This post is part of the 23rd issue of PoolSynergy, a blog carnival about pool. September’s issue is called Practice: What’s Worked for Me, and this is my personal contribution. To see everyone else’s contribution, please go to the main PoolSynergy page for September.

Pool Student’s blog has been dedicated to getting better at pool, and as a consequence has talked about practice quite a bit. I’ve read a great deal about the subject of improvement and have a pretty good idea of what works and why. I’ve tried to apply that knowledge to my own game, and have been successful to an extent, but sadly not all has gone according to plan.

For instance dedication, persistence and discipline are keys to improvement, but personally I haven’t been able to muster the commitment to improve my game as I would have liked. Though I bought a 9′ table to enhance my ability to practice, and I’m on it regularly, I don’t use it in the ways I imagined I would.

Let’s face it, practice is work, playing is fun. As I’ve gotten busier at home (I’m retired) I’ve found myself playing much less, consisting of once a week straight pool matches for a local league, and another 4 hour or 5 hour session at the pool hall every other week or so.

I’ve found myself not living up to my practice expectations because I get bored too quickly. A training partner can help this a lot, but you only get 1/2 the time at the table and there’s scheduling to work out. Being able to step over to my table in the garage is great for using up time effectively, but I find myself zoning out working on drills and problem shots. Focus becomes a problem. I tried to listen to podcasts and books on tape, but found them taking my attention away from shooting and being counter productive. Music is better, but even it takes away from the intense concentration that, when I can muster it, works as advertised.

Quantity aside, I have found that drills and repetition of troublesome shots have helped me improve faster than anything else I’ve done, when I can work up the enthusiasm to do them. The ones that have helped me the most fall into two categories, fundamentals/stroke and position.

For stroke work I continue to do 3 drills whic help keep my stroke in tune. The first is lining up an object ball and the cue ball directly across the center of the table, each a spot from the rail. Shoot the OB into the side closest to it and draw the cue ball straight back into the other side pocket. You want to get to where you’re making an extremely high percentage of these shots. Work on making the smoothest stroke you can, and hitting the cue ball low and just soft enough to get back to the near side pocket.

The next shot places 5 object balls in a line perpendicular to the long rail, 3 spots from the corner, half a ball apart from each other. With the cue ball spotted on each shot, along the headstring, shoot the balls one at a time into the far corner, but using follow, try to scratch on every shot. You must hit the cue ball in the exact center and hit the object ball perfectly to make both balls from this distance. Work both sides of the table.

Third, using the same setup as in the previous drill, make the balls in the same pocket, but use draw to bring the cue ball back to the head rail. As in drill #1, try to use the smoothest draw stroke you can, rather than brute force. Also, make sure to cue on the vertical centerline, with no english at all. As you improve, try to control the exact amount of draw, stopping 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 diamonds behind the object ball.

These strokes really help me straighten out, and make a difference in all of my game, not just straight in shots. Given the benefits you’d think I’d do them all the time, but they can get monotonous and I neglect them to my peril.

On the fundamentals side, I’ve taken a tip from Rolando Aravena and started to focus on my pre-shot warmup to a much greater extent than ever before. It’s helping me maintain an even pace, and stay focused on the details, as I do something a little different at each step of the routine. It’s still feeling awkward, but i can see that if i stick to it, it will pay big dividends.

For working on position, I do two drills. First the standard “L” drill places 15 balls in an “L” shape from the center of the foot rail, to the spot, to the 2nd diamond up on the long rail, with the balls evenly spaced throughout. Make the balls in order, from one end of the “L” to the other, all in the corner pocket inside the “L”.

You have to be careful to keep from getting out of line because if you do it gets very hard very quickly to continue. This drill can give you fits until you do it for awhile, but it really strengthens every aspect of your close in shape.

The second shape drill has the 5 odd balls 1-9 making a small “L” around one corner, and the 5 even balls making another small “L” around the other corner (same end of the table), but they go from the 1 spot on the short rail to the one spot on the long rail evenly spaced. Line up the balls in order starting on the short rail until you can routinely complete the runout, then line them up starting on the long rail. Make them in order, going back and forth across the table from odd to even to odd, etc. You can also mix the balls up randomly keeping odd and even separate, or finally go totally random.

All the shots are easy, with the OB always within a foot of the hole, but you’ll be surprised at how much you have to concentrate to run it cleanly. Oh, BTW, on both this and the Big “L” drill, you cannot touch any ball other than the one you’re shooting.

The other kind of drill I find that works for me when I can muster the discipline to actually spend the time doing it, is to pick a shot I need work on and shoot it dozens, maybe hundreds of times until I’ve mastered it. I have improved a number of shots this way, by a lot, actually, but it’s murder to stick to. I bought myself a little kitchen timer and use it to make sure I don’t spend more than 15 minutes on any one shot at any one time.

I do these shots progressively, i.e., I start easy and slowly make the harder as I get better by moving the balls further apart or increasing the angle, one at a time. If i miss I go back a step, thus spending most of my time on the shots near my 50% accuracy zone.

I also include shots where it’s the direction and speed of the cue ball that’s the main object of the shot, making the ball is expected but isn’t particularly hard.

Finally, the other thing I do which I feel has helped me, is to play lots of racks of solo straight pool. I get lots of practice making balls, playing patterns, and moving the CB to where I want it, playing my favorite game. Sometimes I will focus on shooting as many reasonable combinations, billiards and caroms as I can to work those shots, and sometimes I play a lot of safeties, but mostly I just try to run out and re-rack with a good break shot when I miss.

I hope you’ve found something of value in my post and I strongly recommend you read all the pieces in this months PoolSynergy. I’m really hoping to find some good tips in the other articles about how to make my practice more productive, how to avoid wasting time with dead ends, and especially how to get me to actually do it.