I gave a lesson yesterday to a fellow with a lovely pool stroke whom we'll call in anonymity "Bill" for purposes of this article. Bill has struggled for 15 years with an occasional miss and unusually, as he is a disciplined shooter, with most of his misses sending balls to far to his left regardless of whether he was cutting a shot toward his left or right.
Bill always wishes to learn and improve on that continuous and virtuous cycle the Japanese call kaizen, from "kai" (change) and "zen" (good or positive). So at significant cost, he traveled the length and breadth of the U.S.A. seeking help and his continuous improvement.
During his odyssey, he paid some of the finest pool players ever to wield a cue stick, and some of the most prestigious pool and billiards teachers you've heard of, for hourly up to multi-day lessons. And he kept a personal logbook of what he'd learned.
When he contacted me for a private lesson he was at his wits' end (most of the lessons he'd paid for did nothing for his game or even worsened his shots) and he was reluctant to see me though my book and this About.com GuideSite appealed. He finally agreed to a two-hour lesson prefaced by a debriefing f from his previous lessons.
You see, I talked him into a lesson just so I could glean what good or bad things he'd heard from others to try to integrate their pool teaching with mine and solve his problem.
In his words, this is what was emphasized and taught in his many lessons. You may find some or much of this useful and some of you are devotees of some of these famous pool teachers. You can see below what others who charge as much or more than I do for lessons are teaching the last few years.
Do bear in mind:
1. These mini-encapsulations are paraphrased from Bill's words and may not represent all his teachers taught him. And it is possible he did not correctly absorb all they were trying to teach him.
But Bill is in excellent physical condition, a natural athlete who is a record holder in another sport and an expert in a third sport, and who stretches and exercises daily, besides enjoying a first rate billiards stroke and stance. He is highly intelligent, having worked his way through an Ivy League university and worked in finance. He owns many pool instruction books besides hundreds of DVD's of pool instruction and great players performing well during great matches.
He further practices in front of a mirror at home daily to try to improve his stroke and absorbs each pool lesson.
2. Many top players have games that are instinctive. It can be challenging for them to relate the methods they use to their students. It's not that the pros are holding secrets (well, some of us pros and teachers do keep some secrets for our protégés and our paying customers). But for example, if you ask many top players, "What aim system do you use to pocket balls?" they can only reply, "I can't teach it to you since I aim on instinct." There are some aim systems you can learn which I teach, however... see more below.
3. Full disclosure here--It's hard to say that all the instructors I list below failed him. If it were one or two I might imagine such a possibility. Some teachers would say instead that their guess is Bill is a poor student.
And I'm reporting secondhand what he says these instructors told or taught him. It might be considered rather unfair to criticize someone's teaching methods from just one secondhand comment (although I do know some of these teachers and their methods from past experience).
Can I sum hourly lessons let alone multiple-day lessons in a phrase about one or two items? (Although again, Bill was distracted by both his misses to the left and while trying to enact stance and grip changes from his teachers' suggestions. I've had students before who took stance advice from others on Day 1 and could not learn many shots or other strategies on Day 2 or 3 being so distracted. For this reason, I often will work with someone up to 4 or 5 hours on stance, grip and stroke before doing anything else--without having fundamentally changed the stance and stroke they came to the table with, as we work on shots that come more easily for them with a lighter grip, improved head and neck position and etc.)
And though I helped solve Bill's missed shots to the left, it may be likely I was lucky to repeat things he had heard before but hadn't absorbed from other teachers...
So here we go with what Bill learned spending thousands of dollars around the country, a strong player whose fault seemed to be always missing shots to his left. Should you take notes from my notes or instead laugh (or cry!) as you read this list?
* [Two top teachers, names withheld] - emphasized their method, otherwise known as "Bill, you ought to Set-Pause-Finish." (Set and confirm your aim after you complete your practice strokes--good! Pausing at the top of your backstroke, however, is only valid for some players in my opinion, as it changes the rhythm and angles of your stroke. Lastly, freeze in position after you shoot for several seconds and avoid jumping up and ruining the stroke. I'll buy this "finish" as I teach this too, although some very fine players can dance through their shots as I have written about elsewhere).
* [Another top teacher] spent three days of lessons mainly emphasizing that "Bill ought to come back slow and accelerate forward through the final stroke" as well as use a "light wrist turned in, holding the cue stick primarily with the thumb and forefinger". ("Go slowly, come back quickly" is good, but why? Because an accelerating cue stick tends to be a cue stick moving straight forward per the laws of physical motion. Bill's shots were still going left, however.)
* [Top pool player you've seen on TV for many years] - "Bill, stay as near level as possible with the cue stick." (Bad advice in my opinion since the pool stroke comes forward and downward by necessity, with most shots taken over a nearby rail and with the shooting hand wanting to come up through the stroke sending the tip downward or nearly so.)
* [Hall of Fame player] "Break your wrist forward coming through the stroke, Bill." (Actually, you can do well with a near-neutral wrist or a forward breaking wrist using radial deviation or even a backwards wrist bend using ulnar deviation as I demonstrate. The forward break happens to be the personal preference of this player who is famous for driving his arm forward until his cue touches his elbow.)
* [Yet another Hall of Fame member told Bill] - "…Very loose elbow and count fully 1-2-3 seconds at the cue ball before final stroke." (Sure, but why pause before the stroke so long? Because it builds what scientists are calling "quiet eyes" for stick and ball sports. Balls still going left, though.)
* [Famous and skilled pool teacher] - "Use a laser like this one, Bill, to sight and train your aiming and correct your aiming points." (Closer to the mark, for surely this will help Bill discover the source of the shots missed to the left.)
* [One of top players from the Southern Hemisphere] - "Don't drop your elbow during the stroke and shoot using the right bicep muscle." (Advice that works for some players who use a bicep/tricep movement to shoot, and it does limit and minimize certain errors that can arise for muscle/non-upper arm shooters, but well more than half of pro pool players drop their elbow before the cue ball is struck…)
* [Strong tournament player from the Northeast U.S.] "Don't think about wrist movement at all, Bill, as unconscious hand movement will help you defeat those missed shots." (Wrist movement could be the culprit or might not be the reason, however. Bill always thought it was his grip.)
* [A world titleholder in both 9-Ball and 10-Ball] - "Bill, you ought to 1) make mostly a forearm movement to shoot pool 2) complete your follow through 3) keep your head still." (Would you feel you had your money's worth for this advice, reader, or does it sound like something you're read in a dozen other places and heard from most every pool teacher? Although I like how quality teacher Dr. David Alciatore more correctly says "finish the stroke" and not "follow through". )
* [Famous player and pool teacher to the pros, and a former "Rookie of the Year" in pool] - "Bill, fix the problem by setting your hand down on the shot line first, then walk into the ball, and don't change your grip pressure through the stroke. Rest the cue mostly along your index finger, too." (I agree you ought to set your cue on the line first but you should never wrap your body around the cue held in place. This came close to that advice and one has to be careful. And resting along a finger at the cue's bottom will create too much of a pendulum movement, but the true pool stroke is not a pendulum but different as I've explained in a recent article.)
* [Former #1 European player] - "Set your fist on the cue ball line to begin." (Yes, I agree, the hole of your shooting hand between thumb and forefinger where the cue lies needs to get on the line first. But then what?)
* [An excellent and well-respected player who is also a pro-level billiards referee] - "Make a slow backstroke." (Worth a $100 pool lesson?)
* [Another top European player/former "Player of the Year"] - "Use your thumb and forefinger, Bill, on the cue and make a fist-like grip." (Need I say more?)
* [A top draw for fans on tour in the Southeast U.S. and a respected teaching pro] - "Make about 70% of your grip the forefinger, Bill, and 30% of the grip from the middle finger of your shooting hand." (Maybe that will help. Certainly, the fewer fingers and palm surface that touches the cue, the less that can go wrong. But go wrong it still did.)
In the second part of this article, I explain how I solved Bill's problems in minutes. Don't miss it.
The issue is, a lot of pool teachers are drifting "aimlessly" through the world of pocket billiards in my opinion.