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Darren Appleton

Instruction Articles:
• July 2024
V for Victory

• June 2024
Circle the wagons

• May 2024
Rehearse Your Lines

• April 2024
Lucky Seven

• March 2024
More for the Road

• February 2024
Four for the Road

• January 2024
Corner the Market

• December 2023
Look Ma, No Cushions

• November 2023
Weíre in the Money

• October 2023
Four-level Drill

• September 2023
More Money Ball

• August 2023
No rails, part II

• July 2023
Look Ma, No Rails!

• June 2023
Triangle To Triangle

• May 2023
Zone Blitz

• April 2023
Money Ball Drill II

• March 2023
Money Ball Drill

• January 2023
The Dreaded Shootout

• December 2022
Alternate Universe

• November 2022
Close Quarters

• October 2022
Corner to Corner

• September 2022
Diamond in the Rough

• August 2022
Draw Bridge

• June 2022
I Detect A Pattern

• June 2022
Stay Close to Work

• May 2022
Amateur Approved

• April 2022
Two for One

• March 2022
The Straight Secret

• February 2022
The Correct Shot

• January 2022
End Game, Part II

• December 2021
Buying Off The Shelf

• November 2021
Look, Ma! No Rails!

• October 2021
The Oval Drill

• September 2021
Getting In Shape

• August 2021

• July 2021
V For Victory

• June 2021
More Pattern Drills

• May 2021
Patterns and speed

• April 2021
See a pattern?

• March 2021
Blind Man

• February 2021
Five Up, Five Down

• January 2021
Donít Lag Behind

• December 2020
Head games

• November 2020
Life on the Edge

• October 2020
The Family Tree

• September 2020
A Dip of the Tip

• August 2020
The Big Diamond

• July 2020
Nine-Ball One-Hole

• June 2020
Youíll Kick Yourself

• May 2020
Tight Quarters

• April 2020
Cue Ball Control

• March 2020
Straight Cueing

• February 2020
Saddle up!

• January 2020
9-ball Crossover

• December 2019
Ride Those Rails

• November 2019
Up and Down

• October 2019
Money Balls

• September 2019
Captain Zig-zag

• August 2019
15-Ball, No Rails

• July 2019
One Extra Ball

• June 2019
Two-Pocket Drill

• May 2019
Up and Down

• April 2019
Ultimate Rotation

• March 2019
In A Good Spot

• February 2019
Center Cut

• January 2019
Breaking Bad Habits

• December 2018

• November 2018
X marks the spot

• October 2018
Striking It Rich

• September 2018
So Many Options

• August 2018
Put Hangers On Rail

• July 2018
Mirror, Mirror II

• June 2018
Mirror, Mirror

• May 2018
ďVĒ for Victory

• April 2018
Up and Down

• March 2018
Kick Into High Gear

• February 2018
Up and Down

• January 2018
Up To The Challenge

• November 2017
Taking A Break

• October 2017
End Game Safeties

• July 2017
Shape Up For Summer!

• June 2017
The Selection Process

• May 2017
Two For One

• April 2017
A Ghost of a Chance

• March 2017
Bankerís Holiday

• February 2017
Great Eight

• January 2017
Getting Into Shape

• December 2016
Hocus, Focus

• November 2016
Kicking Into High Gear

• October 2016
More Drill Bits

• September 2016
Hand Model

• August 2016
Breaking Tradition

• July 2016
Drawing On Experience

• May 2016
Proper Practice

• April 2016
Drilling For Improvement

• March 2016
Mind Games

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.