I believe very strongly that a good stroke is the most important of the fundamental skills requiring mastery to play this game well. How you stand, where you put your head and how you grip the cue, etc., all contribute to how easily you can learn to stroke the cue well, but the stroke itself is the important part.
The stroke can be broken down into 3 component parts, each of which you must do with a high degree of accuracy if you want to achieve a degree of competence at pool. The components are:
1. The ability to hit the cue ball in the exact center.
2. The ability to align the cue and your shooting arm accurately along the line of aim to the target, through the center of the cue ball.
3. The ability to move the cue back and forth along this line without wavering, especially on the final stroke when you actually hit the ball.
There are many additional skills required to play well, many of which depend in one way or another on one or more of these three. Those that are independent of these three are still important, but of limited usefulness if you don’t have a good stroke.
I recently came across a reference to The Ultimate Billiard Coach on the web and it caught my interest. I’m very interested in anything, be it a device or a practice routine, which purports to improve the fundamentals of one’s game, so I wanted to check it out for myself.
I contacted Ekkes Schneider-Lombard of Infinite Billiards, inventor of the Ultimate Billiard Coach. He sent me an evaluation unit to be reviewed for this website. Of course, this generosity wasn’t intended to buy him a laudatory review, just an honest evaluation of his product, something he has faith in.
The purpose of the UBC is directed squarely at #2 above. It is to help you align your shooting arm so that the forearm, wrist and hand are positioned in a true vertical line below your elbow and in the same plane as your upper arm. Since the stroke is composed almost entirely of the opening and closing of the elbow joint, it is essential that you start out with all parts of the arm lined up perfectly straight.
It is extremely hard to do this by yourself, since you can’t get a good look from the angle that you need to be able to accurately judge straightness and verticality. Mirrors are tedious to work with, and video equipment is expensive. The Ultimate Billiard Coach can do this job easily and very effectively, and at only 24,95 EUR (=36,65 US Dollars) it’s economical as well. Of course, if you get someone to stand behind you, and they have a good eye, they could help you find true vertical too, but with this device you can get accurate feedback whenever you want, as often as you want, without bothering anyone.
The device is simple but well made. There are two elastic straps, one at each end of the device. The larger one goes around your arm a little above your elbow, and the smaller one goes around your cue. And don’t worry, it can’t scratch your cue. The loops are tied together by a very skinny bungee cord, most of which is covered by a hard plastic case. The straps are adjustable (using Velcro) and the bungee is also adjustable using a small plastic push clamp like on back packs.
When you use the UBC and get down into your stance, aligned to make a shot, you can release your grip hand and let the cue swing freely. Gravity will pull the cue straight down, but because it’s restrained by the UBC it only falls an inch. BUT, if you are not aligned properly, it will also fall toward or away from your body, indicating that your alignment is off because your forearm is not truly vertical. You also see in which direction you’re off, and by how much. This is critical information that can help you fix a fundamental flaw you might not even know you have. For example, I showed it to one of the pros I know and he noticed that he was holding his grip hand a little too far from his body.
The other three people I showed it too all liked it as well, agreeing without hesitation that it was easy to use, provided very valuable information and a simple way to fix the problem.
The only negatives I would point out are minor. You might feel a little self-conscious using the Ultimate Billiard Coach in public, but I bet you’ll draw curious players who want to know what you’re doing. Everyone I showed it to was anxious to try it, so don’t let shyness get in your way. And one user found the arm strap a little irritating, saying that when he removed it he could still feel it, 15 minutes later. Though no one else had this issue, I suggest if you have sensitive skin that you wear a short-sleeved shirt and wrap the arm band over the shirt.
The Ultimate Billiard Coach is easy to use, very effective at its assigned task, and quite reasonably priced. I recommend it without reservation.