What is the best way to practice pool?
First, as with mastery of any skill, repetition and challenging yourself at your limits are both important ingredients for successful practice:
You should strive for a combination of:
- having fun playing with friends.
- sparring or competing against better players.
- working on specific skills with drills.
- challenging yourself by trying to attain performance goals.
- watching and learning from top players playing against other top players.
When practicing alone, you can work on running racks of 9-ball, 10-ball, or 15-ball (rotation games), starting with ball in hand after the break. Any time you miss a shot or play poor position, repeat the shot over and over again until are happy with the results and confident you can do better the next time you face such a shot. Also practice safeties and follow-on reply shots, because these are critically important component of intelligent pool. Also practice your favorite game (e.g., 8-ball or straight pool) to continually work on and improve your pattern play.
Anytime you feel you are not doing very well during practice or after competing, always go back to checking your fundamentals. Make sure your stance, alignment, and stroke are sound and consistent. Also make sure no bad habits have popped up in your game (e.g., dropping the elbow before CB contact, not pausing before the final stroke, rushing the back swing, moving your head or body during a shot, steering the follow-through, etc.).
Drills can help you efficiently use practice time to develop specific skills that can help you improve your overall game the most. Structured practice working toward specific goals can be very effective. If you look at any top professional athlete in any sport, they pretty much all do drills, working hard on developing and improving specific skills. Pool players (especially pros or anybody serious about improving) should do the same. For more info, see why do drills and the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Practice (VEPP).
All practice sessions should be short enough to maintain focus during the entire session. If you feel yourself losing focus, or getting bored or sloppy, take a break and return later when you are ready to focus again (e.g., after a meal and some rest). Multiple short and focused practice sessions with clear goals throughout the day are more effective than a single long and unfocused session, where you might develop and reinforce bad habits (e.g., playing sloppy like it doesn’t matter, with no focus). That can do more harm than good.
Another good form of solo practice is challenging yourself to reach performance goals. This can help provide motivation, desire, and feelings of accomplishment. Here are some examples:
- Challenge yourself to get a PR run in straight-pool, or attempt any of the other personal challenges.
- Work on scored drills from the huge collection in the Video Encyclopedia of Pool Practice (VEPP), especially in the areas where you know or identify you are deficient. And track your scores over time to see how you improve.
- Challenge yourself to get a PR score on the Billiards University (BU) Playing-Ability Exams.
- Have fun with other rating drills.
For more info, see:
How long should I practice?
The best amount of time to dedicate to a practice session depends a lot on the individual. Basically, you should keep practicing only for as long as you can maintain focus and stay on task without frustration or poor performance. Some people can do this for only 30 minutes, but others can maintain quality practice for much longer (e.g., 4-6 hours). For some people several short sessions with breaks in between can be more effective than one long session.
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