The Importance of Decision Making & Pre-Shot Routine
After decades of competition I have come to know that solid mental skills & fundamentals are everything when it comes to playing your best pool! When the nerves are high, it means adrenaline is pumping through your system & the possibility of making a mistake increases. The most consistent way to play well under pressure is to strengthen your decision making process & shoot with a pre-shot routine. Personally I worked with one of my coaches, Mike Napolitano (Mikey Naps), for years to improve my analysis of the game better & to strengthen my fundamentals. This training dramatically affected my performance & joy during competition. If possible I recommend taking lessons with a coach or professional to help you create a pre-shot routine. In case this is not an option for you, I will break it down here.
Make All Your Decisions Standing Up
Each time you step up to the table you want to start by analyzing your available options, offensive & defensive & where you want your cue ball to end up. A player should consider their skill level when making decisions.
Beginner - want to focus on making the ball & basic position
Intermediate - looking 1-2 shots ahead or looking for a simple defensive shot (i.e. creating distance between the cue ball - object ball)
Advanced - on 3-4 shots ahead or looking for a more advanced safety (i.e. hiding the cue ball & creating distance)
Experts - want to plan the pattern for the entire table + create plans for clusters or problem balls or look for the most aggressive safety available
You want to design the shot before you begin your pre-shot routine. This includes the speed, your bridge hand (open, closed, on the rail, on the table, etc.) & needed english. Whatever you choose, commit 100%. Then after you execute, analyze the result for next time. Once down on the shot if you start to change your mind, immediately stand back up to reconsider & then begin your pre-shot when you’re recommitted. Even if it’s just to change the bridge your hand is making… you should stand back up, commit to the change & begin your pre-shot routine again.
Visualize the Shot
During your planning phase you want to visualize (create a mental picture) of the intended shot with as much detail as possible. Imagine the path of the object ball & cue ball. Try to visualize the cue ball hitting the chosen spot on the rail or rails in your designed shot. Decide very specifically where you want the object ball or cue ball to end up. How hard are you planning to hit the shot? What will it sound like? The better your picture, the better a chance you can recreate it or realize that it’s not possible. With this you should also take account of your skill level & try to visualize something you are capable of executing. Want more info about visualization & mental skills? Click on the video with the brain 😉 .
Create a Pre-Shot Routine
A pre-shot routine is the series of predetermined steps you take the same way each time before you shoot. It is prevalent in many sports as a tool used to create consistency & improve performance. Before I began working with my coach Mikey Naps in 2013, a pre-shot routine felt like this illusive skill that I wanted to create & perfect, but didn’t know where to start. The only thing I had worked on was stepping into the shot, but not in a deliberate manner. At that point I had been playing my whole life & had been a ranked pro on the WPBA for 3 years. It’s amazing how well you can play with poor fundamentals & without a pre-shot routine, but it’s even more amazing how much better you can play when you work on them. These are the steps to my pre-shot routine, but I encourage you to figure out what works for you. I recommend focusing on one or two parts of the routine when you practice until they feel very natural, then incorporate more when you’re ready. Eventually all the parts will feel like they click together & become automatic..
Design my shot
Visualize my shot
Align the center of my body with the line from the cue ball to object ball
Step only the leg that is in the back of my stance towards the center of my body so it is in line with shot
Step forward & plant my front foot so my stance is stable
Bend into my front leg & lock my back knee to help prevent from jumping up
Lock my stroking shoulder into place to maintain a nice 90 degree angle
Practice stroke until I feel locked in & ready to fire
Pause on my final stroke & look at the object ball before I release
Follow through with a loose wrist, maintaining elbow position
Freeze & Send hold my body position for 3 secs while sending the cue ball with my eyes
KISS: Keep it Simple & Straightforward
Many of you might have heard the phrase KISS which usually stands for Keep It Simple Stupid; however, I prefer one the of the less self-deprecating versions since I don’t believe self-deprecation is helpful. Yet if you prefer that version, it also applies here 😂. The term was created by Navy aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson in 1960, referring to the fact that most systems operate best when kept simple instead of overly complicated. I believe this philosophy is ideal for billiards because there is so much going on. It is easy to start over thinking things & hinder performance. Another term that comes to mind is “Over analysis, leads to paralysis.” My advice is to slowly & steadily acquire knowledge, training on each piece of the puzzle & adding more as you go. The same goes with fundamentals, adding a new step or replacing a bad habit with a good one can take time. If you try to add too much too fast you brain & body can become overwhelmed leaving you a hot mess. KISS when it comes to your training & when you are at the table. Then incorporate new things when you feel ready. Also when the nerves are on KISS can help stabilize you when you’re overwhelmed.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article! If you have any questions feel free to comment on this post & I will respond. Wishing you all the best on your pool progress!