After we have discussed three out of four basic fundamentals, we come to the most important thing of all, The Stroke!
If you have a good stance and know many bridges, that will never overcome your bad grip that leads to a poor stroke. But when you see and hear a sound of a good stroke you “forgive” many flaws and you know that you have a good player in front of you. What distinguish players is the stroke!
In order to understand the importance and real place of the stroke, we shall watch first the global picture including basics of a pre shot routine and than we shall make a thorough analysis of biomechanics and discuss three types of stroke.
According to European Pocket Billiard Association (under which my pool school is influenced), we have 11 steps of the pre shot routine from which seven are a must, but here we shall not talk so much about it. In this article we shall make it simpler and we divide everything into four phases with two critical points. If and when we learn and get the big picture of the most important elements of the pre shot routine and the fundamentals of the stroke, we can expand it to seven or 11 steps in deductive order.
Be aware that a good stroke is part of a natural rhythm and must come from the player’s natural “rhythm” in order to be pure and solid. But, regardless of the player’s rhythm, every type of stroke has its own biomechanical rhythm. In order not to mix these terms, we shall call biomechanical rhythm as “the timing.”
Be aware that you don’t try separate rhythm and timing—they are not cut by a knife! They are in harmony and they flow from phase to phase, through rhythm into timing, effortless and natural.
I really hope that, so far you all have built a great stance, grip and bridge so we can proceed. If not so, stop right here! Take your dog for a walk and return in a couple of weeks with good fundamentals because you are entering the very best in pool technique. so you have to be well prepared.
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You are back again. Nice! We can now proceed with four phases and two critical points of a pre shot routine and stroke itself.
Phase I – Thinking
From the moment you get out of your chair and approach the table, your brain starts analyzing the layout of balls and starts suggesting different solutions. First, what we have to decide is shall we attack or withdraw with some good safe shot. This is our instinctual reaction to strange situations: attack or run away. Almost at the first look we can decide what to do, but sometimes we have to measure our possibilities and we should go for a shot that gives a better chance of success, regardless if it is a pot or a safe shot. We don’t anticipate only one shot, we have to anticipate at least three shots in advance, as a micro plan of the game, but also think of the whole game as a macro plan and the whole match as your strategy, and after all your whole pool policy.
During this phase we chalk the tip of the cue. This is very important, and remember “Chalk is free!” so chalk it on every shot you play. By chalking we do several important things:
we prepare our equipment,
we relax a bit by this physical movement and liberate stress and pressure,
we establish some rhythm.
So, never chalk too fast! Minnesota Fats liked to say that a good player puts chalk on the tip like a girl puts a lipstick on her lips, gently and precisely so she covers the whole lip. We have to do the same, in low speed and covering the whole tip.
During this phase we don’t stay frozen in one place, we circle the table, trying to see angles, contact points and cue ball paths. During this, we get to know our position better and we analyze potential solutions better. Also this movement relaxes us, so we can deal with high pressure positions without muscle spasms.
When we decide what we shall do, we have to make a good image of everything that we want to achieve, such as potting the object ball and position of cue ball for the next shot, etc. This image is not just a video projection of a shot—a silent movie—it is followed with sounds of stroking the cue ball, cue ball and object ball contact and of course the sound of dropping the object ball into pocket. But not only the sound, this image has to involve the feelings of the shot, the movement of your arms, the position of your body, the feeling of your hands on the cloth, even the smell of the pool room. It s should include as many senses you can which makes a better visualization.
Why do we do this? Well, when you do something for a second time, it is always better than when you do it for the first time. You feel more comfortable and you have some self confidence since you have done it already. Also, our brain works well with pictures, not words, so when you make a good image your sub conscience leads your stroke, your cue ball and everything in perfect position, without pushing it too hard. When you force yourself to make something, then you perform under pressure and your muscles will not be relaxed and your stroke is not smooth, so you make mistakes that you wouldn’t typically do.
We all practice to build muscle memory, so we stroke without of will control, and allow our reflexes to finish the job. If we use a will control over our stroke, it will be a very poor result, because our will will interfere with our muscle memory and we will perform badly. So, make a realistic image of a shot and trust in your hours of learning and training. You will perform much, much better!
“Put an end.”
When we think about different possibilities we make different images in our head. Sometimes we analyze two, three or even more possible layouts and positions, but we cannot play all of them in one shot. We have to choose just one! So, when you decide what you are going to play, forget other possibilities. Knock the table with a chalk, when you are putting it back on the table (this is the reason I don’t like to have a chalk in my pocket or on sam magnet belt holder). With this act “put an end” to your thoughts and take responsibility over your decisions and your shots.
No matter what aiming method or system you use (ghost ball, parallel lines, fractional system, 90/90, CTE, Pro One, SEE), always aim in an upright position, align the shot according to your system and then bend down and make necessary maneuvers: manual pivots, visual sweeps and fine tunings.
Imagine that two or three steps around the table is a special zone. We shall call it a box. This space is reserved for playing. When you are in the first phase, and thinking what to play, please be kind and step out of the box. When you decide what to play, align yourself to the shot line, aim and then, in order to make a stance and to band into a shot—only then—step into the box. After you finish what you have in mind, don’t tumble to the next shot, be kind and step out from the box for the next shot.
By stepping into the box and banding in our stance for a shooting position, we have finished our first phase.
I hope you will find this article informative enough. In the next article we will explain the first critical point of a shot.
Marry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Best regards from Belgrade!
Photo: provided by author Editor: Dana Gornall