I typically play twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3 - 5 hours each night. Most weeks I try to sneak an extra hour or two at lunch on Friday's at a local pool hall that opens at 11am. For the last month or so, I've revved up my practice a bit, trying to add another 4 - 6 hours per week, which isn't much but definitely an improvement. I've been trying to finalize my experimentation with SEE and Pro1 and building up my confidence so I can start getting back into tournaments again. My practice has been a little scattered and felt a little rushed at times, but something was better than nothing.
Just when I thought I had it almost figured out, I heard the same advice from 4 different sources over the last week, all independently of each other. Not to name drop, but two of these sources were Thorsten Hohmann and Mika Immonen, definitely two guys to listen to! Thorsten lives here in Jacksonville, and I run into him from time to time, and Mika was here for a clinic and I met up with him for lunch and a private lesson. The other sources were a local shortstop level player, Butch, and my new Masters league partners Neal and Andy, both solid players as well.
What was this great advice? To summarize hours of conversations, one glaring thing stood out - I was shooting the balls too hard. Somehow in all of my experimentation with aiming systems, and in an effort to "prove" to myself that the systems were working, I lost sight of my feel for the shots and had developed a pretty punchy stroke on most shots. I guess I was forcing the ball in the pockets, determined not to worry about the tight equipment I typically play on, I had an awesome aiming system, right?
Actually, what I was doing was making an already difficult game even harder! I was basically demanding perfection from myself, and at the speed I was shooting I needed it for the ball to drop. Any slight glance off the rail and the ball wouldn't go in. Just for perspective, I wasn't slamming balls in at break speed, just punching them more than necessary, maybe 20% - 30% harder, and on shots that didn't require any sort of punch or force stroke. To paraphrase Thorsten, shoot as soft as you can but as hard as you need to.
So I got back to basics, and started working on smooth draw and follow shots, probably 50 or 60 of them, until I was getting the same action with 30% less power. Once I had smoothed things out a bit, I started setting up cut shots to recalibrate my speed control, and watched and heard the difference as I stroked the ball into the pocket instead of slamming it in. And guess what? Balls were rubbing the rail occasionally, but now they were dropping instead of rattling, thanks to the slower speed and the nice natural forward roll on the object ball.
I need to continue the recalibration process over the next few weeks and continue building confidence with the new speed. I also need to not forget to stroke the ball harder when necessary for position etc. I'm working on a few other basics suggested by the various sources - slowing down my backswing a bit, slight change in my grip, concentrating more on my shots - so my other system work will have to wait a bit. But I'm starting to feel everything coming together, hopefully over the next few months I'll have some positive results to share.
Don't make my mistake - when working on something new, don't lose sight of your natural rhythm and shot speed. And pay attention to the world around you, it might just be trying to tell you something...