Improve Your Game
The Eyes Have It - Part 1
I am an instructor who plays around 300 days a year. I am a student of the game and the thought processes required for top performance. I also play a lot of golf (single digit handicap) and tennis (B Player).
In March and April of 2001, I was playing the best pool of my life. In May, I lost it – couldn’t run more than two balls to save my life. Regardless of my practice efforts, I was not able to get it back.
Loss of pre-shot visualization, rhythm and focus – I was not visualizing the shot or results prior to assuming my stance and found my eyes were looking down at the general area of the object ball but were not zeroed in.
In the book “The Inner Game of Tennis”, the author suggests a method to help get in the zone. This technique has the player say to himself “bounce” when the ball hits the court and “hit” when the racket makes contact with the ball. The primary purpose of this drill is to help lose your mind so you can gain your senses.
Harvey Pennick, in his “Little Red Book of Golf Instruction”, advises the player to: “Take Dead Aim.”
Mark Wilson and Wayne Hutson (fellow instructors from the Quad Cities) have a similar saying: “When you get tired of missing – start aiming.”
To incorporate the above into the bounce/hit of pool, I came up with the following relaxed concentration drill:
- Set up straight in shot from foot spot into side pocket. (Cue ball on foot spot, object ball 1 foot from side pocket – see White Belt Zero Tolerance Stop Shot in Black Belt Billiards.)
- Visualize the shot in its entirety as part of the pre-shot routine. (The more detail in the visualization the better, e.g. speed of cue ball, speed of object ball, which part of the pocket ball is made in, does ball hit back of pocket, path or reaction of cue ball, etc.)
- When assuming your stance, be relaxed in your set up, be aware of your alignment and place tip precisely at point of cue ball you visualized in your pre-shot routine.
- Practice stroke one – As you draw the cue back, laser focus your eyes on the object ball (ghost ball, point of aim or whatever aiming system you use) and say to yourself “one”. As you bring the cue forward, let your eyes shift back to the cue ball and confirm the precise placement of the tip on the cue ball.
- Practice stroke two – same as one for the backstroke, except you say to yourself “two”. As you bring the cue forward, you again shift your eyes to the cue ball and confirm its precise placement on the cue ball.
- Return your eyes with laser focus to the object ball, confirm to yourself that the shot is on, and deliver your best stroke through the cue ball, coming to a fluid finish. Let the shot and shooter become one. I have had best results with no audio cue to myself on this. You may want to experiment with an audio cue such as “three”, or “back and through”, or “smooth”, or something similar.
After 15 or 20 minutes with this shot, repeat the drill with a longer straight in shot into a corner pocket (such as shot #1 from the Kinister 60-minute workout tape or the Orange Belt Stroke Builder Stop Shot in Black Belt Billiards) with the same relaxed concentration as the side pocket shot.
I am now back in stroke, my pre-shot routine now includes the proper visualization required to play to the best of my ability, I have eliminated the mental static, and I have regained my rhythm and confidence.
Note: The above is a drill. Certainly in game conditions there are times when more or less than two warm up strokes might be required to pull the trigger (loose the arrow). Its purpose is to increase awareness and help improve visualization, concentration and focus.
The Eyes Have It - Part 2
I originally wrote the first article in the summer of 2001. Since that time, many individuals have commented or provided feedback regarding the contents of the article. The purpose of this addendum is to pass along another observation.
The original article outlined a relaxed concentration drill to regain or improve your visualization, concentration, focus and rhythm. The drill basically is a two stroke pause and go drill. I indicated that this was a drill and that in game conditions you may take less or more that two warm up strokes before you loose the arrow.
I would like to share three styles I have observed in professional players.
- Loree Jon Jones – She takes several, sometimes 5-6, very rhythmic full length warm up strokes as she locks in on the target, takes a very slight pause and then executes her final stroke.
- Earl Strickland – When he gets in his rhythm he is a one (full length) and go or one, two (full length) warm up strokes and go player. To me, there is really no perceptible pause before he executes his final stroke. It is not hurried; his final stroke is just in the rhythm of his warm up strokes.
- Karen Corr – Karen generally takes one full length warm up stroke and then makes several very tiny (1″ – 2″) strokes as her eyes move between cue ball and object ball as she locks in on the target, takes a more deliberate pause and then executes her final stroke.
My Point Is This:
I frequently perform The Eyes Have It drill with the two warm up strokes with coordinated eye movements, pause, and then the final stroke. I use this as a drill to observe and train my eyes to be focusing properly on the tip placement on the cue ball and at the object ball, to sense the shot is on and then to make sure my eyes are properly focused and locked in on the target before I execute my final stroke. This drill has pulled me out of many a shooting slump.
My actual playing style falls into the Karen Corr category. I am a very deliberate individual and this approach fits my personality best. The tiny strokes with the coordinated eye movements really help me lock in on the target. Some of the sensations I experience before I take the final stroke are: I sense the entire line of the shot, I sense that the entire length of the cue is on line with the shot, even sensing where the butt of the cue is pointing and sensing that it is also on the line of the shot. I sense the feeling I will have when the tip is delivered through the cue ball and when I am playing well, I have absolutely no doubt that the ball is going in the pocket.
For many people the one, two and go method works very well in actual play. However, I think some people make the mistake of forcing that style into their game. For me, this style does not work in actual play as my eyes end up watching the cue tip move back and forth and they never really lock in on that final target. My stroke also tends to get real loopy when I use this method. While I agree my sense of rhythm feels better using this method the fact is I MISS way to many balls in actual play using this method. I just need that time to experience the sensations I described above before I execute my final stroke.
You can observe a lot just by watching – Yogi Berra
Observe what you are doing when you are playing well. Which style do you fall into? Make a written record of that. Perhaps video tape yourself when you are playing well so you have something to come back to.
I agree that consistency is critical; however, I have just observed way too many players recently trying to force a pre-determined number of warm up strokes and then pull the trigger in their actual play. They never get their eyes locked back in on the target and miss by large margins.
An Al Stewart song lyric applies here:
Nothing that’s forced can ever be right
If it doesn’t come naturally, leave it
If you are new to the game, experiment with all three styles and find what works best for you.
Whatever style you use, The Eyes Have It drill still applies. You need to have proper eye movements that are coordinated with the cue stick movements to get the cue stick on line and give yourself the best chance of delivering the cue tip accurately through the cue ball down the target line. I believe this drill helps accomplish that.
In actual play the number of warm up strokes, timing of your pause, and the execution of your actual stroke through the cue ball will vary by individual. The important point is that you learn what works for you and don’t force something into your actual play that is not consistent with what you actually do when you are playing your best. You need to get to the point where you sense the shot is on before you loose the arrow. Loree Jon needs several warm up strokes to get that sensation, Earl Strickland one or two and Karen Corr locks in and obtains this sensation using small movements.
Observe what you are doing when you are playing your best. If you start missing balls you normally make come back to The Eyes Have It drill to get things coordinated again. Then, make sure you are locking in on the target and that you sense the shot is on in your actual play before you loose the arrow.
If you do not learn how to experience these sensations before your final stroke, the fact that you are taking the same number of warm up strokes is meaningless.
With proper observation you will find your natural playing style that will produce the most consistent results.
Enjoy the Journey.
I believe that drills practiced with an objective and with focus are beneficial to improving one’s skills. However, the ability to solve and execute successfully the randomness of the patterns that will present themselves in eight ball and nine-ball cannot be overlooked. If one were to practice drills exclusively they might become great at executing drills successfully but may not experience success in competition. Not unlike the so-called driving range pro who cannot take their game to the course.
Accordingly, random pattern play must be part of one’s practice routine. The following game intends to introduce random pattern play into the practice routine and at the same time provide a means for the player to track their progress.
In addition, as you will see, the game lends itself to a training concept known as threshold training. That is, the player will find that the majority of the number of games played will be just at or one ball beyond their current run-out ability. In my opinion training at the threshold level is an area that needs to receive attention to continue to make those small incremental steps in improvement. In other words, if a person’s current run-out ability is five balls they will receive more benefit from practicing their run-outs using five or six balls on the table than they will by throwing nine balls out on the table.
Another benefit is that you must bear down in those early games with only a few balls on the table. This is similar to a match where sometimes there is a tendency to take the first few games of a match lightly. The first game counts the same as the hill/hill game. Another element of the game that I like is that once you hit your threshold the darn GHOST can come roaring back on you. I believe this adds pressure and excitement to your solo practice, as you must bear down and accept the challenge of getting as far as you can before the set is over.
The game consists of a race to nine games with an imaginary opponent known as THE GHOST.
Start game one with one ball on the table and ball in hand. If you pocket the ball you score 1 game.
The second game starts with two balls on the table and ball in hand. If you pocket both balls in rotation successfully you now have two games. If you fail to pocket both balls the ghost scores one and you start the next game with two balls on the table.
After you successfully pocket two balls the next game starts with three balls on the table and ball in hand.
After you successfully pocket three balls in rotation, the next game starts with four balls on the table and ball in hand, etc.
This continues until either you or the ghost gets to nine games.
Note: At the start of each game the balls should be spread randomly on the table with no two balls tied up. You should review the randomness of the pattern before you begin and should be confident that the table is runnable. This will help you start to learn to read the entire table before you start. Many times there is one key sequence in the rack that must be solved in order to successfully run-out. Any time you fail to run out the next game starts with the same number of balls as the last game.
Progressive nine-ball allows the player to find their current skill level as the majority of the games will be played within the players current run-out range. That is the number of balls on the table for the final games will represent the player’s current threshold in run out capability.
It is my opinion that each ball you can add before the ghost gets to nine represents an approximate 10% improvement in your run out ability.
For Advanced Players:
If you are able to beat the ghost in a race to nine more than 50% of the time starting with one ball on the table for the first game then start the first game with two balls on the table and progress from there. You want to find the level where you are beating the ghost 50% of the time. Once you do that starting with two balls on the table start the first game with three balls on the table etc.
It is my opinion that each ball you can add to start the first game and consistently beat the ghost in a race to nine represents an approximate 15% improvement in your run out ability.
Nine-Ball Q-Skill rules have been copyrighted by Steven Campana, author of Black Belt Billiards; however, he has placed no restrictions on their use provided appropriate acknowledgement is given to the author.
How to Play:
Nine-Ball Q-Skill is a lot like regular 9-Ball, but you must spot the nine ball if you pocket it, and you get two innings to run out the rack, starting with ball in hand each inning:
9-Ball Q-Skill is played with a regular 9-Ball rack. Rack a regular nine-ball rack with the one ball on the foot spot and the nine ball in the middle.
Break the balls from any cue ball location behind the head string. All balls pocketed on the break stay down except for the nine ball, which is respotted on the foot spot.
Begin your first inning with ball in hand anywhere on the table, shooting at the lowest numbered ball on the table and running the balls out in rotation. Your first inning continues until you run out, miss, foul or scratch.
After your first miss, foul or scratch, the second inning of the rack begins. Start the second inning with ball in hand, shooting at the lowest numbered ball on the table and running the remainder of the rack out in rotation. The second inning continues until you run out, miss, foul or scratch.
The nine ball may be pocketed at any time during an inning by executing a legal shot. However, if the nine ball is pocketed before it is the last ball on the table, it counts towards bonus points only. The nine ball is respotted on the foot spot, then the inning continues from where the cue ball came to rest.
At the conclusion of the second inning, your turn at that rack is over and should be scored.
- (+2) All balls pocketed on the break and during the first inning count two points.
- (+1) All balls pocketed during the second inning count one point.
- (+2) Making the nine ball on the break or at anytime during the first inning is a bonus of two points.
- (+1) Making the nine ball at any time during the second inning is a bonus of one point.
* Bonus points are only awarded for one nine ball pocketed per rack. That is, if you make the nine ball on the break, re-spot it on the foot spot and then run out, your total bonus points are still two.
- (-2) If the cue ball leaves the table on the break, or at any time during the game, deduct two points.
- (-1) On the break, if you miscue or miss the cue ball or rack completely, it is a foul, and results in deducting one point from your score. You have the option to re-rack and break the balls again, or play the rack out.
- (-1) If you otherwise scratch on the break, deduct one point.
- (-1) All scratches and fouls result in a one point deduction. Balls pocketed on a scratch or foul are re-spotted on the foot spot and do not count towards that inning’s score.
The most you can score in one rack is twenty points, by running nine balls from the break in your first inning (9 x 2 = 18, + 2 for the nine ball = 20).
If you made a ball on the break and then ran 6 balls in the first inning and the remaining three balls in the second inning, your score would be 6 x 2 = 12 + 3 x 1 = 3 + 1 for the nine ball in the second inning = 16.
After scoring the rack, begin again with a full nine ball rack with the one on the foot spot.
Ten racks comprise a session. In one session, you can score a maximum of 200 points.
The score from ten sessions (100 racks) determines your rating. The highest possible rating is a perfect score of 2,000 points.
Because the scoring is similar to the Allen Hopkins system (the maximum points that can be scored each rack is twenty), the Q-Skill levels of play guidelines may still be appropriate and should be used for Nine-Ball Q-Skill.
Allen Hopkins scoring guidelines for your level of play are:
|Score||Level of Play|
|0 – 300||Recreational Player|
|301 – 600||Intermediate Player|
|601 – 900||Advanced Player|
|901 – 1200||Developing Pro|
|1201 – 1600||Semi-Pro|
|1601 – 1800||Professional|
|1801 – 2000||Touring Professional|
For an Excel Nine-Ball Q-Skill score sheet, click here.