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Working on My Shot Routine - Shot Preparation

Posted 06-19-2020 at 06:16 PM by zcrash
Updated 06-26-2020 at 11:58 AM by zcrash

"This is an old song, done a different way. I've done this lots of ways. This is the latest way. It may not be the best way...but it's the latest..."

-- Ian Hunter (introducing "Laugh at Me", from Welcome to the Club)

The phrase used often in pool instruction or guidance is "pre-shot routine", though I think of it as just "shot routine". For me, it's all one integrated process, or ideally, a flow. I do break it down for myself into three parts--shot selection, shot preparation, and actually shooting--but each part is based on the previous one, and thus should flow seamlessly from it. And to extend the notion, each shot should flow into the next shot as well, at least when you're executing and staying in line. Getting out of line breaks the flow and necessitates a reset, but that is another topic for another time.

Right now, I am specifically rethinking the way I do shot preparation. I am exploring ways of considering the smaller steps and mini-processes within it, and trying to really absorb the feeling of when things are clicking. Here is a summary of where I'm at right now, calling out in particular the things that are new or different for me:
  • Before I get down on the cue ball, I always have an idea of exactly where I am aiming, and what kind of shot (speed, spin, leave) I want to make. This part is not new for me (though I will probably work on exactly how I do it as well, sometime in the not-too-distant future).
  • Now as I get down on the cue ball, before making any practice stroke motions at all, I want to settle into what I think of as a "rest" position. Here is what it entails:
    • Cue stick is perfectly lined up in the direction I want to hit the cue ball
    • Bridge hand is comfortable and stable, at the right position and distance from the cue ball
    • Shooting arm (shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand) is loose and relaxed and perfectly aligned vertically with the cue and the intended path of the cue ball
      • ‣I think of letting gravity do the work of letting my forearm, wrist, and hand dangle directly below my elbow
      • ‣Elbow should be at 90 degrees at the "rest" position
    • Tip of the cue is right at the intended contact point on the cue ball (or rather, as close as I dare to get)
      • ‣I will shimmy the cue stick forward in my hand to get the tip up to the cue ball once my arm is properly positioned
    • Body should be generally stable and free of tension (or at least as much as possible for more difficult positions, like having to reach, or shooting over a ball)
      • ‣Adjustments to body position may have to be made (moving the feet, if necessary) to get shooting arm and cue aligned with the direction of aim
      • ‣The arm itself should continue to stay relaxed and aligned by gravity-- making aiming adjustments by moving the arm will then entail adjustments to the shooting stroke, which I want to avoid if at all possible, to keep it standard and repeatable
  • I think of this "rest" position as completely natural feeling--a settling point--or in physics terms, a point of lowest potential energy. When I take the shot, I--that is to say, my shooting arm and the cue (the only things that should be moving)-- will need to pass through this exact position.
  • Only now do I tighten my grip to shooting firmness and start my first practice stroke. Whereas I used to think of practice strokes as a backward and forward motion (the latter of which should approximate the actual shooting stroke[1]), I am now only really focusing on the drawback. As I draw the cue straight back, I imagine that I am loading a weak spring that wants to return the cue back to the "rest" position.
    • ◦ If the cue doesn't draw straight back, then I know I am out of alignment and must get re-aligned (ensuring proper arm relaxation, and adjusting body position) before drawing back again
    • ◦ I'm actually still working on how far to draw back the cue, and how strong a spring force to feel for a given shot; I know both of those elements are related to the speed of the stroke I need to make, but I haven't figured out exactly how to think about, or feel, that relationship
  • If I am drawing back true, then I let that weak spring force that I imagine pull the cue back to the "rest" position--I don't think of it as a conscious forward stroke. I try and resist the spring force, but only very gently--just so the cue doesn't actually go into the cue ball--, and I try and really feel the sensation of the spring force. If the tip of cue ends up exactly at the initially intended contact point, then I'm ready to shoot.

In terms of the actual shot stroke, I'm still working on how to think about the various elements and details. At a broad level, I am drawing back identically to my last practice stroke (and I'm usually only having to do one, right now, for most shots) and then using a combination of recent muscle memory (the spring thing) and deeper, longer-term muscle memory (my inner player) for the stroke itself. The recent muscle memory gets the cue tip to the contact point--and also allows me to shift my attention to the object ball--, and the inner player (which emerges as the cue is moving forward, even before contact) executes the hit and the follow through.

As stated up front, this is work in process for me (as the entire game will actually always be). My goal for this version ("the latest way") of my shot preparation is to finish developing the mental model and technique that works for me at a conscious level (my "Self 1"), and then have my unconscious, inner player ("Self 2") learn it and believe in it. This post is a checkpoint for myself, as well as for the friends that I talk about this kind of stuff with. Updates to come.


[1] Note that I now consider this a fallacy, since you will need to put to brakes on at the end of each practice stroke to avoid contacting the cue ball, making this a poor muscle memory feel to draw on for the shot. It's better (at least for me now) to draw on more deeply ingrained experience for the stoke.
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