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Teaching Kids to Really Get the Game

Posted 05-17-2020 at 01:21 AM by zcrash
Updated 06-26-2020 at 11:07 PM by zcrash

I believe that kids who grow up banging balls around the table and not knowing the rules of the game, generally grow up to be adults banging balls around the table and not knowing the rules of the game. To make sure that didn't happen with my stepkid, Chip, the following is how I taught him to play, starting at age 11. For each step, when he reached about 60-70% proficiency (or thereabouts), I explained the next step to him, and had him starting to think about it and layering it onto his game, while continuing to develop the skills in the previous steps.

1. The fundamentals: stance, sighting, stroke, and purpose. These don't have to be perfect, but each of these needs to be incorporated into every shot, either out of habit, or consciously if needed (working it into the habit).

2. Aiming: ghost ball or OB contact point, whatever worked best for him, and generally targeting the center of the available pocket (what I call "DNCP"--Dead Nuts Center Pocket--for straight-on shots). Initially, just center-ball hits, but starting to understand contact-induced throw for cut shots, as he progressed.

3. Cue ball control: first just knowing what the cue ball was going to do (without trying to control it too much), then thinking about setting up the next shot and making the cue ball do what he wanted. This was mostly still vertical center-ball hits, using follow/stun/draw and speed for position.

Two games we used to play while working on cue ball control (and we still play, when I see him) are "Call-Ahead" Eight Ball or Straight Pool (call-pocket for the next two balls on every shot--you don't shoot again if you get out of line) and Cowboy (good for both caroms and position play on a wide-open table). We also used to work on run-outs (starting with 2 balls, then 3, 4, etc.).

A good technique to use for kids (or novices, or yourself if/when you're completely sucking) for any of these games (and also Nine Ball) is to start every turn with ball in hand. Better to think about the sequence and staying in line, rather than shooting from crappy positions, missing big, getting frustrated, and learning jacksquat.

After that, I helped him understand some of the more advanced parts of the game that most recreational home players never get to (not complete, or in strict order here--there's just so much to the game!):

4. Side english.

5. Bank shots.

6. Defense.

7. One Pocket!!!

We played a lot--of all of this--on the 8-foot Olhausen in his basement. It was amazing to see him totally engaged, progressing, and being serious/studious about the game. Periodically, I would take him to a pool hall (in the Cleveland area) so we could translate the skills/experience to a 9-footer.

Chip is now 29, continues to get and love the game, and will always be thoughtful every time he steps to the table, for life.
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