I have a problem. When something is wrong, I try to fix it. When nothing is wrong, I try to fix it. When I'm not sure anything is wrong, I get anxious. When I get anxious, everything goes wrong, and I try to fix it! Of course, there is nothing wrong with fixing things, if the right things are being fixed. I often find myself trying all kinds of tricks to improve my aim in pool, when it isn't my aim that needs improving. The result is damage to other parts of my game that should have been left alone. This kind of "meddling" improves nothing, and creates inconsistencies that we think need fixing. It is a vicious circle, and I want off!
I am pathologically inconsistent, running hot and cold by nature. Pat takes my temperature with a meat thermometer. I make decisions when there is only one choice, and still make the wrong ones. The great Yogi Berra is credited with having said, "When you reach a fork in the road, take it." Yogi was my kind of man.
What has all this to do with pool, you might ask? Everything! I am referring to consistency: more specifically, consistency in aiming. Consistency is what separates the boys from the men. Anybody can have a great game. The pros have a lot of them, because they are consistent. Every pro player will probably agree that practice and consistency are the number one and two requirements for success. Consistency in aiming is the most critical of all.
The most frequent, and probably the best advice given with regard to aiming, is to imagine a line drawn from the middle of the intended pocket, through the center of the object ball. Where the line exits the object ball is the point of contact for the cue ball. It sounds easy enough, but what most beginners have trouble understanding, is that there is also a point of contact on the cue ball that must match up correctly with that of the object ball. While the contact point is always visible on the object ball from your aiming position, the cue ball contact point is never visible when you are aiming down the stick correctly. Examine the illustration below, and notice that contact point (A) on the one ball is where the line to the pocket exits. However, the contact point for the cue ball (B) is on the blind side of the ball, and the point must be judged by the shooter.
When shooting, try to imagine a path (black arrow) between the cue ball and the object ball. If the shot is made correctly, the cue ball and object ball will both be in line with the pocket at the moment of contact....ALWAYS! When you are aiming, your perspective down the stick will be different than that shown in the illustration, because your head should be lower. The overhead illustration at the top of the page also shows how the object ball and cue ball are on the same line to the pocket at the moment of contact. Sorry folks. There is no magical secret to aiming. Everybody is confused at first, so don't give up. You will doubt my advice when you first start trying, but when you finally catch on you will never forget.
Now, I just gotta make an observation here that I believe is important if you are a student of pool, or anything else. So please don't skip it.
A couple of years ago, when I was teaching Pat, I told her that the impact of what I was explaining would not hit her until much later. Every now and then, when later arrived, she would turn with a big smile and exclaim, "I know what you were talking about now. I see it!"" She glowed! I have always enjoyed watching the light go on when a student finally "discovers" the meaning behind an instruction. The discouraging thing about teaching is the delay between the instruction and the enlightenment, because too many students give up before their light comes on. Everyone has a light inside covered by doubt, apprehension, and even anxiety. It is the brightest light known to man. The switch is faith in your own value as a human being. While this may sound all too philosophical for something so menial as pool, it nonetheless applies equally to kings and pool players. If you can't learn from my advice, find another teacher. But don't give up too soon.
Knowing contact points is obviously important. What is tragic, is that too many players are taught by those who do not insist on correct shooting posture, and good posture is critical to effective aiming. The major purpose of body position is to assure that our dominate (aiming) eye is properly aligned for the shot.
We aim with our dominant eye. The dominant eye is the one that focuses on specific points. The other eye gathers information to help us determine distance, and the relationship of objects surrounding our point of focus. The third eye is in our mind, and is a composite of the images provided by the other two. In reality, it is the "mind's eye" that is actually used for aiming, and we must learn to trust it. Yep. A lot is going on in our tiny brain when we are shooting, but it is all automatic, and it isn't necessary to think about any of it. Just be sure to place your dominant eye in the right place, and the brain does the rest automatically. (My brain smokes a little.)
The reason many people get confused when aiming, is because they have not practiced shooting enough to accept all of the information being sent to their brain. It is not unusual to see beginners close the non-aiming eye to reduce information clutter. While this may help in focusing on a specific contact point on the object ball, it closes out critical third dimension information. If you close one eye to aim, do not let it become a habit, or only close it briefly, and definitely not when stroking. It is far better to learn to use both eyes. Regular practice will help your brain diagnose your purpose.
Everybody has a unique perspective above the cue stick, because we are all physically constructed differently. As a general rule, women and younger shooters can bend lower over the table than older people. But our unique physical shape has little to do with proper aiming. Compare Steve Mizerak's stance to Johnny Archer's. Mizerak, being heavier and older, stands more erect than Archer, but it doesn't seem to influence his aim to any great degree. He has the same visual perspective with the object ball, and the path of the cue ball, every time.
Take a minute to look at the pictures on the Pro Players page. Notice how Archer, Reyes, Bustamante and Reed position their chin only inches above their stick. This is the ideal head position. I taught Pat to assume this same position, and she has become a player to be feared. But everyone can't touch their spine with the back of their head without swallowing their Adam's apple. If I tried to bend that far over, it would take major surgery to put my head straight again...if I regained consciousness.
In closing, remember, it doesn't matter if you know where to strike the object ball if your shooting posture does not place your dominant (aiming) eye in a direct line with the intended path of the cue ball. Develop a good shooting posture now, and don't monkey with it. Your ability to deliver the cue ball to the correct point on the object ball will improve with practice, and only with practice. So don't waste time looking for a cheap way out.
I hope these articles are helpful. However, they are no replacement for personal instruction by an advanced player who can spot your weaknesses and show you how to correct them. It is very difficult to describe critical shooting dynamics with text. My articles are designed more to inspire questions than to provide answers. Furthermore, I don't claim to be an expert. I just love the game, and can't resist sharing the things I love (with the exception of Pat. She's all mine.)
Happy Shooting! Jim & Pat