Have you ever been playing pretty well, your usual speed or thereabouts, when you suddenly miss a shot that you make 99.9% of the time? Have you ever seen your favorite professional player miss the same shot? Have you ever seen the best player in your local room miss a shot and thought to yourself, “How did he miss that? I could make that with my eyes closed!” How about when you suddenly seem to lose the ability to make even one shot in a row!
Seemingly easy shots are missed by everyone. Even world champions miss hangers from time to time. But why do we miss them? Typically there are two possible causes for missing; incorrect aim or incorrect stroke. Both of these misses are created between our ears. That’s right, misses caused by incorrect aim or incorrect stroke are created in our minds because we aren’t using them correctly. To improve our consistency we absolutely must create dead focus.
I contend that once we’ve worked on our mechanics diligently and have pocketed enough balls to “groove the stroke” we need to shift our focus to playing the game. That includes mapping out the route for the cue ball as we run the rack, aiming each individual shot and applying the proper amount and type of spin to the cue ball for the desired results. When we’re in the nirvana of “dead stroke” we don’t even have to think of these things; they just sort of happen. Like most players, however, dead stroke is something we work towards but achieve infrequently. Most of the time, we have to think our way through each turn at the table. And we all know that thinking rather than playing has messed up many an inning! It’s incorrect thinking or inappropriate thinking that’s to blame.
On a correctly executed shot, we typically do the following (your routine may vary but probably not by much). Survey the shot to determine the angle of attack and the route of the cue ball required for the next shot. Select the aiming point on the object ball. Drop into the stance and bridge the cue at the correct level and on the correct line to make the shot and impart the correct spin. Look at the object ball to find the aiming point and then back to the cue ball while making several warm-up strokes. Focus on the object ball and make the final stroke.
Misses caused by incorrect aim or incorrect stroke are created in our minds because we aren’t using them correctly.
What do you think about as you make your stroke? Nothing? Making the ball? Winning the game? Getting another beer? If you’ve never wondered or thought about it, don’t feel bad. Most players haven’t. If you’re trying to get better at the game, you need to learn to think of something that will help you correctly execute more often. Here are some suggestions.
We should build a routine that we use every time, for every stroke. Notice that I didn’t say pre-shot routine. Our routine should include before the shot, the shot itself and after the shot. Write it down. We should say it in our head while we’re shooting. Say it aloud when we’re practicing so that we do it every time. If we do this for 3 weeks, we’ll own it for a very long time and it will make us play better.
Before the shot is when we should be planning. When we get down to shoot, stop thinking about how to execute the shot and focus on the execution. If we haven’t finalized our plan and committed to aiming point, spin and force required while standing up, we aren’t ready to shoot. We are probably going to miss because we’re thinking about something other than the stroke. At that point, we should stand up, start over and commit to the plan.
Imagine the shot in your mind from start to finish as you make your practice strokes.
Now that we have committed, we may shoot. Once we’ve lined up our cue, made our bridge and picked out the aiming point we should take the time to think about how this shot will feel. Imagine it in your mind from start to finish as you make your practice strokes. Only then should we make the shot and the thought in our mind should be only of making a perfect stroke, nothing else. Why? Because the only thing we can control is the cue stick itself, not the cue ball and definitely not the object ball. If we can shift that focus away from everything else to the stroke only, as it’s being made, we’ll make better strokes and fewer shots will go awry.
Here’s a drill to help build this skill. Spot the cue ball on the center of the string line. The shot you want to execute is to roll the cue ball down the table to the end rail, back up to the head rail and back to the center of the table stopping it in between the side pockets.
Before each shot, visualize the ball rolling exactly that way. Imagine the stroke needed to accomplish it. Drop into your stance and continue to imagine how the stroke that’s needed will feel as you make it. When you have it firmly in your mind, execute the shot. Watch the result and then incorporate what just happened into your next attempt. For example, if you hit it too hard that time focus on hitting the cue ball a tiny bit softer this time.
Perform this same shot 25 times. Count how many times you stopped the cue ball between the side pockets, plus or minus one diamond, in 25 attempts. This will give you a measuring stick to gauge improvement. If you’re really working on this drill, you should be able to score 22 or more out of 25 attempts. If you can do that for 30 straight days, you’ll be well on the way to training your mind in the art of Dead Focus.
Brian Keller is an amateur player, certified national referee and focused student of the game that he has loved for over 40 years. He is constantly searching for ways to improve his own game and help others in a similar quest.
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