Cristina De La Garza Instruction

Train Like the European Pros

This past year I relocated to Zurich, Switzerland with my fiancé and our son. Determined to continue my involvement in the professional pool scene, I quickly became oriented with pool events both in my area of Switzerland and internationally. In my travels throughout Europe over the past 9 months two things became strikingly obvious about European pool: 1) there are very few women active in the sport and 2) the Europeans as a whole have a far better sense of good mechanics and form than Americans.

I am fully convinced that the lack of women in the sport is primarily due to the fact that there are no real leagues in Europe; some countries have them but none have a good handicapping system that attracts women into the sport. The only women that play are the ones that compete on a high level so you don’t have a lot of in between social players. It leaves me wondering how women even get into the sport here because you have to seek it out to be part of it.

As for the mechanics issue, this is true on all levels from the amateurs to the professionals. I see so many U.S. professionals that started out as big money gamblers in their local poolhalls with big flashy strokes that in the end are not ideal to imitate. But many of them have just adapted to their bad form and made it work for them. While Europeans on the other hand, have set training systems in place. They STUDY the game and train like they would for any other sport.  This is perhaps a big reason why the Europeans have surpassed the Americans in retaining the Mosconi Cup for several years. Europeans are snagging up World Championship titles everywhere and America is falling more and more behind. With this in mind, this month I want to share some resources and tools that will help you polish your mechanics and learn to approach the study of the game more like the Europeans.

PRACTICE VS. PLAY

One thing Europeans know how to do is practice. In Switzerland, there are very few real pool halls; instead the players are organized into private clubs. The club I belong to is in a rented office space with seven pool tables and a snooker table. All the members have a key and access 24/7; food and beverages are done on an honor system, you mark down what you eat or drink and get a bill at the end of the month. We have scheduled club trainings twice a week where everyone practices. Their practice almost never includes the “king of the hill” format that most American players use where the person who wins stays on the table and challengers rotate in and out. Practice for them involves a number of drills each designed to develop different parts of their game. A good article to read that explains how to practice and the difference in the mindsets of practicing and playing is this Cue-Tech instructional series article by Leslie Rogers found at http://www.poolschool.com/doctor1.htm.

I often get asked about drills and which ones work well. The most common system of drills I have seen in Europe is something called the PAT System. This was developed by professional player, Ralph Eckert, and is used for training in clubs all around Europe. There are even coaches and instructors all over the world that use parts of the PAT System in their training. These are broken up into 10 categories that each develop a different part of your game and the system of drills allows you to evaluate your progress along the way. There are drills for all levels of players and you can find all of them for free at http://www.pat-billiard.com/Default.aspx. Notice there is a language button on the right side of the page to display in English and German. A lot of players dislike doing drills but they are very important for your advancement.

MECHANICS

Polishing your mechanics is something you should do over and over again. Many players think that once they are at a certain level they don’t need to learn these basics again, but this is even more important when you get better. Even the top professional players work on their mechanics because at some point, your stroke becomes muscle memory and you don’t focus on the details anymore. Over time, this can create bad habits that you don’t even realize you’re doing. I recently attended the U.S. Open 10-Ball Championships. While watching some of my friends play I noticed a big difference in the rhythm, focus and mechanics of Canadian pro, John Morra. When I saw him play in previous events he had a really loose stroke that gave him a lot of action on the cue ball, but I could tell he worked on becoming more deliberate in this approach and follow thru on his shots. This built a much better rhythm for him and increased his consistency. I later learned that he had been receiving coaching and instruction from an ex-snooker player, Lee Brett, who is now helping many of the top pro poolplayers with their mechanics. His book and DVD called, “The Secret Art of Pool” is one of the best resources for mechanics training and aiming systems. At this tournament Lee gave me a short introduction to his aiming system and I was blown away with how accurate it was. I never really believed in aiming systems before but using his system in my play recently has taken a lot of the guess work out of my shots. It allows me to access the shot much quicker which keeps me in rhythm. It’s far too difficult for me to explain in a short article so for now I will refer you to his website http://leebrettpool.com/ .

PRACTICE SCHEDULE

Many players want to practice but don’t know how to organize themselves to do so in an effective way. These are just a few things to work into your practice schedule to keep your improvement going:

- Mechanics: This includes things like stance, alignment, stroke, follow-thru, etc.
- Shots you missed in recent matches: Keep track of key shots you missed in matches or ones that you made but had trouble playing the correct shape to the next shot and work on these in your next practice session.
- Breaking
- Competition: When you have a big tournament coming up it’s also good to practice playing a similar format or race under similar conditions. This helps to get you in the right mindset for competition.
- Drills: The type of drills you need to focus on are different for every player. The PAT system I mentioned earlier will give you some ideas of good drills for your skill level that will help you in all of the different skill areas.
- Kicking: Many people forget to do this one but it’s important to learn some kicking systems and to practice with how different spin and speed affect your kicks.

Study the game and train like you would in sports and you will progress at a more rapid pace.