The foundation of playing pool is from the pool stroke. A stroke is the arm movement made by your cueing arm as it moves to contact the cue ball. To get better at pool you need a refined stroke that moves the cue straight on every shot and accelerates the cue smoothly through the cue ball. Even though it sounds simple to hit a ball in a straight line, it’s surprisingly difficult, especially under pressure situations like a tournament. The reason hitting a ball straight is challenging is because you hit the object ball with precision to pocket it accurately. After all, at the end of the day pool is a game that is about hitting two spherical objects together and sending them where you want. The point of contact between those two spheres in miniscule so accuracy is a must. This accuracy comes from accurate aim and a good stroke.
There are two elements to a good stroke: accuracy and follow through. Accuracy is the most obvious and the aspect most beginners start improving first. The follow through is the second part of the stroke and it’s the aspect that takes the most time to develop. Follow through allows you to put spin on the cue ball and manipulate its direction. Spin makes it possible to get position on other balls and extend your runs which is why follow through is critical to pool.
Before you even start shooting balls you should know how to hold the cue. There is no set rule for hand position on the cue. Some say you should hold it on the cue’s balance point, others think it’s best to stay somewhere on the wrap. In reality it depends on your comfort level and the shot that you’re shooting.
Ideally if your arm is pointing straight down at the point of contact with the cue ball then your hand is holding the cue in the right place. This is a cornerstone of the pendulum stroke which we’ll describe in more detail later. When your elbow creates a 90-degree angle where your upper arm and forearms connect your grip is in the right place.
If this angle is greater than 90 degrees, then you’re holding the cue too far back. If it’s less than 90 degrees, you are holding the cue too close. After a little practice you won’t have to check your arm to see if it’s in the right position, you’ll be able to feel whether you have the right position fairly quickly.
Pool is a precision game which takes finesse, so your grip should be loose. Most beginners make the mistake of gripping the cue tightly because they think it will give them more control. It turns out, the cue is harder to control when you hold it tightly, and it’s difficult to have a good follow through with a tight grip.
It’s tough to get used to when you’re starting out, but your grip should be as tight as it would be if you were holding a baby’s hand. Essentially just tight enough to hold on to the cue as you swing it back and forth. This makes it easier to cue straight and it gives you much more feeling in your fingers because you are using a more delicate touch with your hands.
The position of your hand as you grip the cue should be with your hand pointing straight down. The cue should rest in the middle of your fingers, somewhere around the second joint. And your thumb should wrap around the cue to hold it within your grasp. This will give you the control you need to hold the cue and stroke correctly.
Now that you know how to hold the cue and where you hand needs we should talk about how to move your arm. Your arm needs to move back and forth consistently so you want to eliminate as many variables as you can to stay consistent. That is why a pendulum stroke is the most popular stroke method used today in the modern game.
A pendulum stroke has your arm moving like a pendulum, back and forth with one point of movement. The way its set up is your cuing arm is parallel with the floor and your lower arm is at a 90 degree angle from your upper arm. From here you simply move your arm back and forth, like a pendulum, to stroke the cue ball.
The important aspect of this stroke is to move nothing but your lower arm and elbow should move during your stroke. Everything else needs to be absolutely still. Extra movement from your body or upper arm decreases the accuracy of your shots making it harder to hit the cue ball where you want.
A common mistake players make when using the pendulum stroke is to drop their shoulder to generate more power or spin. Even though this can be a legitimate way to cue the ball for some shots, in general you should avoid this practice. Dropping or moving your shoulder adds movement to your shot so until you have a well refined stroke don’t try adding anything extra since it might mess up your game.
The follow through is what puts spin on the cue ball and it will allow you to put draw, follow, or left and right enlgish on the cue ball effectively. When you shoot a shot your cue tip should going all the way through the cue ball. Oftentimes players stop their stroke on contact with the cue ball. This is a recipe for disaster if you need to put a good stroke on a shot.
The cue should be literally pushing the cue ball when your shooting. The way to achieve this action is to accelerate through the ball as you hit it. The acceleration through the ball is what puts spin on the ball, not the speed that you hit the ball. This is a common misconception. The harder you hit a ball the more spin you’ll achieve. Even though speed and spin are correlated, they’re not one and the same. The most important part of spinning the cue ball is the quality of the follow through not the speed.
A good rule of thumb for how far your cue should follow through is to extend your cue the same distance as the length of your bridge. So, if you have a one foot bridge, you should extend your cue one foot past the cue ball by the end of your stroke. This will help make sure that your cue isn’t stopping at the cue ball.
Follow through is difficult to get a feeling for. The best way to learn how to follow through is to practice draw and follow drills. Eventually you will understand how to hit the ball through trial and error. It’s not the most scientific way to get a stroke, but just remember when you try to apply spin you need to accelerate through the cue ball pushing the ball all the way through your stroke and your cue tip should finish around the same distance as your bridge.