This article is part of Volume 6 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. After you read it, be sure to check out the rest of the April edition of PoolSynergy for other great articles over at Diary of a Pool Shooter. The April theme is The Most Important Thing.
Mike McCafferty’s challenge to us was to name and defend our choice for the one most important thing in pool. It seemed at first like a very tough challenge. After all, there is so much to know and so many fundamental truths to understand deeply if one is to really learn this game, let alone master it.
As in life though, attitude is everything. No matter your physical prowess, your mental acumen, nor your time playing the game, without a great attitude, sustained over years, you won’t come close to achieving your potential.
Many aspects of attitude are important, i.e., your continued love of the game and your ability to find it enthralling after playing for years. A positive attitude will help you get past all the rough spots. Another big one is being open to learning and understanding that there is always more to learn. This one has a tough corollary, namely, you often can’t learn something new without changing some part of a thing you thought you already knew.
There are many other aspects to attitude that in the long run trump any game specific thing you can learn. My choice for the most important thing to help you maximize your pool playing potential is being detail oriented. The following words, sadly all with strong negative connotations, will round out the different aspects of this concept: hard to please, demanding, painstaking, exacting, precise, meticulous and fastidious.
Attitude is Everything
Pool is a game of extreme subtlety. There are innumerable details about each aspect of the fundamentals that together make up one’s stroke. There are the countervailing forces you must balance when you make a cut shot, especially when you put english on the ball. There’s the myriad of choices you have to make about which ball(s) to shoot, in what pocket, in which order. You need to decide among and be able to execute your choice of various routes for the cue ball take, etc.
Because there are so many things to consider at virtually every point in every game, and because execution has to be so accurate, you need to pay attention to exactly what you’re doing, and exactly the results you’re getting, so that you have an accurate picture of which part or parts are causing the problems. Even a 1 degree error can cause you to miss some shots, and can play havoc with your position.
You simply must be attentive to the little things. It won’t do you any good to work on your aim if the problem is that you’re putting unintended english on the ball and throw is what’s causing you to miss. Noticing that your run ended because the shape you had gotten on the ball was poor, rather than that you should have made the tough shot is only a start. Figuring out why you got that poor shape is even more important. You can’t fix a problem you don’t really understand.
Become detail oriented. It’s key to helping you maximize your pool playing potential.
Did the cue ball follow your intended path and go too far or come up short, or did the CB not follow the intended path? If the latter, did the error start immediately, with the CB leaving the collision on the wrong line, or did too much or too little follow or draw push or pull the ball off the tangent more or less than you expected. Did you hit the rail in the right spot but then leave it at the wrong angle, or did you miss the spot? Did you hit a ball en route? Each of these is a different problem with a different solution. You must diagnose correctly in order to prescribe an effective cure.
More difficult to figure out, but no less important to understand are things like: did you play the best pattern, did you choose the correct routes from ball to ball, did you mix offense and defense appropriately, and on and on.
Knowing that each of these is important and that you may not know how to determine which, if any, are suboptimal, you can seek help from more knowledgeable players/instructors and can do some research to give you tips on how to do the diagnostics on your own. Here too, though, attitude is everything. You must be open to criticism, willing to listen rather than talk, and willing to get worse before you get better. Don’t just take everything at face value, ask lots of questions so you can really understand the “why” as well as the “what” and the “how”. But be careful to be curious and thoughtful rather than stubborn and argumentative. Your great attitude can turn a good instructor into an extraordinary one.
Improving your game requires shoring up your weaknesses, especially the ones that come up over and over. Improving your banking, which you use once every few games, is relatively minor. Fixing an aiming/throw problem that comes up on every cut over a foot or two is crucial. You need to be sensitive to everything, learn to pay attention to the smallest mistake, and learn to care about them because they are the keys to your improvement.
Learn to pay attention to the smallest mistake, and learn to care about them, because they are the keys to your improvement.
Improving your game also requires finding the best stance/grip/stroke/pre-shot routine/pace/etc. for you and sticking with it. First, it’s very difficult to hone something to perfection if you don’t do it the same way every time. Second, even a finely tuned kinesthetic sense has to know what to look for. That’s impossible if you don’t have a normal shot to compare it to.
As you standardize your fundamentals, pay more and more attention to how you are executing. Don’t try to control them, just pay attention to them, notice every nuance. Let your subconscious fix the problem(s) you discover. This technique, delineated in detail, can be found in The Inner Game of Tennis, by Tim Galwey.
To sum up, being attentive to detail is the single most important thing you can do to improve your game. Detail orientation will help you see more in other people’s games. It will help you get more out of books, videos, and personal instruction. When you recognize the real issue in every problem, it’s easier to solve them efficiently and effectively.