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Better Missing. ~ Tom Simpson © October 2012—All Rights Reserved {}

Vast casino empires are built on a house advantage of a few percent.

In the long run, tiny advantages can compound into major gains. What if your ball pocketing came up a few percent? What if you missed just one ball fewer for every 15 minutes you’re at the table? How big a difference would that make? The difference can be enormous.

Often, the ball you miss is the one you shouldn’t have shot or the one that is the key to the rack. Not missing the key shot makes everything else easy. Shooting the wrong shot is a knowledge or fear issue. If you make that key shot or difficult shot a little more frequently, your winning percentage will go up. As things go better, you get more confidence. As you become more confident, you perform better. As you miss a few less balls, you’ll spend more time at the table. As you play better and spend more time at the table, your opponent’s confidence will erode.

The player in the chair often “gets cold” and his performance falls off. The idea here is that something as seemingly simple as missing a few less balls could make a big difference in our results and in how we feel about our game. Why do we miss, and how can we do it less?

Here are some of the primary culprits:

Shooting the “wrong” shot.

The shot was too low-percentage to attempt in the current game situation. Like golfers, reality eventually makes us wise up and play smarter. Golfers don’t swing for the pin every shot, and pool players don’t try to run out every time at the table. Believing you can, will prove disappointing and unproductive. When would now be a good time to start playing smarter? Play it safe when it’s time to play safe.

Inconsistent or flawed fundamentals.

To the extent you are not mechanically consistent and precise, your results will be erratic. As you advance as a player, it’s vital to become more and more stream-lined and effective in your pre-shot routines, setup, alignment, aiming, speed/spin control, and stroke delivery. Those players that are beating you are more fundamentally consistent or are more consistent under pressure than you. The more solid and reliable your fundamentals, the more you can trust and let your body do what it knows how to do, especially under pressure. This is an area where a good instructor and some video analysis can clearly identify and quickly correct simple flaws that may have held you back for years.

Judgment error.

We gradually refine our pool vision over time. With experi- ence, we get better at judging the angle we have to cut a ball, and better at recog- nizing when we’re “on it.” When you’re down on a shot and you’re feeling some doubt, your body is telling you something is wrong. Pay attention. Start over. Don’t shoot until you are as confident as you can be. A famous road player told me that when he was 14 and missed a shot gambling, the next day he would shoot it until he made it 100 times in a row. No more judgment error on that shot.

Perception error.

A surprising number of players have gotten pretty good de- spite the fact that they are not seeing the cueball accurately. Many players believe they are striking the vertical centerline of the cueball, because that’s what it looks like to their eyes/brain. If you are consistently seeing sidespin on the cueball (always on the same side) but it looked to you like you hit the vertical axis on the back of the ball, you probably have this problem. Your eyes are not in the right place relative to the shot line—for you. Come to pool school.

Not present.

Good pool takes everything we have—all of our attention. If we’re busy thinking about the score or the great shot we just made or that sticky spot on the shaft, we are not fully “in the shot.” High-level pool happens in the present moment. Present shot, only shot. Get over whatever has happened or will happen before you get down on your shot. Fill your mind with the shot at hand. Be fascinated.

Not caring.

Sometimes we miss a shot we should never miss simply because we didn’t take it seriously enough. We thought it was easy, or we just didn’t bother to bring our focus to bear. A big part of our challenge as players is to “bring it,” 100%, shot after shot, every time. Making that happen is also part of the reward. Every shot has to matter or the game will punish you.

Inadequate precision.

Better players do everything with more precision. It stands to reason that the most precise game in the world calls for high levels of precision.

The giant tip here is this: You can see more sharply, you can align your stick more perfectly, you can place your tip more precisely, you can fold your arm more fluidly, and so on. Once it occurs to you to notice your level of precision and improve it on purpose, you will begin to find tweaks that help.

We learn to walk, and because we don’t fall down, we as- sume we walk beautifully. Just like beautiful pool, it’s not likely without training and conscious practice. There is always more fluidity, more precision, more simplicity awaiting your discovery. Better missing is when our misses are not so embarrassing, or aren’t embarrassing so often. Take a vow to do something about your easiest errors to avoid.

Miss a little less. Feel a little better.

Photo: Christine Webster/Flickr

Editor: Dana Gornall

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