(FAQ) What is a pre-shot routine?

(About the Author)

Every player uses some kind of pre-shot routine for every shot. For some players, it is as short as a glance at the table, a bend down for the shot, a practice stroke (or two), and a strong forward thrust into the cue ball - no thought, no attention to detail.

The pre-shot routine means exactly that - all of the little activities, thoughts, decisions, and setups you do that starts with bending over the table with cue stick in position all the way through the final forward movement of your cue stick to connect the cue tip with the cue ball. When you perform these steps properly, you get consistently good shooting results. When you skip any of the individual actions, or if you are not attentive, the results are something that are not worth remembering - poor results, followed by the short trip back to your chair.

You want most of the elements of the pre-shot routine to be part of a semi-automatic checklist. A perfect example is using a hammer and nail. When first learning, a lot of little actions are consciously done, one after the other. The consequences of not doing so are painful. After a few thousand nails, most of these become routine. Careful attention is paid to the important parts of the routine.

The more experienced players have their routines so automated that absolutely no thought goes into the actual setup for the shot. The only thoughts that do cross their mind are related to the tactical considerations.

A thinking player compares the results of his shot to his intentions. Any variation between actuality and the plan are mentally reviewed. Mental modifications are done to ensure the next opportunity matches his intentions.

Too much thought about all the muscles involved leads to brain overload. Consciously thinking through all of the necessary adjustments turns a 10 second shot into two minutes. Some people cannot let the back brain take over common actions.

When you first start including a pre-shot routine into your playing habits, a basic checklist helps:

  1. Once you have made the choice of which ball to shoot and where it will go, place the stick on top of the aiming line. This is the line from the cue ball to the part of the object ball that will make the object ball go into the pocket.
  2. Step forward and bend down into your shooting position. Ideally, if you look straight down over your stance, the bridge hand, front foot, and back foot look like a triangle, with the stick forming the baseline.
  3. Check to verify that the cue stick is on the aiming line.
  4. Do the practice strokes while imagining the correct speed to hit the cue ball.
  5. When you commit (execute) the shot, stroke the cue stick through the cue ball. This is the follow-through.
  6. Stay down on the table and observe the results. Compare the reality of the ball actions to your intentions. If all goes as planned, it’s good. If not, figure out why and make the necessary adjustments in future similar shots.

Eventually, over thousands of shots, this routine becomes, well, routine. You make the shot decisions and the next time you notice anything, you are either considering the next shot or heading to your chair. And this is the way it should be.

However, when your game is not following the expected routine and you become aware that something is slightly off, you have to go back to your fundamentals. The pre-shot routine is generally the first to be re-examined. Follow the above process, step by step, with full attention to your movements.

Try to identify what you unconsciously changed. It could be that you stopped putting the stick onto the aiming line, or you shuffle your feet into position instead of stepping forward into position. You could even have eliminated the imaging of your stroke before committing yourself to the shot. Whatever it was, firmly put it back into your routine. This will get your game back on track.

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