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Darren Appleton


Instruction Articles:
 
Get Comfortable
September 2017

Shots off the rail are tough. So why arenít you practicing them?

For many, practice is a lot like competitive matches. No player likes to play safe. No player likes difficult shots. We all prefer to play fast paced, daring run-out pool, even when we are practicing.

Of course, avoiding difficult shots and safety play in practice will eventually cost you dearly when you are involved in actual match play. For the most part, every shot comes down to a matter of confidence. Are you confident you are going to make the shot? Or are you hesitant and just hoping the ball goes in? Much of that is based on how you feel about your stroke. But a lot of it is also the confidence that comes with having made the particular shot numerous times. That is why I always practice difficult shots. And that is why I always stress to my students that they include tough shots in practice.

When it comes to difficult shots, shooting off the rail is right up there. Whether our opponent leaves us against the rail, or we do it to ourselves, having the cue ball pinned to a cushion puts you in a tough position for several reasons. For starters, when the cue ball is up against a rail, you canít use draw or even a center ball hit because you canít get the tip below the edge of the rail. And because you see less than half of the ball, even applying English is difficult.

Additionally, good technique is essential on these shots. Most players I watch, from amateurs to pros, hold the cue wrong and address these shots wrong. Some shots require that you change your approach and alter your stroke. I practice rail shots all the time and, because of that, cueing off the rail has become one of the strongest components of my game.

For 90 percent of the shots you take in pool, you hold the cue near the back of the butt, bring the cue back and accelerate through the cue ball. But for rail shots, I choke up more on the cue, bringing my grip hand forward a good six inches. Proper cueing is all about focus and concentration, and that is even more important on rail shots. At all costs, avoid allowing your tip to hit the rail before the cue ball. That is why I use a shorter stroke on rail shots. A long backswing makes pinpoint contact on the cue ball a lot more difficult. If you absolutely have to power the ball, a short stroke makes the task harder, but on most rail shots you donít need to use a lot of power. Accuracy in where you strike the cue ball is the most important thing.

You must focus on simply making the ball and taking what the table gives you. Rail shots are tough enough as it is. Donít make it tougher by trying to do something extra with the cue ball. Bring your hand up the cue, use less backswing and focus on the cue ball. The result will be increased consistency on these shots.

In addition to your stroking technique, it is critically important that you first step back and see the line from the cue ball to the object ball before you get down to shoot. Shooting off the rail requires a very level cue and because so much of the cue ball is hidden by the height of the rail, it is difficult to get a good look at the shot once you are down over the cue. Step back and look over the shot from a higher vantage point. This will assure that your line is good and you can focus on the cue ball. Rail shots are the only shots on which I actually look only at the cue ball when I deliver the cue. I practice rail shots with the drills shown here. They will test your nerve and your ability to keep your head still on the shot. Staying steady is so important. If you look back at big pro events like the Mosconi Cup, many of the missed shots are rail shots, and that is because of the enormous pressure on the players. Under pressure, the first thing players do wrong is moving their head, which causes the cue to go off line and miss the aim point on the cue ball. Because shooting off the rail requires such a level stroke and precise hit on the cue ball, any movement is almost certain to affect the accuracy of the hit on the cue ball.

The drill in Diagram One requires you to play 10 shots to each corner pocket. Keep track of your total score. If you practice this drill regularly and correctly, you will see big improvement and you will come to enjoy the challenge of these shots.

Diagram Two shows a shot that many players miss because they are concerned about the scratch in the side pocket. Concerning yourself with the scratch will cause you to take your eye off of the cue ball and jump up off the shot early. This can also cause a miscue. I like adding that element to this shot because it really forces you to keep your head down. Again, the keys are the pre-shot preparation, maintaining focus and staying down on the shot.

Play 10 of these shots to each corner and see how close you can get the cue ball to the next starting point. You can stick to one side of the table, or play alternate corners with the same cue ball. If you hit this shot correctly the cue ball will end up perfectly positioned for the next shot. This part of the drill offers a real challenge. Conquer this drill and it will really fill you with confidence in both your cueing and your angles.


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