I’m sure everyone has heard the phrase practice makes perfect, but did you know not all practice is considered equal. There are better ways to get the most out of your practice allowing you to improve faster.
The only way to improve at anything let alone pool is to practice consistently. If you are just playing against friends when you practice you are doing it wrong. The way to get the most out of your practices is to have a goal to achieve. Set small achievable targets and practice until you have reached those targets before moving on to the next goal. By setting small achievable goals and practicing them until you have mastered them before moving on will improve the speed of your learning while maximizing the time spent practicing.
I’m sure you have plenty of questions as to how that way of practicing is the “right way”, so let me break this down for you in more detail to explain my reasoning behind this.
The Wrong Way To Practice
Many of you reading this is probably thinking to yourself that there is no wrong way of practicing, as every time you play you are developing your muscle memory to help you the next time you encounter the same shot or scenario. While this may be true, it is not the most effective way to get the most out of the time spent practicing.
When playing any billiard game, there are millions of different scenarios and ball layouts that you can encounter. So how in the world are you going to learn how to best handle the different situations and master all the different shots. The short answer is you are not, not by just playing games, because since there are so many options you are not repeatedly encountering the same shot enough times to program it in your brain.
So by only ever practicing playing games rather than practicing drills, while you can still learn from this, it is slow and not the best way to improve your skills in a timely manner. Lets discuss a better way to practice!
The Right Way To Practice
To understand how to practice the right way, we first need to understand how practice works. The whole point of practicing is to work on the flaws enough times that we improve upon them. If we continue to practice the same thing over and over again it will begin to get programed into our brain, creating muscle memory.
Lets talk about muscle memory, what is muscle memory when referring to pool? If we take a look a Wikipedia’s definition of muscle memory:
“Muscle memory is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition, which has been used synonymously with motor learning. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed with little to no conscious effort. This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems. Muscle memory is found in many everyday activities that become automatic and improve with practice, such as riding bicycles, driving motor vehicles, playing ball sports, typing on keyboards, entering PINs, playing musical instruments, poker, martial arts, and dancing.”
So muscle memory in pool is when you have shot the same shot or encountered the same scenario so many times that you don’t need to think about what to do because you have programmed in your brain how to handle this situation. So repetition is key to creating muscle memory and by breaking down your practice into individual shots and drills rather than wasting time playing games, will help you to achieve this faster.
Now I’m not saying you should stop practicing playing games, because there are skills you can learn and develop by playing against other players. But way more of your time practicing will be more productive focusing on the individual shots and drills to program them into your brain.
For example, lets say you need to practice long straight shots, set a target goal of I’m going to shoot this shot 15 times in a row without missing, and don’t do anything else until you have achieved that goal. Rather than playing a match that you may encounter the shot 3 or 4 times, you are now going to spend time to master that one particular shot so you can move on to your next trouble area in your game.
Spend time running drills, there are practice drills for just about everything, from controlling the cue ball to pocketing balls. I know drills can get boring and repetitive, but they are great for honing your skills and it is that repetitiveness that is necessary to create that muscle memory.
The best way to be more productive is by setting goals and achieving them. I know this may sound dumb to some of your reading this, but this works wonders. Play a game or two by yourself so you get to shoot more and make a list of where you are struggling, write down which shots you miss so that you can practice them enough that they become easy.
Also write down any problems you may find in your game, such as are you getting the cue ball where you are wanting it, are you miscuing frequently, are you applying English when you are not trying too. There are so many things you can learn about your own game by just paying attention and writing them down as you encounter them.
Once you have a good list, begin going through the list one by one to address the areas you are struggling with so that you can overcome it, right then and there. This will improve your skills and fix your trouble areas in your game way faster than just encountering them in a game and through multiple games finally being able to figure out how to shoot that shot. They trick is to be very thorough and detailed when making your list as you know what you need to work on.
To get the most out of your practice:
- Play a few games by yourself, analyze your game shot by shot to decide what you need to work on, write down a list every shot that you miss throughout these few games. Draw diagrams to help remember how to set it up. Also write down other issues you may be having in your game that you are noticing (cue ball control, positioning, stroke, stance, miscuing, etc).
- Go through your list and set achievable targets for each shot on the list and shoot the same shot over and over until you have reached your target before moving on to the next shot on your list.
- Spend time practicing drills, working on controlling the cue ball and positioning for the next shot, as these are key fundamentals that will improve your game.
- Once you have made it through your list begin working on stringing together balls and working on pattern play. Start with 3 balls on the table just throw them on the table and play as they lay. Before making any shots, plan how to run all three balls in, which pocket does each ball need to go in, in what order, and where does the cue ball need to be to set you up for the next shot. When 3 balls begin to get easy add another ball to the table and so on until you have 8 balls on the table and you are able to run them all out.
By giving your practice more structure and focusing on what you actually need to work on rather than just playing matches. You will begin to see true improvement in your game right away. That is all I have for you, hopefully, by reading all the way through this article you have learned a few things and will implement a better way to get more out of your practice. Happy shooting!