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View Full Version : Are some misses more important than others?


Dan White
04-13-2007, 10:13 PM
I've been having a running discussion with my father, who usually sits and watches me run balls whenever I go over to shoot some pool in the basement. Whenever he sees me miss an easy shot he says, "Forget that one. Just knock it in and keep going. It isn't important for improvement in your game in the big picture." Of course this bugs me because I believe all misses are important. I think we kind of agree mostly, but I wanted to make a point to him about pre shot routines. So I emailed him the note below and thought some here might like to comment. I'm sure I could learn a few things. Thanks for any thoughts. Here's what I emailed him:

Hi! I was sitting here goofing around on the computer and I thought would discuss this idea of missing shots in straight pool, and whether some misses are more important than others.

Just to recap your point, I think what you are saying is that the biggest hill for me to get over is mastering shot selection (strategy), including how best to break up clusters, and how to choose the best pattern for the last few balls before the break ball. If I can master that, then I can run a lot of balls. So, when I miss a shot that you know that I've already mastered, like a straight in short shot, it is unimportant because it has nothing to do with the more complex aspects of running lots of balls.

I agree with you that if I could master strategy, and my other skills remained unchanged, I'd run a lot more balls than I do now. On the subject of strategy, I think where I stand is that I'm not that far away from getting it right. I'm sure sometimes there are runout patterns that might be easier than the ones I pick out, so I have to be sure to stop and look the table over carefully when the balls are all open, and do a better job of picking the right ones for last. The one thing I know I have to work on more is learning just how precise I can be with cue ball control. I'd like to think I can go into a cluster softly and just move one or two balls that I've selected, instead of busting into the cluster. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it doesn't. To me, the answer is to occasionally go back to those position drills for practice, and to learn which are higher percentage shots for me.

So anyway, back to my original point about whether some misses are more important than others. If I miss a shot because I'm not warmed up, or because I'm mentally tired and not seeing the balls that well, then I agree that these misses are not that important, because I'm not playing at my real, or normal, ability.

But, I think to discount an easy miss is a mistake. Let me explain why I think missing easy shots is a bigger problem than you might think. In order to play high level pool, you need to have a consistent pre-shot routine (PSR). Loree Jon Jones stroked the cue 7 times before each shot. Tony Robles told me he does it 3 times before every shot (or at least that I should). Allison Fischer is like a machine. Fran Crimi said some of the women pros chalk their cue, and then put the chalk on the rail as the signal, or trigger, for them to forget everything but making the ball. Even the old time greats, I'm sure, had a PSR that was consistent shot to shot to shot, over and over hundreds of times in a row. A guy like Efren or Willie might be so good that they don't appear to have any consistent PSR, but I bet they did (even if they didn't label it a "Pre Shot Routine.")

Given this concept of a PSR, it becomes obvious that the miss of a simple shot means that the PSR has broken down in a really big way. It is a mental error and is just as serious as picking the wrong ball for your break shot. Recognizing the mental error and trying to correct it is very important because you can't run 100 balls if you let your PSR break down every 30 or 40 balls you attempt to pocket.

To this day, I do not follow an exact PSR when it comes to placing my feet in precise locations for every shot, and analyzing every little body movement (which some people actually do). My PSR deals mostly with getting in a comfortable position with the elbow still and above the cue. The rest of the PSR has to do with the stroke motion itself.

Now here is something I learned a while back that is VERY, VERY IMPORTANT: Playing pool correctly is all about controlling yourself, and not about controlling the balls on the table. You can't directly control what happens on the table. All you can do is control yourself mentally and physically. What happens on the table simply reflects how well you are able to control yourself. This concept is easy to dismiss as silly or obvious, but it hit me one day, and my game improved a lot. This concept allowed me to relax mentally and in my stroke motion. It also agrees with something Crimi had said, which I've mentioned to you before. She said that when you have a tricky shot that you are not confident in, that is the time when you really have to bear down and make sure that your fundamentals are good. Lack of confidence leads to tension, which screws up the PSR, and leads to a miss.

When I watch you shoot pool, you often say what virtually everybody says, "How the hell did I miss that shot...Why can't I keep myself still...Why do I keep jumping up on the shot"? The answer is that you haven't taken to heart the idea that controlling yourself is more important than controlling what is happening on the table. Let me put it another way. Usually when I play I have a specific goal in mind for that day. I might want to concentrate on breaking clusters softly, or controlling draw distance more accurately, and so on. If you make it a practice drill to focus on YOURSELF, and a Pre-Shot Routine, and FORGET what the balls are doing after you hit the cue ball, I think you'd be able to overcome a lot of the repetitive problems you have. Shoot a ball and judge the success of the shot on whether you maintained a PSR, and NOT whether the ball went in the pocket. If you missed, just use that as evidence that your PSR broke down somewhere, either in faulty aim, bad arm movement, and so on, and that you are failing to pay attention to what is important - your PSR.

So, if I look back at playing yesterday and see how my runs ended, I would categorize them roughly as follows:

* miss due to PSR breakdown - did not shoot confidently
* miss due to PSR breakdown - firm draw shot missed due to "wiggly" arm movement probably (not warmed up??)
* miss due to misjudging cue ball control - cue ball didn't go where I thought it was going to go, and left
me tough
* miss due to a tough rack after the break
* miss due to bad position on the last 3 balls
and so on...

So, from my perspective, there were several runs interrupted by PSR and cue ball movement errors. Not a lot of my errors were due to inferior strategy. I see all the misses as important, and an opportunity to improve my game.

If I really wanted to concentrate on shot selection/strategy, then I could just throw a bunch of balls on the table and figure out the simplest way to run them off. It's probably a good drill, actually. But for now, I'm happy to keep trying to run balls and see where my game is. I've been doing drills for so long that it is time to see where those drills have taken me.

I know this was a bit rambling, but hopefully my point about why ALL misses are important to learn from came through.

I'll talk to you later,
Dan

selftaut
04-13-2007, 10:31 PM
I agree with you and your assesment that the missed shots do mean something in your practice sessions , but you can't carry those same thoughts over to competition play , if you did it might get in your head during match play where you need to stay focused on the task at hand only. It has to be done in the practice sessions.

JoeW
04-14-2007, 08:18 AM
As a psychologist I would agree but perhaps for a different reason. Like many sports the ability to play pool cannot be based solely on mechanical principles. The player can look at a shot and say "I want the cue ball to land here.” What happens next cannot be verbalized. One has to let the brain calculate many variables that includes the behavior of the body and the reactions of the balls on the table.

As a psych I find it interesting that one can verbalize a very limited amount of information about a shot and that it is important to allow the body / brain (not mind) to function and learn from its mistakes. To do this one must first feel comfortable and the PSR establishes control and comfort. Then one must allow the body / brain to learn from every success and from every failure. That is how corrections are made.

For instance, the player can say “I need outside English with reduced power to get the ball to center table.” The player cannot be more specific than that. The exact amount of English, power, etc are all determined by the body brain. Every mistake is another opportunity to learn what was not under appropriate control.

One of the mistakes that players often make is not specifying what they want the body / brain to do with great specificity. Saying (thinking) exactly where they want the OB and CB and / or visualizing what needs to be done. These are instructions to the body / brain and a goal to be reached. For these reasons, reviewing the success or failure of every shot assists learning.

Strategy is another matter and that is why we distinguish the “thinking” part of the game from the “PSR” and shot making. It is also of interest to note, in the context of analyzing what is done, that we often ask more of ourselves than can be done. For instance, the player “thinks” the CB should come to rest at some specific spot. However, when they get down over the shot the body / brain seems to be “nervous.” This is feedback that says “what you want can’t be accomplished.” So there is a need to stand up and re-think the shot. Some people are better at becoming aware of their body brain estimates and or changing their shots than others.

It would be an interesting exercise to become aware of how many times your body / brain told you through "nervousness" that a missed shot was not something that could be done with any degree of certainty. In other words, your "mind" specified a shot that could not be accomplished and you body / brain knew it before hand.

For those who think this is a lot of gibberish think on this. What do you do when you ride a bicycle? You say, “balance and go there.” You “allow” the body / brain to execute the action. I know that you do this because you cannot tell me how you balance (its actually controlled falling) nor how you use your muscles to steer; tighten bicep relax triceps, etc. The body learns from its successes and from it failure and everyone is important.

lfigueroa
04-14-2007, 11:31 AM
Couldn't sleep, Dan :-)

I think the easy misses are critical. Absolutely positootly can't just pass on by. And the reason is that an easy miss is signally you that you haven't yet refined your approach to that shot enough. And, in all probability, it points out that you have a propensity for missing that shot, in *exactly* the same way, over and over. That easy miss will stick it's ugly head up over and over, throughout your pool playing life, until you give it due attention, come to peace with it, make the proper adjustments and recalibrate what it is that you're trying to do on that specific shot.

Take a look again at the shot and double check your setup -- there's is almost certainly something wrong:

Too long a bridge.

A bridge that you think is setting you up to do one thing, but is actually off a bit.

A motion that you think is helping the stroke, but is actually counterproductive.

Too much elevation, or not enough.

Cue tip too far from the cue ball.

Bad grip.

Bad grip position.

Too much speed.

Not enough speed.

Too much offset.

Too little offset.

Let's face it: sure we often end a run on a tough shot, or even because we leave ourselves no shot. But IME, the vast majority of times, it's the one that we thought was easy that is the run assassin.

Lou Figueroa

Dan White
04-14-2007, 01:11 PM
I agree with you and your assesment that the missed shots do mean something in your practice sessions , but you can't carry those same thoughts over to competition play , if you did it might get in your head during match play where you need to stay focused on the task at hand only. It has to be done in the practice sessions.

I don't know... I'm not talking about letting a miss upset you. Ideally, a missed ball or missed position tells you something that you should take note of, and is not something to get upset about. If I miss an otherwise easy shot, I'll probably know the reason. If I was taking the shot for granted during a match, I can just make a mental note to pay attention to every shot, not matter how easy. I don't see a problem with that.

thanks,
dwhite

Dan White
04-14-2007, 01:23 PM
[QUOTE=JoeW]
For instance, the player can say “I need outside English with reduced power to get the ball to center table.” The player cannot be more specific than that. The exact amount of English, power, etc are all determined by the body brain. Every mistake is another opportunity to learn what was not under appropriate control.

Ultimately the brain has to interpolate or extrapolate, but you can give your brain the data to get started. If you know from practice drills what a 1/2 tip of outside at lag speed is going to do on that shot, and you know what a full tip would do, then you might find you need 3/4 tip at lag speed to get there. So you might be able to get where you need to be from mechanics like the above, and you can "feel"the rest by giving just a touch more or less speed, for instance.

One of the mistakes that players often make is not specifying what they want the body / brain to do with great specificity. Saying (thinking) exactly where they want the OB and CB and / or visualizing what needs to be done. These are instructions to the body / brain and a goal to be reached. For these reasons, reviewing the success or failure of every shot assists learning.

I think this is why guys like Schmidt actually put the cue tip on the table at the spot they want the cue ball for the break shot into the next rack. Hmm, I wonder if he's marking the table at the same time? :rolleyes:

...

It would be an interesting exercise to become aware of how many times your body / brain told you through "nervousness" that a missed shot was not something that could be done with any degree of certainty. In other words, your "mind" specified a shot that could not be accomplished and you body / brain knew it before hand.

Yes, this is interesting. I can say that a significant percentage of the time I know when I'm at risk of botching a shot. I'm sure others have the same experience. It is actually rare for me when I'm completely surprised by a miss. There is usually something I can point to immediately as the reason. Usually it is something like paying too much attention to the position and forgetting to pocket the ball.

QUOTE]

Thanks for the reply. Oh, have you read The Pleasures of Small Motions? It is right up your alley. You might have a different take on the book than the lay person has. I'd be interested to hear what you think of it.

dwhite

Dan White
04-14-2007, 02:45 PM
Couldn't sleep, Dan :-)

Just another wild Friday evening.

Take a look again at the shot and double check your setup -- there's is almost certainly something wrong:

...

Let's face it: sure we often end a run on a tough shot, or even because we leave ourselves no shot. But IME, the vast majority of times, it's the one that we thought was easy that is the run assassin.



The one thing that keeps getting me is this: Let's say I have a nearly straight in shot with a cluster right next to it. I want to make the ball and open the cluster, so I have to cheat the pocket to make it happen. I tend to over cheat when I've subconsciously figured out that I can't really break the cluster even with the cheated pocket. Or, that it so close to be ridiculous. So I tend to overcheat, open the cluster, but miss the shot. Different variations of this kind of thing tend to get me. I'm better at spotting this problem and often can avoid it, but not everytime. So, I shoot, miss, and figure if I never missed I'd be Greenleaf!

dwhite

JoeW
04-14-2007, 04:20 PM
I have not read "The Pleasures of Small Motions" sounds interesting so I will get a copy and let you know what I think. -- Thanks