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The Importance of the Fundamentals in Pool

Updated: Jan 7

I want you to think of someone you know who, no matter how much practice, their game never improves. Despite practicing multiple days a week for years, they never reach the higher level of play they desire. Can you imagine this player? Can you name a player that you know? Are you that player?


I was that player at one time. My game remained stagnant for years. It didn’t matter how much I practiced because I wasn’t practicing the right things or the right way. Eventually, I walked into a pool hall run by Kim Ga-Young, former World 9-Ball Champion, and saw all of her pupils shooting dead straight shots for hours at a time. Why would professional-level players spend so much time focusing on such a simple shot?

Consistency is Key

Pool is all about consistency, and that consistency comes from solid fundamentals. The ability to deliver the cue accurately and consistently to the intended location on the cue ball at the intended velocity separates great players from your average league player. Even a wealth of knowledge on position play and aiming systems will prove fruitless if you cannot execute the shot you know you need to shoot.

“You can practice shooting eight hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way. Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.” - Michael Jordan

Stability

A great way to test stability and consistency in your stroke is to try to hold the tip of your cue perfectly still at the center of the cue ball. At the lower-amateur level, you typically see noticeable movement of the tip of the cue. If you find this difficult to do, then you have a good amount of work to do, but that is okay because now you at least have identified a very fixable problem. 

Consistency

The next step is to try to strike the cue ball's center and see where the tip actually strikes the cue ball on a regular shot. To do this, over-chalk your cue, and a mark will be left where you struck it. As a player’s skill level increases, so does the grouping of their hits on the cue ball. Knowledge plays a role in separating good players from bad ones, but shot grouping is what differentiates the good players from the great. Focus on improving this single skill, and your game will skyrocket.

Minimize Moving Parts

Players should strive for a technique that minimizes the number of variables they need to control. While it's possible to train yourself to compensate for elbow drop and still strike the cue ball accurately, it isn't necessary. The fewer variables you have to control, the less you have to master, and the quicker you can improve. High-level play is achievable through the mastery of one simple motion with sound fundamentals. 


While it is possible to achieve a high level of play with less-than-ideal fundamentals, you are starting yourself out with a handicap, forcing yourself to master additional unnecessary movements, and there isn't even a guarantee that the level of play you wish to reach is possible with the handicaps that you are placing on yourself.


Imagine a player who decided they would only ever play pool one-handed. They could reach a level of play where they could beat the average bar player, maybe even your average league player, with enough practice. There is no way they could reach the world-class professional level. Similarly, a player with unnecessary movement and bad technique unknowingly places handicaps on their game.


Is it technique, not practice, that is holding back your improvement?

The Problem with Bad Fundamentals

When playing with inconsistent fundamentals, it becomes challenging to identify and fix the flaws in your game. Let’s say you miss a ball that you were supposed to make. It wasn’t a difficult shot, but it also wasn’t a freebie. Now, you face the issue of identifying what caused you to miss the ball. Was it your aim, bridge, stance, stroke, loss of focus, or a combination? With consistent fundamentals, you can set this shot back up, and if you miss it consistently, you know it's a problem with your aim. Make minor adjustments to your aim, and now you can make this shot consistently.


With poor fundamentals, your game is very inconsistent; you might miss the shot to the left, then the right, and then make the ball. Is the problem fixed now that you made the ball once? You don’t know, so you shoot the shot several more times. You make the ball again, miss to the left, and then miss even further to the left. The kicker is that even when you made the ball, you can’t even be sure you aimed correctly. It’s plausible that you aimed wrong, shot with a bad stroke, and managed to fluke the ball into the pocket. You’ll never figure out if it's your aim or stroke, considerably slowing down your advancement.

What About Bustie?

Some players may bring up the likes of Francisco Bustamante. "Bustie" is an excellent example of a player who plays at the highest level with the kind of technique that most instructors would frown upon. He sets up with the tip of his cue aimed much lower than where he plans to strike the cue ball. In the final stroke, he times his elbow to drop, bringing the cue's tip up to precisely where he wanted to hit the cue ball. These are all unnecessary movements that make precision tip delivery more difficult. 


The difference is that Bustamante has had tens of thousands of hours practicing and mastering those extra movements, making them an integral part of his stroke. The average amateur doesn't have countless hours to dedicate to the game to master unnecessary movements in a fundamentally unsound stroke. They are unlikely to achieve a high level of play, let alone attain the accolades Bustamante has secured over his very successful career. Even if you are willing to dedicate as much time at the table as Bustamante has, you could reach that level much faster with sound fundamentals.

Conclusion

Your fundamentals will determine your skill level in this game. Cue ball control and shot-making come naturally after you have a consistent stroke. Dedicated time to improving your fundamentals will pay the most significant dividends toward increasing your skill level. Still, you must first learn what good fundamentals are and what the accepted best practices are. As you make your way through these lessons on the fundamentals, keep in mind the idea of minimizing moving parts and delivering the cue accurately and consistently.

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