Whether it’s played on dusty bar tables crowned with pints or in a silk-gloved hall before the eyes of thousands, pool is a game of focus. It takes skill, dedication and a practised hand to become one of the best of the best – but, like in any competitive sport, only a few select champions can take home the prize at the end of the day. From the physical to the mental, from step by step strategy to specific shots played on repeat, let’s break down the training process of the pros and work out exactly how it’s done.
1. The Mental – Keep it Zen
Angles, power, bounce and roll; dozens of calculations and predictions must be made before each shot in a game of high-level pool. A player needs to keep up momentum, to work out how scoring once can lead to scoring twice over. It’s not unlike chess or poker in its intensity. So, how do the pros cope? Some put it down to a sequenced process, a regimen that focuses the brain on a pattern throughout each game: observe, plan, confirm, resolve, calculate and visualise. A six-step process that stops a player getting overwhelmed in the heat of the moment.
Observe is the time you take to examine the lay of the table and the problems and opportunities it presents. Plan chooses between offence or defence, and the moves to follow it. Do you want to maximise your chances of winning or minimise your opponents? Then, confirm – select your shot and confirm that its possible; resolve to shoot to the best of your ability, and calculate the variables necessary. Finally, visualise. Visualise yourself potting the ball; visualise your success.
Visualisation is perhaps the most important of these six steps. It establishes confidence, tells your brain exactly what to do and how to do it, and there are plenty of ways to train such a skill. Take the Pool Nation video game for example – available on Steam for both Mac and PC, players can customise shots, practice at will and virtually recreate specific situations. In fact, there are multiple video games out there that can turn a veritable pool shrimp into a great pool shark in no time, from Habanero’s popular Pool Shark slot to console titles like Pure Pool on the PlayStation 4. Pros can and do utilise these tools, and they shouldn’t be underestimated. You can learn a lot from grinding out games on the green but only up to a point. Eventually, strategy, planning and practice via programs like these are just as, if not more, useful in certain situations.
2. Let’s Get Physical
Aim. Perhaps the most important physical aspect of a game of pool, a player’s skill with a chalked cue is what decides whether they’re up to snuff for victory or down and out with a loss. It’s all well and good being able to plan and visualise plays, but executing on them is what really matters in a serious competition. In order to do that, pro pool players train and learn with a variety of methods.
Ever heard of Parallel Aiming? Used by greats such as Greenleaf and Varner, it adds imaginary parallel lines to the contact points of the balls on the table; these lines connect from target to the centre of the cue ball, creating a track down which to shoot. How about what Matt Sherman calls ‘Pro Secret Aim’? Or the Pivot Aiming Method? Each of these is similar and yet unique, suited to different attitudes and player talents. Basically, what it comes down to is having a regimen in the first place. The mental and physical are intensely connected, and you can’t always rely on instinct alone. A pro stays calm, focused and lets their shots do the talking.
The shots themselves? They’re trained, learned and pressed into muscle memory after hours and hours of training. If you have talent, you can use the above methods to turn it into a profession. Plenty of pros have in the past, and plenty more will in the future.
3. On Maintaining Balance
Being pro comes with its perks, of course, but it’s certainly no easy ride – an athlete or high-level competitor of any sport can tell you that. It takes an enormous amount of effort and time to get to the top in the first place and maintaining your skills means playing practically every day without pause. You have to love the game – and, even if you do, it can still take its toll. There’s plenty to be done to offset that burden, however.
Dedication doesn’t mean slave labour. While pool isn’t the most physically taxing hobby or profession, you’re still bending, leaning and using the body actively. Little things like stretching, ensuring proper form and taking care of the joints is incredibly valuable in the long run. Careers can last decades but bodies are infinitely more fragile. Pros take breaks; pros get plenty of rest; pros are careful with their tools. It’s worth mentioning diet here too – an efficient and controlled body is a lean, well-oiled one. Thinking of taking your pool to the next level? Go for it, but, remember, your performance is based on numerous factors, not just one.
So, pool is mental; pool is physical; pool is psychological, and pros have to maintain their health and professionalism under the strain of all three.