There is a part of your brain that quietly sits back and monitors what you are doing, constantly on the lookout for trouble. Not physically dangerous trouble. I’m talking about the one that protects you from SOCIAL DANGER. This is the thing that stops you when you are about to say something embarrassing. It makes it hard for some people to sing karaoke, or dance in public. Let’s be clear. The thing I’m talking about is fear – fear of judgment and being embarrassed.
There are two main techniques that are particularly difficult for pool players to learn as a direct result of this fear: thin cut-shot making and producing effective draw. Let’s start by looking at thin cut shots.
We have all been there, attempting a thin cut shot while playing pool with our friends. You take your time to aim carefully, pull the trigger and then… OUCH, you’ve missed the object ball altogether. Reading this you can probably remember that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Maybe you remember the feeling of blood rushing into your cheeks. It’s a brief feeling, but it’s a bad feeling.
Right then and there that overprotective part of your brain jumped up and took notice. That’s its job. It remembers what you did to cause that embarrassment and it will try hard to keep you from ever doing it again. The problem is, the way it does this is subconscious and since you are not aware of it, it can make it very hard to practice and learn techniques that risk embarrassing you again.
Thin Cut Shots
Thin cut shots require that you do almost exactly that. To make them consistently you have to aim RIGHT NEXT to the line that misses the entire ball and causes embarrassment. When attempting to stroke on the correct line, many people’s subconscious will make them steer the final stroke away from the dangerous line, toward the object ball. This brings me to my first suggestion for overcoming this fear in your quest for a better pool game.
Practice this skill in a place where you won’t care if you miss the whole ball and people see you do it. Go to a pool hall and get a table to yourself back in the corner. It helps to remind yourself that the correct aim involves taking on that risk and accepting that risk before pulling the trigger. Just knowing it and being prepared for it can go a long way toward stopping the part of your brain that wants to mess with your aim. Don’t let it win.
When you do get a table to yourself, practice some straight shots! Shooting straight shots is great practice for thin cuts because thin cuts require a lot of accuracy. Even without fear they are hard to make from any kind of distance unless your mechanics and alignment are sound.
This fear can make you miss in another way. Jumping up can cause misses on thin cut shots or any other shot where the shooter lacks confidence. Fear of a bad outcome is at the root of why people jump up on shots. We have all done this before but most people don’t realize WHY they don’t stay down.
When you first choose a shot and visualize what you want to happen, you are in a standing position. When you get down to execute the shot you are at a different vantage point entirely. The impulse to jump up happens because that scared part of your brain wants to get back to the original vantage point immediately to see if the shot is unfolding the way you envisioned it. This is a totally understandable impulse.
The problem with this lies in the way our nerves control our body movements. After many cycles of a player jumping up “right after” taking the shot, the player’s brain and peripheral nervous system (the nerves in the body and limbs that make up muscle memory) figure out the pattern. During the final stroke these nerves tell the muscles of the back and neck that you are about to jump up, so those muscles tighten in preparation for sudden movement. Since pool players generally address shots with their bodies over the cue at an angle, even raising up slightly during the final stroke moves the shoulder and arm sideways off the stroking line. Pool requires so much precision that even this tiny movement is enough to cause a shot to miss. Jumping up is one of the most common flaws seen in a pool player’s game.
As with thin cut shots, knowing is half the battle. Just knowing why people jump up seems to help a little with this problem. The very best solution is to make a point of fully re-envision the shot from the lower vantage point once you get down in the stance. Actually picture in your head the exact path of the cue ball, including any squirt and swerve the shot may involve. Picture the cue ball’s path all the way to the object ball and then picture the object ball’s path all the way to the pocket from the vantage point of your shooting stance. When you have done this completely you will have removed the motivation for jumping up in the first place. You won’t need to get back to a standing vantage point to compare the outcome to what you envisioned because you will have a newer vision from down on the shot that you can compare to.
Another strategy that can help is to make a point of staying down on the shot until you see the object ball hit the pocket. I have students exaggerate this period of staying down so that if it breaks down a little under pressure, they are still staying down long enough to get the shot off accurately. Combined with the previous suggestion, this can really help a lot. By itself it only helps a little because even when you tell yourself to stay down longer, your subconscious still wants to jump up and the muscles still tighten up “just in case.” This strategy can be a useful stop-gap measure to address the problem until a player fully trusts the new way of envisioning the shot from the shooting stance.
Armed with the knowledge that there is nothing to fear but fear itself, your results will improve steadily as you work past the perfectly normal roadblocks your mind puts in your way. Practice courageously and your game will grow by leaps and bounds. Practice the shots that are beyond your reach, and soon they won’t be.
Good luck my fellow pool lovers. Hit ‘em good.
Kristopher Cash fell in love with pocket billiards when he was a kid, spending most of his after school hours on the two tables at the Pasadena Boy’s club in Southern California. In high school he discovered a pool table in a dorm at the California Institute of Technology, and started sneaking in after school to play with the engineering students and discuss the game with them, dissecting the physics of the game and the mechanics of an effective stroke. In 2001 Kris watched in awe as Frank Almanza and Fach Garcia, two well respected Southern California players, played some top flight bar box 8 ball. They moved the cue ball with such beautiful precision that it struck a chord in Kris. He had caught the pool bug in a big way. Soon he was playing 5 nights a week. Every night he would watch videos of the pros till he fell asleep. He also read every book on pool he could get his hands on. Kris started teaching pool in 2007, his infectious enthusiasm encouraging many players to fall in love with the game. Around that same time he married his wife Cathleen. She is a therapists specializing in DBT, a type of therapy that specializes in changing problem behaviors. From her he learned a lot about why people sometimes get in their own way. Kris incorporated this into his teaching, helping students get out of their own way to achieve more success than they previously thought possible. “I will never be a world champion, but everywhere I go I leave a trail of authentic pool enthusiasts. I am trying to be the Johnny Appleseed of loving pool. That’s my goal. My legacy in this sport, if I have my way. Join me please, and may all our efforts bare fruit.” -Kris Cash
Author and Photos provided by: Kris Cash
Editor: Shaylyn Troop