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Five Reasons Your Pool Game Sucks

By Bryan W Mitchell

There is a chance that your pool game does not “suck,” but it could probably use a bit of work.  And compared to elite players, chance are more than likely that your game could use a lot of work.  In the eyes of skilled players your game may very well “suck.” So without having ever met you, I will assume that you fall somewhere between casual player and intermediate league player. And because you are reading this, I will also assume that you wish to improve as a player.

In this article I will cover what I believe are the five main reasons many players do not improve very much over time.  Hopefully you will find yourself in some of these examples and also  find a way to fix any issues that may be holding you back.


Reason One:  You don’t know, what you don’t know

There is a very good chance that if you are a casual player you have never been in the presents of an elite player, yet played a match against one. The reason this is important is that you really do not grasp the quality gap between intermediate players and elite players by watching top players on You Tube or ESPN. As a result, you end up thinking that you are better than you really are, until you see someone who is much better.

If your play is limited to going to your favorite bar, hanging out with friends and playing with whoever puts a coin on the top of the table to play "next,"you really have no idea what a limited world your pool game lives in. The so called "best guy"at most local bars would be considered a "scrub"by higher ranked players. Trust me, there are hundreds of players who make a living simply traveling around and playing the "best guy"in the bar for cash.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, I know a bar in Norristown PA called the Black Horse. They have three (not so great,) 7-Foot coin operated tables. And walking in on any given night it would look like just a few locals hanging out and playing pool. But, this bar happens to be the keystone of the local APA league and houses some of the best amature players in the state on any given night of the week. Pick a night and the "best guy"in the bar at that time would be a different guy or girl who would be able to hold their own in just about any top amature tournament in the country. This place would be the exception to the rule, but your local bar is probably not like the Black Horse. 

If you are a league player you are likely to be exposed to good players more often. And you do have a chance to watch your highest ranked league players from week to week. This is a very good start, as long as you are playing attention. It always amazes me how often intermediate players fail to watch matches that are played by the higher ranked players in the league when there is so much that could be learned simply by paying attention.

The other reason you don’t know just how weak your game really is, is that it’s impossible for you to “know, what you do not know.” This is one of the most frustrating concepts for me to get across to people. The understanding that there is so much about this simple little sport that the average player does not realize he does not know. He does not understand that the elite player is using outside English to throw a shot, or that running English will change the path of the cue-ball on it's trip around the table; or even what “running English” means. He does not know that the tightness of his grip on the cue affects everything from the power in his break shot to his ability to make a draw shot. These and a thousand more pieces of important information are missing from the mind of the intermediate and beginner player. All of this falls into things he did not know that he did not know. These types of things along with even the  simplest of run-out patters.

Reason Two:  Your “Shot-List” is limited

You think you know every shot there is in pool because you know, stop shot, draw shot, follow shot and left and right English. What you may be missing out on is the fact that there are hundreds of variations and combinations of these shots and another thousand uses for these variations. The variations include the amount of English used, the speed, the use of more or less follow-through etc. Advanced players rarely "think" about all of the little things he is doing, unless he is coaching another player as to how to make a shot.. and that is where you want your game to stand. You should not have to continuously think about all the little things, they should just happen. 

Reason Three: You come to the table without a plan

Low ranked players come to the table in hopes of making a shot. Low to intermediate players come to the table with hopes of making a few shots. Stronger intermediate players come to the table with hopes of running out. High ranked players come to the table with a plan to run-out

If you come to the table and start shooting off balls without any idea how you will get to, not just the next ball but the next three balls or the entire rack, you may be in trouble. If the game is 9-Ball or 10-Ball, you know what you must shoot next. This is one of the things that make these games simple to watch. There are fewer decisions to make in 9-Ball than there are in games like straight pool, one pocket and 8-Ball. Nevertheless, you must have a plan for whatever game you are playing. And your plan must go beyond just your next two shots.

For high ranked players, the plan may change often, and this is fine. If you plan to run off the balls in a certain order but you get a bad roll on one of these shots, you will change the plan. And many good players, even highly ranked players, will have a plan that only goes out three or four balls at a time with continuous adjustments. The key is to have a plan. Know before you start shooting not just what your first ball will be but how you will get to, the second, third and fourth ball as well. Then do the same thing after making the next shot.

Reason Four: You don’t practice, you play

When was the last time you practiced pool? I don’t mean going out and playing 8 or 10 games of 8-Ball. I mean practiced. When you practice, you work on your game. You build new shots into your arsenal. When you practice you work on shots that you have trouble with in matches and you sharpen your skills. Yes, you can get better at the game by playing every day, but not to the extent that you can with practice.

One reason amateur players rarely see any major gains in their growth as players, is that they really do not practice. Let me give you just a couple of examples as to how play is not as good as practice.  When you practice, you spend almost the entire time fixing the shots that are broken in your game and reinforcing the things that you already do well. When you play a game with a friend, much of that table time is wasted.

For starters; if the friend is equally matched with you, you only spend about 50% of your time actually shooting balls. Of that 50% of the time you spend 80% of the time shooting shots that you can already make and maybe 20% of the time on shots that need work. Of the 20% of time you are spending on shots that need work, you only get to shoot them once. If there are 10 shots you really need to work on, that means that each shot is only getting 2% of your time, and at the end of the day you still cannot execute the shot.

But let’s say that you have trouble making the powerful draw shot from The Advanced Draw Shot Video. If you spent your entire practice time working on this shot and maybe getting a little coaching from an instructor or a higher ranked player, you would have that shot in your arsenal for the rest of your life. Not to mention, that if you can execute the shots in the video, you can also execute another 20 variations of the very same shot. You may actually add 20 new plays to your game by mastering one shot.

The tough thing about practice is that even if you love the game, you may hate practice. Practice hurts. This is why everyone in the world is not a world class player. Practice hurts because of the repetition and boredom. Practice hurts because you need to miss a shot hundreds of times in the learning process in order to be able to make it 99% of the time, for the rest of your life. Practice hurts because you are outside of your comfort zone. Thank God practice hurts. If it did not hurt, good players could not make a living beating average players. 

Reason Five: Your fundamentals are weak

The good news about pool is that the fundamentals are very easy to learn as compared to other sports. I can instruct a novice player as to how to perform a good stun shot, draw shot of follow shot or break shot, in about 15 minutes. But the best golf instructors in the world might need days to teach a novice to hit a drive or even hold the club correctly. And tennis instructors sometimes spend weeks with players who never seem to learn to drop a serve in the box.

The bad news is that so many players have bad fundamentals. If your fundamentals are weak, your game usually sucks. The most common errors players will make are the following:

1)      Not having a good bridge

2)      Moving their body during the shot

3)      Not following through on the shot

4)      Not staying down on the shot (related to moving the body and not following through)

5)      Shooting too hard or fast

These issues can all be fixed with time, just as the other issues can. But if you don’t want your game to suck, you will need to be willing to work on it. And if you are not willing to put in the time, effort and money to make it work, that’s fine as well. Someone has to lose.

                FX Billiards / NWQ Professional Pool
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