We all know that the key to any cue sport is a good stroke and that you develop that by countless hours of focused repetition on the table. I want to show you a way to shorten that time-frame and get more high-quality stroke practice in without having to be at the table all day every day.
Grease The Groove
Grease the Groove is a training technique developed by Pavel Tsatsouline that is widely used today to develop movements such as the pull-up. The basic idea is to perform a few reps of an exercise many times throughout the day. For most people, this means putting a pull-up bar in their doorway and cranking out a few reps every time they walk through it. For us, it will mean executing several strokes as often as possible throughout the day. Anyone who has tried this technique can attest to its effectiveness, often going from just 1 pull-up at a time to double digits within months. This is because it allows you to accumulate more volume of work throughout the day than you would in the course of just one workout. It makes you stronger, but also helps develop the neurological connections that make the movement more natural.
This means we can also apply this technique training for skills that don’t require strength, like a pool stroke. Basically, every time you perform an action you strengthen the neural pathways that cause that action. The more you activate those pathways, the faster and stronger they become, making the action more automatic. This is caused by myelin insulating the neural pathways a little more every time you activate them, which lets them fire faster. Our goal then should be to build up as much myelin along the pathway that activates during a perfect stroke (and as little as possible along pathways activated during a poor stroke), so we need to perform as many perfect strokes a day as possible.
In a single practice session, you may shoot 100 shots, but not all of them will be perfect. You may twist, steer, or any of the other bad habits that come up when trying to pot a ball. Using this technique, you can also put in dozens more strokes in addition to your normal practice, but spreading them out over the course of the day means they can all be hyper-focused and as straight and smooth as you’re able to stroke. The pathway will fire faster and the next time you are at the table it will be easier to “get in the zone”.
How To Do It
First, find a flat surface in your home roughly the height of a pool or snooker table. Most desks, kitchen tables and counters are a similar enough height. Keep something on this surface that will give you some feedback on the straightness of your stroke. An empty bottle thats opening is not much larger than your cue tip is standard and what I use. However, some people find that a bottle does not work well with their “piston” style stroke, or that hitting the back of the bottle limits follow through. If this applies to you I recommend using two golf tees as posts to stroke through.
This drill has been around since the invention of cue sports. The problem I often see however, is that people do the drill one time, for about 5 minutes, get bored and never pick it up again. The key is consistency, and greasing the groove makes it very easy to be consistent, you only need to devote 20 seconds at a time and you will see results.
So, leave your cue out beside the table or desk that you are using to stroke on and pick it up every single time you walk past it. I have a bottle on my computer desk, and a cue leaned beside it. Every time I walk into the room, I pick up the cue, slowly and carefully drop into my stance, and stroke through a plastic bottle 2 or 3 times before using the computer.
Why it Works
Too easy right? This might not seem like much, but just like with pull-ups, it adds up throughout the day to dozens or hundreds of high quality, focused repetitions. The focus is by far the most important part. Since you are only performing a couple of strokes at a time, you can easily give 100% attention You are not trying to pot a ball, win a game, or play shape, all you have to do is 1 perfect stroke. Anyone can stroke straight once, but this builds the neurological connections that allow you to do it every time. So the next time you are at the table, the cue will go in a straight line and you can focus on positional play and shot selection.
Although your stroke is the main benefit, this will also improve every aspect of your mechanics if you devote the focus to it. You can ensure that your feet are exactly where they should be, that your balance, bridge and head position are exactly as they should be. The stroke is the easiest thing to get feedback on, but the rest can be mastered with focus. Remember, practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. This technique lets you practice perfectly and do it a lot. Make use of it at home and reap the benefits at the table.