Monday, December 27, 2010

Why Do I Miss?

I'm at the stage of my game that I'm really trying to work on my consistency. I can make shots. I can (and have) made extremely difficult shots like razor-thin cuts from the length of the table and so on... shots that usually prompt TV commentators to predict an upcoming safety. If I'm focusing well, I can sink corner-to-corner-dead-straight-object-ball-in-the-middle-of-the-table shots with high regularity. But yet, I miss shots that I shouldn't more often than I'd like to. So, like many other pool players out there, I'm making a concerted effort to to improve my percentages on 'basic' shots. By 'basic' I mean shots where the cue ball and/or object ball do not hit a rail or another ball. I'm talking about straight-in shots or varying degrees of cut shots. No banks, kicks, caroms, billiards, etc... just the basics.

So, back the original question - why do I miss? Simple question, amazingly complex answer. Any number of things can result in missing a given shot. Unless you know exactly which factor caused you to miss, it's pretty much impossible to correct the problem directly... so the general approach to improving at shot making usually focuses on improving upon the factors most likely associated with inconsistent play and missed shots. For purposes of simplification, I've decided to group the various 'miss factors' into three categories:

Stroke. With little doubt, a smooth consistent stroke is the primary foundation to excelling at pool. You can be a genius at angles, theory, and strategy; but if you can't hit the cue ball consistently, your play will most likely plateau at some level (actual level may vary, but probably below where you'd like). In my attempt at simplified categorization, I consider the stroke to be comprised of several elements including stance, bridge, grip, arm position, follow-through, and so on. In other words, I consider the stroke to be pretty much everything leading up to and including consistently hitting a cue ball exactly where you want to hit it. I've put quite a bit of time into working on my stroke and while there's always room for improvement, I think I've got it to a level that it's usually not a significant factor in my misses (or if it is, I usually know because the shot felt wrong). Because the stroke is so important, it's discussed at length in numerous books, DVDs and other resources. One of my favorite DVDs on the subject is in the set I recommended earlier this month. As I mentioned in my recommendation, the entire first DVD of the set is dedicated to a "perfect stroke." Another DVD that does a good job of discussing stroke fundamentals is Max Eberle's Powerful Pool.

Aim. For my purposes, I consider 'aim' as being the process or act of determining where the cue ball needs to go in order to make a given shot. To me, successfully delivering the cue ball to the point of aim is more a function of the 'stoke' category discussed above... but I certainly agree there's overlap between the two. Aim influences proper body alignment for a successful shot, for example. What I'm really trying to isolate in this category is what many people call "aiming systems" which is one of the current areas of focus in my own game. Improving my stroke definitely improved my game, but I still have some unexplained misses that I can't attribute to stroke problems (or other problems, below), so I'm not entirely certain I'm aiming properly on all shots. Therefore, I've decided to embark on a review of the various aiming systems out there to see if there's something useful that I'm not currently using.

And just what am I using? Good question. I more or less started out with the ghost ball system as I imagine most people did. Through practice, drills, and experience I've developed more of a 'feel' system that a lot of more experienced players develop over time. Yes, I've been able to walk up to a table and pound a long back-cut into a blind pocket without even thinking about it, so I know I have some amount of 'feel' aiming brewing inside me... but the whole 'feel' thing is against my nature... I'm an engineer and therefore tend to seek out something more quantifiable; something I can actively troubleshoot and improve rather than something I just put faith into automatically improving though hours and hours of practice. The problem is, when a 'feel' shot goes wrong I have no quantifiable way of determining why... and that bothers me.

Although I've looked at many of these aiming systems before, I can't say that I've really done a deep dive to figure them out and perhaps more importantly try them out. That's going to be my project for the next few weeks or so. I expect it to keep me busy for awhile. There is some discussion of aiming systems in books and DVDs I already have, and there's also a wealth of information online. Dr. Dave has a page dedicated to aiming, and several of Bob Jewett's Billiards Digest articles discuss aiming systems as well. While reading one of the articles, I ran across a reference to a book entitled "The Secret of Aiming" by Randy Kukla. I wasn't able to find the book searching online, but I just happen to know a Randy Kukla who plays pool (quite well, by the way). The one I know doesn't live in Essexville, MI as Jewett's article stated, but I figured my odds were pretty good it was the same person. A quick email confirmed, and I should have a copy of his book in my hands soon. I'll ask him if he's willing and able to sell it to others as well in case anyone else is interested - please let me know if you are.

Beyond commercially available books and videos and/or Internet resources, there are several folks who advertise some sort of "secret aiming system training" in with fundamentals of pool classes that they offer. By no means a comprehensive list, a few such programs (in no particular order) are: Tom Simpson's "Beat People with a Stick" course, Stan Shuffett's PRO ONE, and Gene Albrecht's Perfect Aim. While I would absolutely love to attend one or more of these courses, it's probably not going to happen anytime in the near future due to higher priority things competing for my $$. I believe a couple of the programs offer or will offer DVDs showing their aiming systems, so I may look into those at some point.

If anyone has input regarding resources I should look into in the area of aiming, by all means drop me a comment!

Other. To be honest, I mainly tacked this category on as a catch all for the time being. I recognize that there are some other factors that can contribute to a miss. Equipment, table conditions, nerves, distractions, as well as quantifiable factors such as squirt, deflection, throw, and so on. I realize some of these factors (such as the last few) can and ideally should be factored into aiming systems, or at least considered during the aiming process... but for now I decided to keep them separate in order to simply things a bit. I'll revisit and expand upon many of these factors at some point in the future. [update] p00lriah made a huge point in a comment that I should have covered better in this section, and that is that you need to keep an even keel and treat every shot the same! Don't get tense on a money ball - and at the other end of the spectrum, treat every shot with respect... even the little simple plinkers. Thanks p00lriah!


  1. where's the mental aspect?

    personally i believe an even-handed approach works well--treat all the shots the same & not get more excited over one shot than the other.

  2. Excellent point!

    I lumped that into "other" category in my mind although I see it's not obvious in what I've written at this point. I did mention 'nerves,' but I think you're talking more about treating every shot the same; every shot with respect and I absolutely agree with that tenet. If fact, I'm going to go back and revise the article a bit to get more of that in there.

    I've been guilty of those errors as well at times of course, but when I do that I usually know it.

    I really do think a few of my misses fall into the category of 'I just plain didn't aim right' and those are the ones I'm trying to work on right now. Remember I haven't been playing all that long (2 years).

  3. i'm no great player myself gary. remember it's just my observations and opinions. and thank you for the kind words in the post.

    speaking of observations, i also noticed that 80% of the shots i encounter on the table are no more than half-ball hits. (or 45 degree hits if you want engineering numbers :D.) i've no idea if that is actually true, it's just that i personally find that many cut shots are less than what they seem visually. basically, i think many people have the tendency to cut shots thinner than they should, myself included. this seems to happen more when the distance is longer.

    nowadays i find that cut shots are basically micro-adjustments within the half-ball hit, if that makes sense, even shots that look like they're pretty thin hits. for some odd reason, i find myself making more balls after applying this principle. shots can look visually tricky when it's a long shot, or the object ball & cueball are close, but the object ball has to travel a long distance.

    just my observation. try it out if you like.