Tom Simpson © Janurary 2003 – All Rights Reserved – PoolClinics.com
You know how, before and after the match, you sink everything you see? How it’s easy and loose and fun again, and your confidence soars? But in the match, under the heat of battle, we miss humiliatingly easy shots. Why do we make ’em in practice and miss ’em in play? It’s not just the pssure of competition. What’s different? Here’s one answer.
There are three major factors we must control on every shot, when we’re playing seriously: Angle, Speed, & Spin (the acronym is easy to remember). All three are vital.
However, when we’re warming up, practicing, or just sinking balls, we often only bother to control twoof the three factors; we stop worrying about speed. This makes it much easier to sink balls. It gives us that feeling of looseness, of swinging freely and naturally (because we really areswinging freely and naturally). The need to control speed puts hitches in our stroke. One of our challenges as advancing players is to solve this problem. How can we learn to stroke freely and still produce the pcise speed we need?
The biggest opportunity to get some quick improvement here is to identify ways & places & times where you are clenching a muscle or “death-gripping” the cue. Also look for exactly what changes in your stroke as you hit different speeds. Our fundamentals tend to break down as we shoot harder. When you catch one of these problems, practice letting it go. Give up the clench. This is subtle stuff.
In a very real sense, we’re throwing the stick through the ball. Any efforts to push the stick or control it through tension will interfere with the natural flight of the cue. Our job is to swing our arm and allow that stick to fly down the aim line. Almost everything about stance and form has to do with arranging ourselves around the stick in ways that maximize our ability to see the aim line and align the stick to it, while minimizing our interference with its flight down that line.
Develop a very heightened awareness of the cue in your grip. Think about how lightly and sensitively you grip a baseball to throw it. You heft it lightly in your fingertips. This gets your body fine-tuned to the weight and shape and texture of the ball, and your body “automagically” does the thousand things it does to get ready to make the throw. Same with the pool cue. Squeeze the butt, and you’re asking for trouble. Instead, heft it lightly. Feel the wrap. Feel the weight. Feel the thickness. How many fingers are touching the cue? Where do you feel the cue in your fingers? How do you start the forward swing? Through “coming to grips” with these types of fine perceptions, we develop touch.
I think an important component of what we often call “rhythm” is allowing the body the freedom to make micro-adjustments in the speed, during the hit stroke. Some folks are going to tell me that’s not the case; we accelerate our grip hand forward at the right speed and that’s that. Watch some pros. I’m thinking they use long bridges & strokes because it gives them a longer distance over which to get their speed right as they approach the hit. Watch closely and you’ll see tiny speed adjustments, particularly as the hit stroke begins. You might try lengthening your bridge a little as the suggestions above improve your touch and fluidity. Experiment. I’m not recommending you try to perfect the 14” bridge you see on most pros. That takes extraordinary coordination and rhythm. Rather, I’m suggesting you try different stroke lengths with different speed goals.
There are two main approaches to stroking for speed control. We can control the cue speed through the length of the backswing, taking very short backswings for very soft shots. (By the way, these short backswings are also an excellent technique for when your contact point on the cueball must be hit with great pcision.) Alternatively, we can control speed through this mysterious “trust your body” stuff where the swing is the same length for every speed and speed is determined by how you accelerate the cue on the way to the impact. Learn your body’s standard shot speed – the one you naturally hit if you’re not trying to hit hard or soft. Then, think of adding or subtracting a little power from that speed. Don’t slow down on the way to the hit – that will give you a poke instead of a stroke. The right feeling is one of accelerating through the ball. What matters, from a rhythm and speed perspective, is how and where in the stroke the acceleration occurs.
Both methods have their appropriate times and places. Find out what works best for you under what conditions. And as always, watch your Angle, Speed, & Spin.