One of the most fundamental and least understood aspects of improving in cue sports is learning how to practice. Other sports have practice down to a science. In football or hockey, for instance, every action is broken down into its smallest parts and polished to perfection. This results in a movement that is completely controlled and highly repeatable. You don’t develop a slapshot by playing a bunch of games and hoping it gets better, but by isolating it and perfecting it.
In pool, however, we are still a little in the dark ages in terms of practice. Many players do almost no practice beyond playing games against their buddies or themselves. The problem with this is you never isolate the most important parts of the game and give them the time and focus they deserve. It’s kind of like going into the gym and just doing random exercises for 1 rep. No surprise you aren’t any stronger a year later. Instead, you can systematically approach practice with a plan and a program to ensure you keep getting better all the time. Luckily, in all cuesports, there are shots and patterns that come up again and again, so they are relatively easy to isolate and, with a little thought, put together a plan of attack to master.
The best way to do this is through drills. Drills are a shot, or series of shots, that you can set up the same way every time, track your success in, and repeat them until they are mastered. Some people might say they get bored by drills, but I think that is mostly because they haven’t done drills this way. Using the principles outlined here, drills have all the pressure and challenge of a match, while ensuring you are getting better every time you play. Besides, I think the really fun part of pool or snooker is running out in a big match and drills make you do that more often. Here is a short guide on how to get the most out of the drills on this site.
To start, set the balls up as shown as closely as possible. Be precise. When resetting a drill, do your best to reset the balls exactly as shown. If a ball doesn’t pass into a pocket, there is a reason why. Using paper hole reinforcements is a great way to ensure that the balls are in the same place every time. Set them up and the beginning of the drill to make it quick and easy to get the proper set up every time. Sloppiness in the set up defeats the purpose of having a set shot or series of shots that you perfect by shooting the same way every time. This is especially true if you are working on just a single shot. You will get much more out of the practice if that shot is the exact same every time you shoot it.
When choosing what drills to do, you should always start with stroke drills. If there’s one thing you learn from this site, I hope it is that the stroke is the most important part of any game involving a cue. These stroke drills are designed to get you stroking straight and groove your stroke so it stays straight, even when the pressure is on. If you are just starting out with drills, do the stroke drills first. If a straight in shot, or shooting up the spots is challenging then this is something you should address before really diving into the other drills. You can still do the other ones, but the majority of your time should be spent getting your stroke in line first. If you feel comfortable and confident with them, they should still be a part of every practice session. Start each session with basic stroke drills to make sure you’re cueing well before moving on to the more challenging parts of your routine. It’s always a good idea to practice your stroke at home whenever you get a chance as well.
When deciding which drills or variations to incorporate into your practice, the golden rule is to start easy. All the drills on this site are labelled as beginner, intermediate, or advanced. No matter how good you think you are, start with the beginner drills and master them before moving on. The best players all have one thing in common, they are consistent. Consistent players win tournaments and are very hard to beat. Having more successes with an easier drill is a better way to build consistency than struggling with a drill that is beyond your skill level. Of course, you want to challenge yourself, but starting easy is the best way to find out what drills are going to give you the most bang for your buck.
Putting it into more concrete terms, when practicing, you should be shooting for a 50-80% success rate. That long masse that you make 1/20 times? Not an effective use of your time. A hanger that you make 100 times in a row? You aren’t getting better that way. Shooting shots (or entire drills) that you can do more than 50 but less than 80 percent of the time matches the challenge to your skill level. When you are adequately challenged, but still doing something within your ability, this is the recipe for “getting in the zone”. It also gives you an easy goal, take something you can do half the time, and work it until its something you can do almost every time.
With working on specific shots, this is easy. If you are making a shot 40% of the time, make it a little easier by moving the object ball closer to the pocket, or the cue ball closer to the object ball. If you make it 90% of the time make it more challenging by adding distance or adding a positional target to get into that 50-80% success zone.
Running drills this way is a little trickier. Even a fairly easy drill can be quite difficult to run 80% of the time, and limiting yourself to only drills you can do half the time might mean you don’t have very many drills that you can do. Instead, try finding drills that you can consistently complete at least half of. If you can’t get halfway through it, it is likely too difficult, but as long as you are having success with the majority of the drill, it is still falling in that zone of success. Work on taking these drills from one success in a session to many, and eventually to completing it the majority of the time. Don’t take this as a licence to bang away at drills that are much beyond your skill level, be honest about working in that effective range.
The best way to keep yourself honest is to track. Tracking your drills gives you an absolute measure of your own improvement and lets you know which areas you need to work on most. Tracking is probably the most effective but least utilized technique in practice. It works, there is no question about it. It holds you accountable and is objective and honest. But it is tough to admit your failures and mark them down on a piece of paper. If you can get over it and be honest with yourself, you will see a big improvement in your practice, and in your game. Try using our free fillable PDF tracking sheet that links to all the drills on the site and allows for easy tracking from your phone.
Drills that you know you can complete regularly should be reset after every miss. The goal in most cue sports is to clear the table, and resetting every time is the best way to practice getting in a runout mindset. As noted above, however, some drills you will not be running out very consistently and shouldn’t be reset every time. Instead find out where the problem area lies, a certain positional shot, or a shot that is giving you trouble, and work on it in isolation. Once you’ve conquered your sticking points you can go back to attempting to run the table completely. Be aware though, if you are missing a lot in a drill, it may be a better use of your time to use an easier version and get more completions in.
You should also give yourself a time limit for every drill, I recommend 10-20 minutes for drills, and 5 for specific shots and stroke drills. This does a few things. First, it keeps you from banging away at something that just isn’t working. We all get frustrated, and it’s easy to just get worked up and keep trying a drill all night with little success. The timer gives you a point to move on and try something new. Second, it keeps you focused. The timer gives you a time when you have to stop, so putting pressure on you to succeed in that time frame or beat your best score. It also stops you from getting distracted shooting random shots. Finally, it gives you a good baseline to track from. If you do everything for the same amount of time, its easy to tell if you’re getting better at it because you will complete the drill more often in the same timeframe.
So that’s how you to run drills effectively. You find a drill within your skill level, set the balls up, set a timer, and track your successes. Sound like a lot of work? In a way it is, it’s more work than just playing without a plan, but in the long run, I think it’s actually a much easier way to practice. You will get better so much faster and experience so much less frustration this way. I think constant improvement is easier to live with than stagnation. Streamlining your practice like this will also save you a lot of money on table time!
Now that you know how to run drills, the last thing you need to do is string some of these together to form a practice routine. As noted before, all routine should begin with stroke drills to get you cueing well before trying to run balls. From there, it’s up to you to decide which areas you need to work on and decide which drills will help you. All the drills on this page have variations for any level of player and will improve your game if you apply the lessons learned here. For an in-depth explanation of how to create an effective routine and some samples, click here.
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. Play well.