On the first day of pool school, I point out that if you can’t deliver the cueball where you think it has to go, nothing else matters.
All your strategy, knowledge, and experience won’t pocket a ball or win a game. Your fundamentals do that, and so they are first and foremost. At pool school, we focus hard on fundamentals of form, how best to arrange your body to facilitate an accurate, fluid, consistent, straight, repeatable stroke.
We all have form flaws, departures from the ideal. And of course, exactly what constitutes the ideal is different for every player. There’s a lot to it, but we move the class along in a fairly systematic way.
As the instructors circulate to help the individual players at their tables, we generally work on the biggest things first.
As I watch a player, I’m looking for what sticks out to me the most. What’s the simplest thing we can change or improve to get the greatest immediate gain? Maybe their bridge is floppy or their head is moving or their stick is swerving or their stance is awkward or any of a hundred things. Whatever it is, we gradually work each player into something closer to ideal for them, something that gets them past the biggest issues they had, gets them more confidence and better results.
Eventually, as players’ fundamentals are “roughed in,” they start to look like solid players. Things become more consistent, fluid, athletic, simple. It’s worthwhile to let players work on these changes for some time, perhaps a few months. The longer someone has played, the tougher it is to overcome old habits. At this point, though, our players are very clear on why they should make their changes, and so they are motivated to change and to be vigilant about it.
For those who stick with it and are patient with themselves and their learning process, their new fundamentals begin to dominate their play and their game comes up. Here’s where we can begin to refine the finer aspects of form, and get even further down the path to excellence. But this is also where the changes become much more subtle. Instructors can point out some factors to consider, some ways to experiment, some ways to measure or compare results. One of these subtle areas is grip. Grip is what connects us to our instrument—the cue stick. This joining, and the motion of the grip with the stick, must function smoothly.
In my opinion, your grip can evolve and improve throughout your entire pool life.
We can give you general guidance, such as where your grip hand should be on the cue. We can give you important ideas, such as your grip should be very light. We can suggest experimenting with different numbers of grip fingers, different thumb placements, and small changes in your palm/stick angle.
These are all worthwhile areas to explore, but aside from seeing whether a change allows the stick to stroke straighter, all you have is “How does it feel?” Does it feel smoother? Is it uncomfortable? Is it difficult to do consistently? Does it give you more confidence? It’s hard for an instructor to tell whether a change feels better to a player. That’s up to the player.
We try to see whether the “quality” of their stroke improves and whether their pocketing and ball control improves. So while I can’t really tell you exactly how to improve your grip, I do have a few suggestions you’ll find worthy of attention:
No gripping: Don’t squeeze the stick. Don’t grab it. Just swing it. Gripping runs tension up into your arm and hobbles your fluidity. It’s actually okay to hold so lightly that the stick sometimes slides forward after the hit.
Rule of thumb: No squeezing with the thumb either, for the same reason. The thumb makes some kind of soft loop that keeps the stick from falling off your hand—and that’s all. Our rule of thumb (ha ha) is “When the tip hits the ball, the thumb points to the floor.”
Soft hand: Your grip hand should be as soft as possible. Tensions in your grip fin- gers can tighten up your wrist and affect your fluidity. How can you “hold” your fingers in place without tension? Don’t brace your hand shape.
Fewer fingers: The more fingers the stick touches, the more ways there are for the stick to go crooked. Everyone’s hand is different, but it makes a certain amount of sense that as the weight of the stick passes from finger to finger during the stroke, things can go wrong. Also, micro-movements in your fingers can make you miss. So maybe fewer fingers would work better. Try a one-finger or two-finger grip.
Find your angle: Most players stroke with the palm of their grip hand facing their body. Some players stroke with the palm rotated toward the back of the stick. I can’t tell you what’s right. Everyone’s joints work a little differently. What’s important is to find the palm angle that works best in your stroke. Note that changes in this angle affect where the stick rides in your fingers, so this experiment calls for you to really observe closely. It’s complicated.
Feel the weight of the cue: This is a huge tip. Try to feel the weight of the cue hanging from your elbow point. Feel the weight in your fingers. What can you soften to feel the weight more clearly? You’ll find that when you feel the weight, everything is soft and you are fully connected to your instrument.
Begin your backswing without effort and without gripping. Do less.
Photo: de sata 1/Flickr Editor: Dana Gornall