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Practice and Preparation. ~ Darren Appleton [Part 1 of 2]

My first article covered mainly fundamentals and basics, which are key. We will now cover how to practice and prepare for competition.

First off all, once you have your fundamentals down and are shooting balls into the pockets, the rest should be pretty basic. Cue ball control is key.

So. Practice and preparation for tournaments.

Always try to have a plan for your practice routine and fulfill those goals, otherwise you will get bored, lazy, careless, and pick up bad habits very quickly — which basically wasting your own time.

When I was younger (between eighteen and thirty) I used to practice a lot and play for hours on end, mainly with other players… basically you want competition and cheap action, which is good. When you’re young you’re hungry for action and play for hours, but half the of the time I found myself burning out.

And the opposition wasn’t strong enough, unless I played cheap sets and gave big handicaps. I used to like giving more weight than I should have, because that really pushed me to my Limits. When I didn’t give enough weight I didn’t play well, because it was too easy and I got lazy — again, picking up bad habits.

So, if playing an opponent, play someone better to push yourself. Or, if you are the better player, give weight and play cheap sets; it will push you, and if lose it’s no problem. You lose few dollars but at least you gave that session 100%, and rewards will come your way.

If practicing alone, give yourself a schedule. Mix it up each session. Again, keep it interesting. give yourself routines drills to complete.

Play 14.1, the ghost; 10-Ball, 9-Ball, 8-Ball. Practice your break for half hour a day, practice shots you feel are your weakness and make them your strength — but at the same time not neglect your strengths.

Practice makes perfect. If you put the right work in, you will get rewarded.

It’s also important to put pressure on yourself in practice, especially when playing the ghost. The good thing about playing the ghost is that you can make it as difficult as your skill level needs. For example, I usually only play 10-Ball and 15-Ball, and in my drills I do not stop until complete them all. Imagine yourself in pressure situations, like a big match, a world championship, or a league title match. It will make you believe more in yourself if you can achieve these goals in practice .

I would say that in the last five years I’ve really cut down on the number of hours of practice I put in, but I put more quality into my practice now rather than quantity.

Its really worked for me, and 90% of my practice now is done alone at home. In my opinion it’s very important to practice more alone, because you can work on things without being worried about missing shots. You can work on adjustments and improving much more, plus you stay at the table all the time and get a into good rhythm.

Also, work on different techniques to improve; I’ve adjusted a few times over the years, looking for perfection and that extra few percent. It keeps me motivated and hungry to improve.

I see too many players and amateurs just racking balls, trying to run out, and getting lazy. Thats not going to improve your game. There’s also many players these days buying too much into aiming systems.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been sucked in too, and some systems are OK for certain shots (especially if you’re struggling) but 90% should be all feel and muscle memory. If your fundamentals are good you don’t need any aiming system.

With solid fundamentals and a good eye for the ball, the rest will come naturally. Once you’ve played most shots thousands of times, you know where to aim. Aiming systems take the fun and skill out of the game in my opinion. Feel and vision are more important and more fun — all the best players play on feel and vision.

Key practise drills are mainly about cue ball control. I’ve said it a million times: if you control the cue ball and get the right angles on the balls to play shape, pool really is a easy game.

But this the heart of the game. If you don’t get good shape and leave yourself wrong angles, then it becomes a tough game, and this what amateurs suffer with the most.

You usually think three shots ahead in a rotation game, but if a ball is tied up work your plan to break that ball or play safe. Especially in 8-Ball. Don’t leave your bad ball until the end and put all your eggs in one basket, relying on luck. Work on percentages and giving yourself options.

Again, cue ball control should always be the focus with drills and any form of pool. I pride myself on cue ball control and keeping the game easy and less stressful. I also believe this will give you a longer career and help you become much more consistent.

Darren “Dynamite” Appleton, from Pontefract West Yorkshire England, was into sports from a young age. A 15 years old his cousin was a professional English 8-ball pool player, and that’s how Darren got started. He joined a pool league with his brother, and never looked back. He went to national level very quickly, and turned professional at 19. He was number one in the world for six years in English 8-ball won over 200 tournaments—including over 30 major titles. In 2008 he started playing the tournament circuit full time. He won the world 10-ball that year, and the doors started opening up. He’s won world four world championships in four different disciplines; “I’m the only guy in history to win the 10, 8, and 9 and 8-ball world championships.” He is a five time Mosconi Cup champion, two time Challenge of Champions winner, two time US Open champion, plus many more. He now lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Angie. Photo: Flickr/Greg Hirson Editor: Hannah Blue

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