Shooting Line: The stance is created around the shooting line, and the shooting line is created using the ghost ball and the cue ball. When we talk about the ghost ball, we’re referring to an imaginary ball location representing where the cue ball needs to be to pocket the object ball. For instance, let’s say you want to pocket the 1 ball in the side pocket.
Imagine a line going from the center of the pocket opening through the center of the object ball. To pocket the 1 ball, the cue ball needs to end up on the same line when it contacts the object ball. If you can visualize this ghost ball on each shot (A), you can then imagine a line going through the center of the cue ball to the center of the ghost ball - this is the line you’ll use to build your stance on every shot.
For instance, if you wanted to pocket the 9 ball in the corner pocket, you would visualize the ghost ball at the point of
contact. The shooting line runs through the center of this ghost ball, through the center of the cue ball (A). You’ll then visualize this line as it extends past the table. This is the line that you will use to build your stance.
Stance: Now we can see the shooting line extending past the table (A). You’ll begin by placing your back foot on this shooting line,
either at a slight angle or an angle closer to 90 degrees; turning your foot like this helps provide a bit more stability.
Next, step into the shot with your other foot. The front foot will be parallel with the shooting line or slightly turned in (B). Some players prefer locking their back leg and slightly bending their front legs while other players prefer to bend both legs slightly; players who are taller or tend to play faster choose this type of stance.
Here are a few issues to watch out for when creating your stance: In figure 1-4, we see the shooting line and begin creating the stance. However, when we place the back foot on the shooting line, it’s too far back (A). The reason this happened is that we started creating the stance too far away from the table. Another issue people have is that they face away from the shot. The right foot is in the proper placement, but the left foot is facing away from the shot. Since the player’s stance is facing away from the shot, it may cause a bit of instability. Or, the player's back foot crosses the shooting line by several inches. When the player gets down into the shooting stance, their stroke is exceptionally close to their body which may interfere with the stroking motion.
As you get into the shooting position the top part of your stroke arm should be on the shooting line (A). Now you can see how important it is to visualize the shooting line. Your stance will always be built around this line for every single shot. The better you become at creating your stance, the more accurate you’ll be in pocketing balls - in fact, much of the aiming process is done before you even get down on the table.
As you get into the shooting position, your forearm should be relaxed and hanging naturally below your elbow. Once the forearm starts moving away from this line, either to the inside or outside, it becomes more challenging to keep the stick on a straight path.
Grip: It’s important to let your body do what it naturally wants to do when building the
stance. This applies not only to the forearm but also to the grip. The cue stick sits on the fingers, and the thumb rests on the cue stick’s side, holding it in place. You never want to put the thumb on top of the cue stick - you always want it off to the side to hold the cue in place.
When making the grip avoid turning the hand inward or outward. If you hang your hand naturally below your forearm without the pool cue, you’ll see that your hand will naturally hang correctly. Try to keep the same relaxed position as you hold the cue stick. The thumb should point down through the stroking motion. If you finish your stroke and your thumb is pointing toward your body, this means you’ve turned your wrist. The goal for the grip is to remove any unnecessary tension. You want to feel the weight of the cue stick as you hold it.
One of the biggest mistakes most players make is holding the cue too tightly. The grip pressure should come from the grip hand’s front part while the back fingers apply very little pressure on the cue stick. Some players will remove their back one or two fingers entirely off the pool cue. It is a good idea to create your grip pressure before getting down on the table.
Stroke - Next we’re going to focus on the actual stroking motion and a few issues players may run into. As the player is down on the shot and puts the tip up to the cue ball, they should relax their grip hand and slide it below their elbow .
If the cue stick's tip is at the cue ball, but your grip hand is too far back on the cue stick, it may restrict your backstroke. Keep the grip hand relaxed as you're down on the table and let it slide naturally below your elbow.
The backstroke should be straight back with a nice, easy tempo. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting a shot easy, medium, or hard, your backstroke should always be at the same slow tempo. Remember - the backstroke sets up the forward stroke. A backstroke that goes off the shooting line, or a backstroke that is rushed, may adversely affect the forward stroke. Several top players will have a noticeable pause at the end of the backstroke before beginning the forward stroke. This pause at the end of the backstroke requires practice to perfect the timing. Suppose you do incorporate a noticeable pause at the end of your backstroke. In that case, you’ll want it to become second nature before playing in competition - you never want to think about the stroke mechanics when playing in tournaments or leagues. The exception to this is if you are new to the game, in which case you would focus more on the mechanics when playing in competition.
The more common type of pause at the end of the backstroke is the natural pause. This pause occurs naturally as the backstroke slowly finishes and then begins the forward stroke. Like someone throwing a softball or a horseshoe, the backstroke slows down and transitions to the forward stroke. It should happen naturally without having to think about it. When studying the fundamentals of top players, this is one of the areas of their game that separates them from amateurs. When many amateur players are faced with tough shots, their transition from the backstroke to the forward stroke usually breaks down, which either causes them to miss their shot, or it causes them to lose control of the cue ball.
One stroke issue pool players share is instead of pulling the shaft all the way back on their final stroke, the player shortens the backstroke, which will either cause a miss or alter their intended cue ball speed. Creating a consistent transition will help stabilize the stroke even in pressure situations - it helps prevent starting the forward stroke prematurely.
In order to create a consistent transition we’re going to do two things: first, we’re going to slow down your backstroke - once you’re lined up on the shot, be very conscious of the backstroke - pull it straight back at a slow, controlled speed. Next, make sure you fully complete the backstroke. There should be a slight pause as the backstroke finishes and before the forward stroke begins. When you first practice the slow backstroke and transition pause, it will be a conscious effort; but, after several weeks of training, this part of your stroke will become subconscious - it will happen on its own without you even having to think about it.
As you begin the forward stroke, the speed should gradually ramp up - the cue stick should be accelerating on the forward stroke reaching the optimum speed at impact with the cue ball. Even though the cue stick will slightly slow down when contacting the cue ball, you still need to keep the stick moving forward through the cue ball, staying as level as possible through the impact area. One issue that many players share is the over-tightening of their grip before impact with the cue ball. This tightening of the grip pressure is usually the result of the player being anxious about the shot.
How to play pool begins with a consistent stroke
Here’s an experiment you can try to see if you tend to tighten up the grip before striking the cue ball: put a ball on the rack spot and shoot it into the corner pocket at medium-hard speed - as the tip strikes the cue ball, your cue stick should drive through the cue ball and gradually come to a stop a few inches beyond the spot.
If your stick has an abbreviated follow-through, that means you tightened up at impact with the cue ball or even a moment before impact. The grip hand needs to begin tightening up just before contact with the cue ball for the cue stick’s momentum to come to an immediate stop after impact with the cue ball. This change in grip pressure just prior to striking the cue ball may cause the stick to go off the shooting line, causing a mis-hit. The ability to follow-through correctly will remove this hesitation in your stroke.
If you’ve ever studied pool players, you’ll notice that some players have a significant elbow drop. In contrast, others have minimal elbow movement during their stroke. Ideally, you want as few moving parts as possible during the stroke; the more moving parts mean the more things that can go wrong. All the parts have to be in sync with each other when performing the stroke. Players who have a significant elbow drop usually developed this movement when they first learned the game, so it’s become part of their muscle memory. Even players who have a compact stroke may drop their elbow a little bit on stretch shots or certain power shots. Some players feel they can follow through on a more level plane when dropping the elbow, which means they can get more action out of the cue ball. But there is very little difference between the styles when it comes to the cue stick driving through the cue ball if the stroke is performed correctly. If you plan on employing a significant elbow drop into your stroke, plan on spending many hours of practice to perfect the timing. Some players who try to manufacture an elbow drop on shots will sometimes drop their elbows before impact with the cue ball, which results in hitting higher on the cue ball.
One issue you’re going to have to watch out for if you have minimal elbow drop is not putting the tip close enough to the cue ball when aiming.
The problem with this is that when we perform the stroke, our optimum speed is reached when the grip hand is below our elbow during the forward stroke. This speed has to be maintained until the tip can reach the cue ball - but if the tip is too far away from the cue ball, the stick may be slowing down by the time it reaches the cue ball. When aiming, try to get the tip reasonably close to the cue ball, usually less than one cube of chalk away. By putting the tip closer to the cue ball, you’ll also have a much better chance of hitting the cue ball where you’re aiming.
As the player gets down on the table and begins the aiming process, their eyes will be going back and forth from the object ball to the cue ball. Some people look at the cue ball last before stroking - their focus is making sure they hit the cue ball exactly where they’re aiming. But the majority of players look at the object ball last - they feel more comfortable being able to see the object ball while stroking the shot. Other players will look at the cue ball during the backstroke. Their eyes shift to the object ball as the forward stroke begins - this usually results in a more noticeable pause as the backstroke transitions to the forward stroke. Find a way that’s comfortable for you. If you’re not comfortable looking at the cue ball last, then focus on the object ball. There is no wrong way to do it; you just have to find the comfortable way for you.
So if we put it all together, here are the steps. We begin by placing our back foot on the shooting line, either at a slight angle or at an angle closer to 90 degrees. Next, we step into the shot with our other foot. The foot will be parallel with the shooting line or slightly turned in. We then create the bridge before getting down on the table. While standing, examine the shot and make an educated guess as to what speed you’ll be striking the cue ball - perform a few practice strokes while standing to get a feel for the speed you’ll need as well as the backstroke length. As a general rule, the softer you strike the cue ball the shorter the backstroke.
As we bend forward onto the table, we move our hips back to provide clearance for our stroking arm. When we place our bridge on the table it becomes the third part of our tripod along with both legs. When performed correctly, we should have clearance for the stroking motion. We apply slight pressure to the cue stick as we perform the backstroke. The cue stick should drive forward through the cue ball, and the cue tip should slowly come to a stop on or near the table felt.
Stroke Drill: Here’s a great drill to help you fine-tune your stroke and stance. Place a ball on the spot and imagine the shooting line from the center of the ball to the center of the pocket opening.
We’re now going to create our stance using this line. Create your bridge while standing at the table - determine the speed at which you’re going to strike the cue ball. Now perform several practice strokes at this speed. When you’re performing your practice strokes, be very conscious of your grip pressure. This pre-shot routine should become part of your game moving forward. Now, slowly bend down onto the shot keeping your head and cue stick on the shooting line. When you’re down on the table, your forearm and grip hand should be hanging naturally below your elbow.
Perform several aiming strokes as your eyes bounce back and forth from the tip to the corner pocket. Pause the tip one to two beats at the cue ball when you’re finished aiming. This final pausing of the tip at the cue ball allows the player to make one last check as to whether the shot is lined up. On the backstroke, pull the cue stick back, making sure you complete the entire backstroke - this will ensure a smooth transition between the backstroke and forward stroke. Allow the cue to slowly accelerate reaching proper speed at impact. Try to keep your head still for a count of three after contacting the ball to prevent any unnecessary movement. Since you don’t have to worry about playing position, all of your focus can be on your stroke and your stance. You can now monitor your mechanics for any problems such as:
Is your forearm turned inward or outward?
Is your wrist turned?
Is your backstroke too fast?
Are you completing your backstroke?
How is the transition between the backstroke and forward stroke?
Does your thumb turn on the forward stroke?
Do you follow through on a straight line?
Even though moving your head does not affect the shot after you strike the cue ball, if it becomes a habit, your body will begin to tighten up in anticipation of the head movement before striking the cue ball. On some shots, your head movement may begin during the early part of the forward stroke, affecting where the tip strikes the cue ball. The first step in improving your pool game is understanding your game, not just how you play the game but also your stroke’s actual mechanics.
To fix any flaws in my students’ stroke, I’ll use a piece of felt with a line down the middle. The student’s backstroke and forward stroke should stay on this line - once they strike the ball their tip should continue along the line and finish above the felt or on the felt. At the beginning of this drill the student may have to force their stick to stay on the line manually. After several hundred shots their stroke will begin to follow through correctly. When some of my students first start doing the stroke drill, their follow-through is either too short, or it’s off the line on one side or the other.
If you try this drill, your focus should be on a consistent grip pressure throughout the stroke and avoiding the grip’s tightening at impact. Once the stroke and stance start to feel more natural, you can try a variation of this drill by throwing balls out on the table and just shooting them one by one (no cue ball) - this allows you to practice your stance with various types of shots.
I tell all my students that when you’re correcting issues in your stroke, you want to avoid playing leagues or tournaments. If you’re thinking about your stroke mechanics when playing in competition, over time you will mentally break down and gradually go back to your old habits. When top golfers change anything in their swing mechanics, they quit playing tournaments until this new change is part of their muscle memory. Pool is no different. Before any corrections to your stroke mechanics can become part of your muscle memory, you will have to perform the new stroke hundreds, perhaps thousands of times. If you change anything in your stroke mechanics and perform only one or two hundred shots with this new stroke, you haven’t changed anything permanently. If all it took was one or two hundred shots using proper stroke mechanics to permanently change a stroke, everyone could achieve proper stroke mechanics in an afternoon. The permanent change will only happen after you’ve hit thousands of balls with these new stroke mechanics. Once you can perform this new stroke without having to think about the mechanics, then you’ll be ready to play leagues or tournaments again. Learning how to aim in pool begins with the fundamentals.
Work hard on your stroke fundamentals and don’t move on to ball pocketing or center ball positioning until you can perform the stroke drill correctly automatically. The stick should stay on the shooting line on its own - it should be effortless. But, creating strong fundamentals is only one small piece of becoming a strong player. I’ve met many players who have a great stroke but know very little about pattern play. They wrongly assume that since they aren’t getting any better, it must be a flaw in their stroke, so they’re constantly tweaking their stroke mechanics.
One player that I worked with was complaining of a crooked stroke. He said that on some shots his stroke would twist or go offline. As I watched him pocket balls I noticed that on the easier shots his stroke performed correctly. But, on easy shots that required good cue ball control for position, he would try to steer the cue ball. So it wasn’t his stroke that was the issue; it was a lack of trust in his cue ball control that would send the cue stick offline. As I worked more with him, I determined that he was constantly playing incorrect angles and patterns, making the game much harder; he was creating tough positional shots for himself, which caused him to steer the cue ball. We then kept track of which positional shots were causing problems and had him practice them over and over again the proper way. Once he trusted that the cue ball would end up in the correct position area he no longer tried to steer the cue ball, and his stroke no longer went offline.
Creating proper stroke fundamentals is only a small part of becoming a strong player. To reach a high level in pool you have to work hard on all aspects of the game:
Shot Repertoire - The player not only needs to know hundreds of different types of shots, but they also have to be able to execute these shots with different types of spin.
Pattern Play - The player needs to understand how all the balls connect with each other in developing their patterns for 8-Ball and 9-Ball.
Center Ball Positioning - If you can’t control the cue ball without sidespin, you’ll never be able to control the cue ball with sidespin. Controlling the cue ball using just center ball is essential to reaching a high level in pool.
Correct Angles - Learning how to choose the best way to go from one ball to another.
Work hard on your stroke mechanics before moving on to ball pocketing and center ball positioning. Just remember that creating a consistent stroke is only one piece of the puzzle. To reach a high level in pool you have to work just as hard on all aspects of the game.
For more information on the stroke drill and fundamentals check out this video which covers everything in detail: https://www.zerox-billiards.com/pattern-play-video This video also covers this information:
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