rail and raise their stance for breaking or power shots. Most important is to be aware that you must compensate in your body to maintain a constant height-of-eye.
Common Eye Considerations - I know as much about a players’ game by watching his eyes as his stroke. We will cover the second transcendental point…the Hand/Eye Connection…in detail later. Here are some things to think about:
Eye strain - Avoid getting so low that you force yourself to strain the upper limit of the rotation of your eyeball because this will cause fatigue and cannot be relied upon for accuracy.
Timid Eyes - I have observed many players who do not pay close enough attention to the moment of contact between the cue and object ball. This precise moment tells all. Many players blink, flinch or divert their attention at this critical moment.
Lying eyes - This becomes obvious when a player says something like “I hit that ball perfect and it didn’t go in.” This player is bound for disaster and mediocrity. We must tell ourselves the truth to learn from it.
Now…you are bent over table, addressing the cue ball. Here is where the alignment process gets meaty. As previously stated, the object is to simplify the process by:
1) placing the line of force of the moving cue in your line of vision (first step of aiming).
2) reducing the number of muscles required to complete the stroke (gravity dominated).
3) consistently timing the actions to enable near perfect repeatability (elbow drop).
4) developing a visualization to encompass the entire process and thereby transcend to the next (creative) level.
Look again at the player from above. What is important to see is the alignment of the cue, elbow joint, shoulder joint, lead eye, bridge point, precise spot on the cue ball you intend to hit, precise spot on the object ball you intend to hit. All of these points must be in a straight line. If these elements are not aligned, it is like shooting a pistol from the hip…if you hit your target it is mostly luck and not generally repeatable because you have removed the action from your line of sight.
Look at the player below from the rear. Notice that the forearm to the wrist is gravity controlled (straight down, hanging free). The cue is directly below the elbow joint and the elbow/shoulder segment of the arm is level and actually pointing at the back of the lead eye. Consider the visualization of the upper bone of the arm as a flashlight that shines on the back of your lead eye as shown in the picture.
Now look at the player below from the side. Notice that the front arm is fully extended and the cue held in the back hand to make contact with the cue ball when the arm is straight down (at the bottom of the pendulum swing). We then recognize that practice strokes made when addressing the ball will occur in the back half of the swing from 3 to 6 o’clock (holding the upper arm completely still). This leaves the follow-thru to occur from 6 to about 8 o’clock. However, to compensate for the unwanted upward motion of the pendulum swing, the player will allow the elbow to fall (gravity fed and therefore inline) by rotating the shoulder joint at the moment of contact (while keeping the head, shoulders and body still).
Correct stance has been the subject of more debate than I care to recall. At his point, my position is that your stance is the result of more important factors (to be discussed later) so the discussion here will be limited. It is important to have a firm (not waivering) stance that is comfortable because you must stay in your stance (with your eyes focused on the precise point on the ball) until your stroke is completed. You must keep your eyes trained on the interactions of the balls to see what occurs, so you can make adjustments.
The correct bridge is also debated “til the flies won’t light” and the result has always been that the best bridge is the shot neutral method. In other words, don’t even think about your bridge as long as it doesn’t hurt your game. If it does begin to give you trouble; go to the local pool hall and ask the question, “what kind of bridge should I use?” and sit back and enjoy the furor. Then ignore all that and watch a few good players and pick a style…any style will do. The subject of the bridge will come up later, as well.