[Pool Synergy] Three Tips To Get Better Practice Results

Pool Synergy

This month's Pool Synergy is all about triads of tips.  Well, actually, it's about the wide variety of information required to improve your pool game - and we're delivering those in a handy little packages of three. Be sure to check out all the tips provided by clicking the logo above!

For my entry, I decided to share with you an excellent way to get the most out of your practice time.  In a nutshell, there are three things you should do while practicing:

1) Choose the correct drill.
2) Record the results from the drill.
3) Analyze the results.

Drills serve two purposes: First and foremost they show you what you do not know. Secondly, if done correctly, they will force you to improve.

The first point is one of the most important things to consider when practicing and often the most overlooked unfortunately.  It should be the easiest to figure out, but in reality the majority of players don't know what to practice.  Sure, lots of us have a variety of little shots and layouts we like to work on from time to time, but what are they really doing for us? They're just something to do while you're bored and waiting for someone show up. Think back to the last time you really practiced. I'll wait... ... ... got it? You probably started off doing a drill you're pretty good at to get warmed up.  Then you went on to a more difficult drill.  If you did well at that one, you might have ran it again, or you might have gone on to another drill.  If you did poorly, you probably tried it again.  If you failed the drill again, did you try it again?  And the time after that? Sooner or later you probably got frustrated and went back to an easier drill.  One that you can succeed doing, to make yourself feel good. Or maybe you gave up the drills and just tossed balls on the table and starting shooting.  There's nothing too wrong with that, but there is a problem.  The drill(s) you frequently can not finish are not fun. They require too much work, and they can get into your head; make you feel a little depressed about your game.  Understandably, those are the drills you avoid so you can keep your opinion of your game on the positive side of things.  Alas, the heart of the problem!

The drills you do not execute well are the exact drills you need to be working on the most.

So when its time to do drills, be sure to choose the ones that you struggle with - and give them 100% of your attention and effort.  If that means shooting the same shot until you make it 10 times in a row requires 100 attempts, be prepared to give it 100 full attempts.  If that means attempting a 9-ball IPAT layout drill and resetting the entire rack every time you miss or bump a ball, be prepared to do a lot of walking around the table.  Realize and accept these consequences before you start the drill.  You can not expect to finish every drill perfectly the first time you try it - no matter what you're level of play or shotmaking ability.  If you don't want to walk around the resetting the balls, use that drive to finish the drill correctly. Focus on the shot, the speed, the position - the more often you get out of the drill, the better your focus and in-game play will be. 

See what just happened there?  You were fighting the drill and it was making you frustrated, but now you're using the drill and gaining multiple benefits.

So, now you should see both purposes of the drill.  But, there are even more ways to utilize drills to help your game. Not all drills lend themselves to such easily observable progress.  Just because you finish them isn't enough.  Here's where the 2nd point comes to light.  All drills yield statistics.  How many attempts? How many shots? How many misses, bumps, jars, blown positions, scratches, stops, draws? In each drill there are a number of variables you must master in order to complete the drill.  These variables are vital in recording progress.  Afterall, if you're not interested in progressing, why are you doing drills?  So why not do as much as you can to get the most from your drills?

Here's how it works: Get yourself a notebook, a phone app, an excel spreadsheet, a video camera - it really doesn't matter; just as long whatever you choose, you use reliably.  Personally, I prefer the video camera option because that means I don't have to focus on writing down my shot attempts; which can be distracting from the practice itself.  Just as long as you go back and watch the video - and record your performance.

The details of the drill itself aren't as important here, depending on your skill level.  I like Joe Tucker's mentality that allows you to cater the drill to your ability.  If you're a C player, don't make the drill impossible by requiring pin-point position on a 9-ball drill, for example.  Or, more to the point, if you're doing his Rail Workout for example, he allows you to move the cueball back to a shoot-able position if you get too out of line.  Similarly, if you rattle the object ball and leave it in the jaws, just knock it in and continue - if you have position that is.  Obviously the higher your skill level, the less you're allowed to bend the rules. 

However the really important thing here is that you record your performance accurately.  If you're practicing breaking and running table (not the ghost though), count every shot, count the banks, the kicks, the caroms, the jumps - and those that you miss.  Count your high run for the rack, whether it's 2 balls or all 9.  Do this for the entire session. If you're struggling with spot-shot type shots, run the "Angle Drill".  (watch the preview video found here to see Thorsten Hohmann run it)  If you don't run all of the balls in succession, don't worry about it - record the number of attempts it takes to get through all of the balls - even if it takes you 37 tries.  If you're having trouble with small area position control, run the "L" drill.  Again, record the number of shots it takes you to get through, or the number of attempts if you reset after a miss.  However you do it, be consistent with your score keeping.

Now, for the final point: analysis.  It's almost impossible to recognize progress on a day to day level. I like to look over my stats on a monthly basis.  It allows me enough time to get plenty of data gathered, while not being so overwhelming that it's impossible to manage. For example, let's say that Monday's were your dedicated practice night. On those nights you only did drills.  That would be great actually. You can take the scores from each Monday during a single month, average them, then compare them with the previous month's numbers.  Do this for all the drills you ran and you should start to see an improvement. It can be a slow process - depending on what you worked on the previous month. If you're not seeing a marked improvement, try comparing the current month's number to those from 3 months ago, or 6 months ago, or a year ago. The rate of improvement is dependent on the amount of work you put into it.  If you compare numbers from the same drill 6 months apart and there's no difference, then you're either not recording your stats properly, or you're not focused on the drill.  It's possible that drill is still beyond your ability; which means you need to alter the drill, or focus on a less advanced drill.  If you think your stroke is off, there are ample straight-stroke-drills you should run to see if that's an issue.

As long as you keep good records, you will see improvement (providing you're actually working on your stroke, stance, aim, etc).  Also, just because you routinely complete a drill doesn't mean you should stop doing it.  There's always improvements to be found.  Use pocket-reducers to pin-point your accuracy. Add blocking balls to the layouts to give you obstacles to avoid or break out, depending on the mood.  Shoot the drill opposite-handed or with a bridge or behind your back even (Bustamante, anyone?).

Drills should be challenging and hopefully you will find a way to have fun doing them. If you're having trouble making them, shoot me an email and I'll see if I can't find a way to help you enjoy them a little more.

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Filed Under: Pool Synergy

Comments (6) -

g2
g2
11/15/2010 11:32:01 AM #

Tony always says "A good player practices a shot till he gets it right .... a GREAT player practices a shot till he can't get it wrong!"
Enjoyed the post Johnny!  The video recording is one of the GREATEST tools not used often enough....Sound Advice!

Hope you are well!

John Biddle
John Biddle
11/15/2010 2:12:41 PM #

Practice is indeed the fastest and most promising road to improvement.  Your article covers what to do and why to do it with clarity.  Thanks.

Michael Reddick
Michael Reddick
11/16/2010 2:40:19 PM #

Great article!  The biggest takeaway for me:  "The drills you do not execute well are the exact drills you need to be working on the most."  So true, so true!  I'm also often guilty of doing drills that "I'm good at," rather than doing the ones that I suck at.  Sometimes we need that ego boost, but to really improve, you need to work on your weaknesses.  Excellent advice!

John Barton
John Barton
11/17/2010 11:27:30 AM #

I hate drills!  

But there is absolutely no better way to measure your skill level than to do them and they provide immediate benefit.  Neils Feijen is a prime example of a Champion that was made and not born.  I remember when he was just a good league player.  He practiced drills like a madman until his arm and eyes were working together with laser precision.

I think most people just don't understand the immediate results they can get from doing drills and they see them as boring.  I think that it's better to have a partner or a few friends to practice with so that you can relieve the boredom and have someone to encourage and push you.  A little bit of competition goes a long way when doing drills.


johnny
johnny
11/17/2010 12:16:10 PM #

JB - I've tried practicing with a partner and while it does save some energy not having to reset all the balls by yourself, I'm not sure I got as much out of it.  There's something, for me, about being all alone, preferably in an empty pool hall that's very peaceful.  Meditative almost.  But at the same time, it is nice to have that back n' forth with someone almost cheering you on.

MR - It is a great ego boost to finish out a drill - any drill that's challenging - but like you said, it's the ones that drive us crazy we must really focus on.  Doing those drills, working on them over and over again, is a really difficult thing to do; mentally it's exhausting and frustrating, but if you keep the end-goal in mind you can get through it.  I need to really on my own discipline in that regard as well. *sigh*

johnny
johnny
11/17/2010 12:21:26 PM #

Gail - I absolutely agree!!  Recording yourself serves SO MANY purposes I'm always amazed when people look at me as if I had three heads when I set up my little camera in the pool room.  I tell them why, but they don't really get it.  No one I play with understands or adheres to the diligent practice methodology; they all subscribe to the "only way to get better is to gamble" thought. *sigh*

John Biddle - Thanks!  And thanks for putting all of our entries into a great story!

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