So you have figured out that you are doing something wrong. Maybe you twist your wrist at the end of your stroke, or your elbow moves to the side, or any of the other thousand bad habits one can pick up. How do you go about fixing it permanently?
Many of us have probably had a similar experience. You discover a bad habit, fix it, and immediately start playing better. The balls have eyes, your stroke is smooth and confident, and the game just feels easy. Then, league starts, or you start playing a friend, and it all falls apart. Some shots you shoot the new way and it feels great, others you revert back to your old habits and you dog. Sometimes you do a mix of both and nothing goes right. Your arm feels clunky and the game is all of a sudden really hard.
Often times after this, we just revert back to our old habits. It seems easier just to follow the same old pattern than try something new, even if you know that the new way is the proper way to do it. Or, we frustratingly continue this cycle for many months and possibly fix the problem eventually.
The problem in this scenario is not that the new technique was wrong, or that it is some herculean task to break a bad habit. It was that the new habit was not properly grooved before putting it under the pressure of competition, so it faltered and the old habit took over. Forming a new, good habit doesn’t have to take years and be filled with struggle. If we approach ingraining the new habit in a systematic way, it can be relatively quick and painless. Here’s how to do it.
When to Break a Habit
One of the most important aspects of breaking a habit is timing. This means if you have a tournament is this weekend, and you just realized your grip is holding you back, it’s probably best to stick with what you have been doing and work on the new grip afterwards. Likewise, if you play in a weekly league, don’t try to incorporate a new technique the night of. Start the day after league to give yourself a full week to fix your problem before testing it in competition.
Start with 1 Ball
Next is deciding what kind of practice to do in order to break the habit. I think it is important to start with drills that do not involve pocketing an object ball. If you are trying for a pot with a new technique and you miss, you can start second-guessing whether or not the change is worth it, even if you know it is proper technique. For instance, someone who has never played with their back arm perpendicular to the cue at address is going to miss some shots when they fix that, but there is no question it is the proper way to play. It is better to remove the possibility of missing at first to focus on just the technique.
So start with some drills that allow you to put in reps with the new technique, but don’t have the pressure (and inevitable emotional response) of ball pocketing. The Tor Lowry Stroke Drill is great for this. Set up all the balls in a line and shoot them directly into the corner pockets. This requires some discipline on your part to not get sloppy, but it lets you very quickly get in a couple hundred repetitions with your new technique. You can shoot about 100 shots in ten minutes this way, which is significantly more than you would playing games. Shoot as many shots as you can like this without losing focus.
By now you should be feeling comfortable with your new grip, foot position, bridge, or whatever it is you are trying to fix. The next step is to slowly incorporate drills with more feedback. Shoot Up the spots and then Stop Shots, making sure to start very easy. When starting to ingrain a new habit, you should be striving to make it easy enough that you never miss. Don’t set up long straight ins that you might miss, shoot balls off the spot and get very confident with your technique. The hard stuff will come later.
Next, you will begin to start cutting balls. Ideally, this should take place on a different day than the last set of drills. Usually, you cannot correct a habit in a day, spread it out over the course of several practice sessions and you will be much more successful. Quickly go over the stroke drills from last time, then, pick a common angle, like a half ball cut. Set it up exactly the same every time, and shoot it for 5 minutes. Focus much more on your technique than if the ball goes in. There will be a tendency to revert back to steering or jumping up in order to make the ball, but if you have followed the steps so far it can be avoided. Pick 3-4 different shots and work them for 5 minutes at a time, centre ball, just focusing on using your new technique. Pick easy shots you are comfortable with, this is not the time to work on your shot making, it’s the time to fix your technique.
Use the Entire Cue Ball
Now, work on using different parts of the cue ball. As you shoot shots you are less comfortable with (high inside for instance) there will be a tendency to revert to old habits. These shots will come up in a game, so conquer that tendency now. Use a drill like Carom off the Black or the pool equivalent Carom Drill and use every part of the cue ball. You can then apply yourself to some open table drills like The Line or Pot Quiz, keeping it easy and building confidence. If you are successful at both the drill and using proper technique, move on to more challenging and complex drills. If at any point you are struggling, or feel bad habits creeping back in, return to the easy stuff.
Test it out
At this point, you might be ready to play some games.
I suggest playing some friendly games with a friend of a similar skill level, instead of playing games by yourself. You’ll have more focus and are less likely to just bang balls around. Don’t worry about winning, just try to apply your technique to a game situation. Use it on every shot, safeties, banks, power shots. This is the time to be honest with yourself if it seems like the habit is broken. If you find yourself twisting your wrist again to make the game ball, you are not ready. Go back and repeat the previous steps and try again. If you are able to play a friendly game completely with the new habit, then you are ready to apply it to league or a tournament.
There’s a reasonable chance that, despite this, you will still revert back to your old habit under real pressure. Simply apply the same formula for another week and try again. If you are diligent and focus on taking it slow, you should easily have grooved the new habit in 2 weeks, or even less depending on how old the bad habit was. If it’s something that just crept into your game recently, you might be able to do all this in one session and be fixed. If it’s been ten years, a few weeks might be in order.
The important takeaway here is, don’t focus on potting balls and winning games when trying to break a bad habit, this will undermine your confidence in your new habit and cause you to revert. Focus on hitting lots of balls in a way that lets you focus solely on technique. This means starting and just getting in as many quality repetitions as possible. The ball potting will take care of itself once the new habit is formed, and is something to be practiced in isolation, separate from your fundamentals. Remember, breaking a habit doesn’t have to take months or years. Approach it smart and understand that you can change your game relatively quickly if you are willing to put the work in. Thanks for reading, play well.