Different Strokes . . . To Pause or Not to Pause

I had a conversation today at the pool hall with a friend about my stroke. He’d been watching me practice for a few minutes and asked me why I didn’t pause before I took my final stroke. I explained my logic and we talked for a few minutes. Neither of us was taking the position that we were right, we were just talking about the pros and cons of several different approaches, as we understood them.

It occurred to me that this would make a great discussion topic for the blog. I’ll explain my reasoning for my approach, lay out a few of the comments my friend made and then open it up to all of you to carry the discussion forward. Remember, I do not hold myself up as an expert, just a student of the game. I often have strong opinions about things but do my best to base them on evidence, and I also do my best to maintain an open mind. I’ll be happy to change my mind if you make a better case.

The Case for Not Pausing

I do my best (not always succeeding) to have a fluid stroke. I don’t usually pause at any time during the process from the time I first draw the cue back until I make my final thrust toward and through the cue ball. My preference is to try to keep it smooth and continuous.

Sometimes, if I’m not satisfied that everything is right, I’ll stop, adjust my stance or arm position, and start again. This is in contrast to many who pause before completing their stroke. They may pause just before the last backswing, or at the end of the last backswing, just before the last forward thrust. According to my friend, most pros have a pause, and I don’t dispute him though I’m not personally sure.

Basically, I have three reasons for my approach. The first two are related to what I learned from The Inner Game of Tennis; to keep my self #1 out of the physical side of the game and to focus on what my body is doing rather than telling it what to do. I find that the more fluid and constantly moving I make my warm-up and final stroke, the easier it is to concentrate on the feel of my muscles making the action. And, the more I can focus on this kinesthetic sense, the easier it is to quiet my verbal side.

I’ve tried pausing, but I’ve found that it requires a conscious effort to do. It’s antithetical to quieting the analytical side of my mind. Even before I tell myself to pause, I’m telling myself “don’t forget to pause before the last stroke”. That completely kills any chance I have of really getting into the physical side of the stroke, the very place I want to be.

Third, I also want to incorporate what I learned from the University of Florida research I summarized in Quiet Eye and Deep Focus. When I am focusing strongly on my target point for the several seconds leading up to and through the moment when I pull the trigger, my potting rate is substantially better than it is when I’m not so strongly focused. I find it all too easy to lose this important concentration. Having to think about pausing at some specific point in my stroke throws my concentration all out of whack.

I am only able to concentrate on ONE thing at a time (I don’t think I’m alone here, YMMV). Anything that takes the tiniest bit of attention makes me lose my focus. It isn’t just pausing, either. For a while, I thought it might be good to exhale just before I fired, like a sniper. I thought it would quiet my body just that little bit more. It didn’t work for me for the same reason that pausing doesn’t. It made me conscious of and analytical about what I was doing, and I lost focus.

The Case For Pausing

Nearly all of the top pros have a distinct pause in their pre-shot routine.

My friend’s main point was that nearly all of the top pros have a distinct pause in their pre-shot routine. That doesn’t make it right, but it does lend significant weight to the argument. His comeback was that for him the pause has become so ingrained that he doesn’t have to think about it. I don’t dispute that it doesn’t cause him any loss of concentration. But I’ll bet that it did for quite awhile though until it became so ingrained it’s subconscious.

Let’s take this blog to the next level and get a serious conversation going on this. What are your views as to the merits/disadvantages of having a distinct pause in your pre-shot routine? I look forward to hearing from you.

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