I remember a long, long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, I was just a short, 12-year old kid who started hanging out at a local pool room trying to learn how to play pool. Like most beginners, anybody who could run more than 5 balls was practically a world class player to me. Well, having that natural, childlike trait of dreaming to be a world champion pool player, I wanted to learn all I could from those local heroes. But, for some reason few, if any, tried to help. And even though I begged, and even tried to pay with hard currency, I didn't receive much advice; except for the one thing they all alluded to practice!
One player I remember, who stood behind the practice theory, was once a victim to my relentless bribery. But no matter how I tried to squeeze the secrets of pool from his tight lips, nothing would slip out except for the words, "Practice, practice practice." That was it? Nooo way. I wasn't going to settle for that. It was too simple. But for two years that is all he would allow to slip out. He was right.
Well, it's been a long eight years later, and I'm still short. But his haunting words, "practice, practice, practice", still linger in my thoughts. Til' this day, that was the strongest advice I have ever received. Yeah, I know you've heard it a thousand times too, but have you really taken it to heart. Those who do improve the fastest and rise to the top. Many players complain when their game becomes stagnant, but don't do anything about it but talk. They should stop complaining and practice.
There are two things that a player must do to improve his or her game: practice and compete. The purpose of practice is to learn and gain knowledge, attain perfection in form and technique, and gain confidence in shot making. Competition is necessary to provide pressure, for one needs to know how pressure affects physical abilities. Competition (pressure) usually comes in two forms for most people: tournaments or "matching up" (gambling.) I advise most players to stick to tournaments since gambling can have negative effects on people, such as injury, bankruptcy, and worse... death.
Now the idea of getting the best out of practice is to practice shots you tend to miss in competition. When you have balls hanging in the jaws of the pocket and the cue ball lies 5 inches away, there is little doubt in your mind that you will make the shot, and your confidence level is high. Under these conditions, the chances that you will have good form and technique increases as well. But what if your worst shot is cutting a ball down the rail when it is frozen, you are faced with the shot during a tournament, and it's a wire game. The odds are you will feel very uneasy, your confidence will drop, your form and technique will falter, and you will probably miss the shot. When this happens, it is time to memorize the the shot, and during your practice session shoot the same shot fifty, a hundred or as many times as it takes to perfect the shot and add it to your arsenal. I personally practice a difficult shot until I can make it 100 times in a row. Well okay, ten or twenty. But it sure feels like a hundred.
I have been giving formal pool lessons to local players for the past three years. The number one thing I emphasis is practice. When the students who don't improve come back for another lesson, the number one reason for not improving is that they did not practice, or at least as much as I recommended.
Players need to understand that it is crucial to spend time on the table. It doesn't matter if Efren Reyes instructed you, if you don't practice what is preached you will not be able to execute the shots. When you take a lesson, your mind learns. When you practice, your body learns. Just like you train the mind, you must train the body. If I read a dozen books on golf, watched ten videos, and got Jack Nicklaus to give me a lesson, but still didn't practice what was taught, I would play golf as well as I do now. Horribly!
It is easier for me to help somebody who practices what is taught the first time, than it is those who return for a second lesson unprepared, and we are back to square one. When a player returns for a second lesson and can not execute any of the shots offered during the first, it tells me one or all of the following: 1) They are not practicing enough. 2) They hope I will reveal some sort of ancient secret from pool playing monks of the Shaolin Temple that will give them the ultimate pool stroke. 3) They are lazy.
Between the beginning and intermediate stages of my game, I was practicing 8 to 12 hours per day (and I was in school.) Now my game takes far less practice to keep my level of play where it is. But, in order to go beyond my current level, I need to practice a minimum of 3 hours, but try to sustain 6 hours routinely. Of course some players improve faster than others since the "talent" factor comes into the picture. Some people need to practice 2 hours a day just to stay in stroke. Johnny Archer told me he could lay off without touching a cue for a month, practice one day before a major pro event, and win the tournament. But, are you Johnny?
Many people believe I have a lot of talent, and it would be nice if it were true. But my experience with talented people is that many are lazy and unwilling to work hard to nourish their talent. Those who are without talent and have to work harder and practice longer know what it takes to accomplish a goal. I will always put my faith in the dedicated, hard working versus the talented players. But, the talented player who is also willing to work hard, can be a great player (Michael Jordan for example. Go Bulls.)
If all you did was compete, would you improve? Yes. If all you did was practice, would you improve? Again, yes. But imagine what can happen if you do both. Your game will improve a whole heckuva-lot faster! Practicing shows how you can play. Competition shows how you do play. Doing both routinely will do wonders for your game.
Think about all of the great players like Reyes, Strickland, Wiley, Archer, Varner, and the list goes on. They didn't get there by accident. They put a lot of table time under their belts to get where they are. Do you believe you have a better way? I don't thinks so. So, I guess you'd better head for the pool table and practice that shot you missed last night. Good luck.