Five Practice Mistakes Pool Players Make

If you want to become the best pool player possible, it goes without saying that you need to practice effectively so that you increase your “offensive and defensive skills” which will lead to more consistency and better match play. Unfortunately, very few pool players do this successfully, which means they remain stuck at their current skill level while wasting time in the process. In fact, national league statistics show very few players have improved significantly over the past 10 years.

This is difficult to comprehend when you think about how much playing equipment and instructional material has evolved over the years. The reason, I believe, is because pool players go about improving their game inefficiently, repeatedly making these 5 Practice mistakes over and over again:

Practice Mistake 1: Thinking that constant repetition leads to big performance increases

The first practice mistake is thinking that practicing the same shot over again will “fix” your game. Research shows that repetition is not as effective as variability. Banging balls doesn’t challenge the brain enough to cause it to do anything differently and has limited effect in changing motor patterns. It’s not about training the muscles (muscles have no “memory”), rather it’s challenging and training the brain, which creates the changes in movement. Research suggests that shooting 20 balls in 20 minutes (a different shot with each ball) makes practice more “deliberate” and allows the pool player more time to plan and review each shot.

Practice Mistake 2: Lots of well struck balls during practice is a sign of improvement

Although a player may start hitting the balls better with repetition, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are improving or making permanent stroke changes. What’s most likely happening is the execution of their shots is benefiting from repetition – they get a sense of the timing required when the tip makes impact with the cue ball and they also make slight subconscious adjustments (based on sensory feedback). They are using their short-term memory, which they don’t have the benefit of during an actual match. But because they are getting the outcome they want to see, they keep going with it over and over again, thinking that repeating the action will make it stick. Unfortunately, very little change in skill is occurring. This is the very reason that I get asked the question: “Why can’t I take my practice game to the pool tournament?” Hitting shots well during practice is fairly easy for any level of player with enough repetition, but when that pool player has to hit varied shots every few minutes, their real skills are exposed and the stroke they had during practice is nowhere to be found.

Practice Mistake 3: Practice should be fun

There’s an appeal to the ego when you run several balls during practice, which can explain why you might want to continue doing it. If enjoying your time spent is your goal, then that’s great, but if developing your skills and playing better is the goal then you might need to rethink your approach. Practice needs to be harder than the game to make positive changes in your play. Don’t just bang balls around. Be structured and monitor your progress. Setting both short and long term goals is essential.

Practice Mistake 4: Mechanics are the same as performance skills

The average pool player practices to improve their mechanics. I’ve worked with enough players over the past 10 years to know this is true, even at the highest levels. Even though the focus needed to make real change in the stroke diminishes with each repetition, the player is usually focusing on their stance or a feeling during each repetition. Without knowing it, the pool player is training their attention in a way that is not how they would want to focus during a match. On the pool table, it’s not about making stroke after stroke, focusing on technique – it’s about solving a unique problem each shot and letting the player’s intention for the shot create the stroke. Unless we train ourselves (in practice) to prepare for each new challenge, we are not developing the performance skills needed to play better during a match.

Practice Mistake 5: Practice and playing are two different things

Most pool players see their practice time as something unrelated to match play. There’s no overlap, or similarity of conditions, between the two environments. To make real change in skills (both mechanical and mental) requires simulation and training of the external and internal variability that we feel during a match, due to having different shots and consequences for each shot’s outcome. If you are making any of these 5 Practice Mistakes and you’d like to learn how to practice more effectively, I would love to work with you enroll in my online class at Virtual Billiard Academy. Or feel free contact your local billiards instructor for additional guidance. Always remember, “practice” doesn’t make perfect…“perfect practice” does!