How to Quickly & Easily Get 17% Better at Pool

photo of a Free Throw
Free Throw

I was reading the December 2008 issue of Men’s Health today and saw something I wanted to comment about. There was a blurb on page 52 about how employing a rigid pre-shot routine will help you master the free throw. Now this is specifically about basketball, but it applies directly to pool also.

The reason the study uses the foul shot is because it is the only time in bball when the shooter can take his time, set up in exactly the position he wants and shoot without interference. This is why it’s so analogous to pool.

According to the study in the Journal of Sports Sciences (full text available only with a paid subscription) who reviewed the 2006 NBA playoffs, the players using a pre-shot routine shot better than those who didn’t by a margin of 17%. Can you imagine if this one change could improve your game by such a large margin?

Why does it work? The researchers hypothesized that there were two primary reasons. First, it helps you avoid over thinking and second, it helps you keep from making mistakes in your shot mechanics.

Players using a pre-shot routine shot better than those who didn’t by a margin of 17%.

Like you, I’ve read in many books and heard from many wise pool players how a preshot routine can help. They explain how it helps you relax, helps you focus, groves your stroke, etc. But this is the first time I’ve seen the assertion backed up with quantitative data. I have not seen the full study, so I can’t talk to its methodology or statistical soundness, but absent evidence to the contrary I’m going to give the journal of Sports Sciences the benefit of the doubt and believe their conclusions.

Note that the authors spoke of “rigid pre-shot routines”, meaning that they were the same every time, not just that there was some sort of routine before each shot. Keep this in mind when you decide to add this to your game. I know I’ll be moving this up my list of things to work on until I’m doing it on autopilot.

Easy Shots1-22-3
Average Shots3-44-5
Tough Shots5-86-8

One significant way shots in pool are different from basketball foul shots is that the foul shot is always the same, whereas in pool you face a different shot every time. Phil Capelle, justly famous for his “Play Your Best” series of books, had a research note on his Billiards Press site (site no longer available) where he detailed how two top professionals adjust their routines based on shot difficulty.

Does this ring true for any of you out there? It does for me. As I think about all the many people I play against, and all the pros I watch on video and TV, the ones with a semi-rigid pre-shot routine are indeed substantially more accurate than those who don’t or whose pre-shot routine is more inconsistent. By accurate here I mean not just making the ball, but also moving the cue ball to the desired location.

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