This article is the first of four devoted to the stroke and the various techniques and training aids available for correcting flaws in it. As most of you know, the stroke is the essence of every shot and the heart of every player’s game. You simply can’t play at a high level unless you have a good, consistent, and dependable stroke. If it’s consistently straight, well…that’s even better.
At some point in every shot you have to confirm that the stroke you intend to take is straight; that it stays on the vertical axis and doesn’t wander to the left or right. It makes no sense to refine your aim and cue ball address if your stroke is wandering all over the place. If you’re building your game on top of a flawed stroke plane, you’re going to get frustrated a lot. Your cue stick should be straight and so should your stroke.
If you have a straight stroke you can learn to play quite well even if it isn’t always level. By level I’m referring to the absence of up and down movement. If you have a pump action stroke and keep it consistent you can still count on it, but it’s not as effective and controllable as a level stroke. In a level stroke the stroke stays consistent with a horizontal plane all the way through the forward swing and the follow-through, dipping downward only as a result of the pendulum action of the stroking arm.
The final execution stroke is the only one that really matters, but it’s easier to prepare for a level final stroke if you establish it during your practice strokes. Many players have emulated Efren Reyes’ circular stroke preparation and rightly so. It’s beautiful to watch and very effective. Fewer players, however, have noticed that the up and down, around and round motion is only there in the beginning. Efren’s final stroke is as level possible.
An effective way to train for a straight and level stroke is to watch the ferrule as you deliver your practice strokes. Slow your stroke down and keep your eyes on the ferrule as it moves back and forth. Watch it as it moves through space, looking close to see if the tip is coming up or down. Try to keep it level with the bed of the table and imagine retaining this plane throughout your intended final stroke. Then go ahead and shoot.
Doing this can alter the way you aim, so don’t do it for long periods of time or during competition. If you are struggling in a match, however, and didn’t get the draw you expected on a specific shot, you may have picked up a hitch in your stroke. Watch the ferrule on the next shot and make the correction.
Another good technique for training a straight and level stroke is to pay attention to the butt of the cue as you prepare for a shot. Normally a player’s focus is on the front half of the cue stick and the attention given to the back end is limited to moving the grip for balance. On most shots this happens instinctively without any real conscious attention.
With this training technique, keep your attention on the part of the butt that sits in your hand as you stroke the shot. Watch the front of the cue, but focus most of your attention on an area of the cue that is six to eight inches long and has your gripping hand right in the middle. Try to feel this part of the cue as you do your practice strokes and imagine keeping it parallel to the slate. Anticipate the final stroke and sense this area going through space on a level plane. Don’t overdo this technique in practice, though. Try a few ten minute sessions, several days in a row. You’ll like the outcome!
Good luck & good shootin’! Bob Henning