If you have been following along, we have already worked on getting a proper billiards stance, proper pool cue grip, and creating a good hand bridge. In this article, we will focus on developing a consistent, repeatable, smooth billiards stroke.
The key to being a good pool player is being able to consistently reproduce a smooth and straight shot under any condition. This is incredibly similar to the sport of golf. Professional golf players spend years of practice, driving home a mechanical swing that they can consistently reproduce. The best pros have been able to build this stroke into their muscle memory and repeat it flawlessly even under the highest pressure. It doesn't come by accident. It takes skill, effort and persistence to get to the top level of the game.
Billiards is very similar in that a key to be able to play at a high level is the ability to hit a smooth, consistent stroke on the cue under high pressure situations. If you do not put the hard work in learning and practicing, you won't be able to focus solely on the shot at hand. Your mind will need to spend at least a certain amount of energy in executing the stroke. With skill, effort and persistence, you can build your stroke into your muscle memory and execute it consistently without the need to think. This is crucial to success.
What Makes a Smooth Billiards Stroke?
Before we get into the mechanics of your pool cue stroke, we should talk about the underlying physics that help to achieve a repeatable, consistent and smooth stroke.
First, and foremost, the stroke must come from a stable body position that is free from any obstruction or discomfort. This is the reason we discussed the basic stance earlier. You must be sure that your body is stable and that your cue movement is comfortable and free of any obstruction or discomfort. Even the slightest discomfort will cause your brain to continually focus on your action, and try to compensate for the discomfort. The result will be a stroke that is not repeatable under pressure.
Second, you must be sure that your action during the stroke takes as little muscle movement as possible. This is the tricky part. The more muscles you use to complete the shot, the more variability you will have in executing the shot over and over again. The best, most repeatable shot will come when your body movement is limited to just your forearm and hand. All other parts of your body should remain perfectly still. This is much easier said than done, and trips up many beginners.
Lastly, you need to develop a feel for the power of the stroke, in order to control the speed and direction of the ball in your shot. You may need a short, light stroke for one shot. On another shot, it may require a full, powerful stroke. Your muscle movement shouldn't change for either type of shot. You should just be changing the length and speed of your stroke while keeping all of the geometry the same.
Setting Up for the Stroke
Line up to your shot as we have discussed in our previous articles. Make sure you are on a balanced, open stance. You should have a good firm, but not tight grip. The cue should be supported with your bridge hand, and parallel to the table. In this position, your body should be solid and your forearm should be hanging straight down from your elbow, lined up with the shot.
If you imagine your forearm being a pendulum, it should be able to swing freely front and back from your elbow without any other movement in your body. If any other part of your body moves during the stroke, your cue tip will move sideways or vertically away from the ball.
You can practice this movement without your cue stick. Get in position and swing your forearm like a pendulum. Make sure your elbow does not move while you swing. Also, make sure you finish your stroke with your had at your chest. You should always try to end your stroke in the same position to promote a repeatable and smooth billiards stroke. This will be hard at first, your arm will want to move in may different directions.
Now, using your cue, practice the motion of your cue moving fully through the stroke. Make it slow and simple. Concentrate on keeping all of your muscles still, only using your forearm in a straight line. Follow through on the stroke, slowly, until your hand is at your chest. You should see the cue moving straight through the shot line and finishing at the table beyond the spot where the cue ball would be.
Practicing a Smooth Billiards Stroke
Once you are comfortable with the motion, place a cue ball down on the table. Get in your stance, get a grip, support the cue and line up for a shot. Line the cue up so that the tip is just behind the cue ball, in a position you would hit it. Now, slowing and smoothly draw your cue back through your backstroke and forward. Stop before hitting the ball.
This motion should be smooth, and the cue should stay along the shot line for the duration of your stroke. The pool cue should end up at the cue ball on center. It should not move from side to side at all. If your cue wavers and moves to one side, re-check your stance and stroke to see what is causing the additional movement. Sometimes, having a friend watch you can be beneficial in spotting any additional movement. Recording your shot on video is another great way to spot problems.
You should be able to execute this slow, smooth billiards stroke consistently. Your cue should approach the ball at the same spot, and same speed each time. Your elbow should remain still, with no movement. Keep working on it until it is smooth. It is well worth the time and effort.
Putting It All Together
Once you are comfortable stroking the cue smoothly to the cue ball without any additional movement, we can begin to strike the ball. Place the ball at one end of the table and line up a straight shot to the other end. Practice your new smooth billiards stroke through the cue ball, with just enough speed to get the ball back to the tip if the cue. We are not focusing on aiming at this point, that will come later. We are focusing on driving the cue straight through the shot.
If done correctly, you should have no problem bringing the cue ball smoothly back to the cue stick repeatedly. Once you get proficient on getting the cue ball to come straight back to the cue stick, start to mix it up a bit with having the cue ball end at different spots on the table. This will help you develop a feel for adjusting your stroke length and speed. Finish the cue ball on the far rail, draw the cue ball back to the near rail. Finish at your cue. In all cases, make sure the ball is coming straight back. If the ball moves sideways at all, check your basics and start over until you can consistently get it straight.
Practice Makes Perfect
Add these routines to your regular practice schedule to drive this motion into your muscle memory. Spend time simply stroking the ball straight every time you practice, checking your mechanics for any stray muscle movement. Don't be impatient, and don't cheat yourself. Practicing your billiards stroke for one minute and then lining up trick shots for 30 minutes will not improve your game if your stroke is not good. Take the time to build your basics, the rest will come naturally over time. Plus, it will be much easier to make those hard shots when your fundamental billiards stroke is smooth.