(FAQ) How do you fix a bad shooting habit?

(About the Author)

The term “bad shooting habits” takes in a lot of territory. It could fall into one of the body, i.e., feet position, butt (yours) position, head position, arm & elbow, etc. It could be due to your cue handling, i.e., bridge hand position/length, butt (cue) grip, etc. It could be a shortcoming in your stroke, such as jerky movement, follow-through failure, speed control, or unintended cue ball spin. Or, it might be a problem based on your mental abilities, such as layout analysis, shot selection, unwanted consequences, etc.

The painful truth about bad habits is that you have allowed tens of thousands incorrect experiences to be buried in your muscle memory. This means that you can’t seem to get past a certain plateau of capability. Your lifelong intention to becoming the tough player you want to be is severely restricted.

Most players really have five or more activities that require necessary fixes – some which a qualified instructor and videotaping is needed to identify. However, it is good that you are aware enough of your playing activities that do recognize a couple bad habits to be fixed.

If changing a physical habit (i.e., feet too close together when getting down on the shot), you can use the “force of mind” approach. This requires your personal attention on making sure that your feet are properly placed BEFORE you get down on the shot. On every shot, concentrate on NOT automatically getting into the shooting position, but first intentionally put your feet down first – and then get the body to do the rest.

This brute force approach actually takes the fun out of playing pool. Most of the time, you are physically directing and forcing your body to do stuff it is not used to doing. That leaves less time to play and enjoy the game.

There is a trick to changing something like a bad foot stance. Instead of using your old way of getting down into a shot, use a completely different way to get down on the shot. For example, here is another way to entirely bypass the problem. Stand behind the stick as you lay it onto the aiming line. Holding the stick in your stick hand, move your body around the stick into a position to get down on the shot. Totally ignores your previous setup for the shot – and forces you into an improve position for the shot. Basically, replace the entire old routine with a complete new routine.

Most people find the process of fixing a bad shooting habit to be painful. They may have enough self-discipline to closely monitor and keep the new adjustment in place for varying lengths of time (even a few days is a major victory), which does not have any lasting results.

If you are really serious about getting past these problems, a plan and a program is needed. Rule number one: don’t try to fix everything you want at one time. Identify only the single habit at a time. Write down a plan that involves a set number of conscious repetitions per day (i.e., 50) for six months. This adds some reality to the correction process with an end in sight.

NOTE: Some physical corrections (i.e., stroke follow-through, chicken wing, feet positioning, getting down on the stroke) do not require a pool table. The same actions can be done on a kitchen or dining table. If you need a ball, use an orange or a tennis ball with an upturned shoe box as a backstop.

This takes the goal of fixing a habit out of the “wish” part of your life and into the reality of daily activities. Be prepared for a short term degradation of your game. Above all, be patient. You can’t get around the fact that the repetition is necessary. But eventually, as muscle memory builds up enough correct actions, the effort becomes less and less intrusive into your competitive game situations. The wrong way will fade away into your history.

There is one fast (well, kind of) way to overcome a single bad shooting habit. This uses the mental approach. Sit in your easy chair without distractions (no head phones, TV, radio, etc.) and relative silence. With eyes closed, mentally go through the movements of your current habit. Then make a new script of the correct movement. Break it down into little one inch movements. In very slow motion, play the inch movements, mentally recognizing each increment.

This is like watching a very slow motion video, frame by frame, and using the advance button every several seconds. At about 10% of normal speed (or as slow as you are capable), complete one stroke. Pay attention to every portion of your upper body. Repeat the stroke 10 times. Make it smooth with no stops and starts or jerky movements. You may have to do this a couple times a day over a couple weeks. Eventually, the slow action will feel "natural".

Then perform the same process 25% speed. This will take less time to dial in that "natural" action. Repeat this at 50% speed. Finally, do about a 100 strokes, with eyes closed,  at normal speed, feeling your muscles and the movement of the stick through your bridge hand.

When you have put the effort in to fix one bad habit, it's a lot easier to fix the next.

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