magic pill

at the pool hall, i hear a lot of discussions about various pool techniques.  (well, at least among the people i see at the pool hall.)  when it comes to those types of discussions, i always seem to hear people talk about techniques as if they’re isolated elements in pool.

i believe that the techniques in pool are interdependent.  when people tweak with a technique (at least at the PH i play at), they don’t necessarily pay attention of what that’ll do to the rest of their game.  personally, i subscribe to the theory that each person is a finite system.  within this system, you have to fit various pool pieces together to (hopefully) yield the optimal result.  when you change one piece within the system, most of the time the change affects the rest of the pieces within the system.  the effect may be large or small (depending on how much change there was), but rarely can one piece of your game be changed without affecting others.

but such is what i often hear when people talk about various ways to shoot.  you know what that really sounds like?  it sounds like they’re searching for the magic pill that’ll instantly cure them of all the flaws and inconsistencies, as if learning a new grip or a new aiming system will alchemically make them pocket balls without missing.

that pill doesn’t exist.

in my personal experience, the only way to get better is to dismantle your game, then conduct a thorough analysis of what works.  that needless twisting of the wrist?  out.  that flick of the hand at impact to increase power?  out.  all the superfluous movements of the body?  out, out, out, out, out.  once you figure out the simplest techniques you can use, strip down your game to the bare essentials so you can know these techniques will work as an integrated whole, not jumbled bit parts cobbled together.  once you get to that point, repeatedly practice those things as a system of techniques until you can do them in your sleep.

when you consider what techniques will work for you, analyze them in terms of you.  will a technique work with your body type?  your temperament?  your level of flexibility?  your eye dominance?  for example, let’s say a gent comes up and tells you that sidearm stroke is the best thing you can learn; he uses it and the stroke works great.  when you look at the gent, you noticed that he’s in a wheelchair.  of course the sidearm stroke works great for him; he can’t use a conventional stroke!  and now you have to ask yourself: do i need to shoot with the sidearm stroke too?

well, if you find the stroke to be much more comfortable, or you can’t use the conventional stroke for some reason, then of course.  but there has to be that level of analysis before you dive in blind.  just because someone plays better than you doesn’t mean that their techniques will make you better.  it’s a possibility, but not a guarantee.  just look at the legions of efren copycats if you have doubts.

getting better at pool is a brutal process that involves an unholy amount of self honesty.  you have to be willing to admit all your flaws and weaknesses, and then figure out ways to overcome these obstacles.  it is unpleasant, painful, and grating.  however, if you’re willing to lay the ego to rest, something miraculous happens.  you begin to see what you’re doing wrong through the prism of reason.  you stop associating your pool flaws with personal failure, and start seeing your flaws as mere obstacles to overcome.  there is light at the end of the tunnel, if you’re willing to invest the effort.  and the earlier you start, the sooner you’ll improve.

that’s magical.

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7 comments on “magic pill

  1. Everyone thinks they are a teacher. Even though I am only a beginner, I am guilty of this. I try really hard not to butt into people’s business, but when I see another person (usually a female try to do something) I might chime in and give her a pointer.

    One time, a gentleman came over and critiqued my stance. I didn’t really like him nor his attitude, but I tried what he suggested. He said something along the lines that I had to stand and bend my knee like I was taking a poop. What he said clicked in my mind, and my game improved.

    There is no magic pill out there, you and I know it, but a lot of other players don’t. As you say, try things, if it doesn’t work out, you carry on. But if it feels like it is working out, try it a little bit more.

    BTW, how is the Jack Johnson CD?

    • nothing wrong about giving a pointer, but all too often i see people give pointers as some kind of universal truth. if i give pointers (which isn’t often), i try to follow the precept of Primum non nocere when giving pointers–first, do no harm. this means i like to observe before giving any advice, so it can be tailored to the person. and then i try to make as little change to the person’s game as possible, so even if it doesn’t work i won’t cause huge damage to the person’s game.

      the johnson cd is pretty relaxing. i still think the in between dreams album is his best one, but the latest one isn’t too shabby. if u buy it i’d say get the old one first.

    • speaking of efren/busti imitators, just saw two of them the other day. they could play so much better if they just dropped that efren wannabe s~*.

  2. Good post as always ‘Riah. Of course, this month’s PS topic kind of clashes with this…in that there will be a flood of information coming at the reader. hahaha

    But in general, you’re spot on. Trying to change too many things at once without realizing what the effect on other things will be is disastrous. Could be something as simple as how they step into the shot.

    • thanks dagz. maybe we should put up disclaimers so people won’t get confused. 😛

      as far as trying things, i find that people tend not to consider how a technique would affect their game before trying it out. the mere fact that efren/mika/corey/alcano does something is enough to convince a person to try it, even if it won’t work for him/her (e.g., busti’s stroke). pool is a thinking game, but the people at my pool hall seem not to think that way.

      another thing i see is people with very poor fundamentals that refuse to admit that fact. as a result they’re always chasing that magic tip that’ll make it all better. unfortunately their bad mechanics won’t allow them to learn any technique properly. these are the same folks that don’t improve after 30 years of playing pool. kind of sad. but you’re right. i think in pool it’s better to change things a little at a time, so you can see what’ll happen. too much at once and you won’t know which change is responsible for which effect it has on your game.

      • Just to caveat my earlier reply…

        I don’t think that making wholesale changes to ones game is a bad thing. But what most people don’t realize is that when you make changes to that scale, (i.e. changing body alignment, pre-shot routine, aiming, stroking arm orientation, etc…) it’s painfully regressive at first. Shots that you were making before aren’t falling. Position that was easy before is difficult. The stroke feels wrong. People aren’t willing to go through the growing pains of improving upon things, so it’s very easy for them to give up, or compound an already existant problem by trying to incorporating a new technique without having the proper fundamentals for that particular method.

        A perfect example of this would be to look at a classic 14.1 straight pool player like Mosconi vs. someone like Bustamante. Body orientations are entirely different. Bustie is set up for a long, languid stroke. Very long bridge, and uses an open bridge very often. Whereas Mosconi rarely used an open bridge, the bridge was very short, and he was set up for that particular stroke.

        Here’s the kicker: both are correct! It’s when you try mixing elements from the two that you run into problems. That’s where having a knowledgeable coach, or at least 2nd set of eyes, helps. They should be able to identify what set-up will work for you and help you incorporate the elements required for that particular set up.

        Either way, great post as I said before. Look forward to your PS post…should be a good month!

        • i totally agree dagz. it’s crucial to make changes that’ll work for a particular person. that’s a difficult thing to do b/c you’ll have to admit to your weaknesses and shortcomings to figure out what can work for you. a teacher definitely helps.

          also, i’m sort of a minimalist with pool. i believe that if you can simply swing your arm back & forth to form a stroke, you shouldn’t have to add twists to it or do any other fancy stuff. simplicity works best.

          btw, i know that growing pain intimately, having changed my game pretty drastically at one point. there were six months where i literally couldn’t run three balls. i must say the result was well worth it.

          looking forward to the anniversary edition of PS!

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