SNOOKER & BILLIARD COACHING
Session 1. The Grip
Most professionals who have written instructional books have assumed that the grip is not very important. Why? Because they have not experienced any problems themselves. Their own talent for the game makes the grip come naturally to them.
Readers have usually been advised to pick up the cue as though they were going to hit someone over the head with it, but when it comes to striking a ball I think there is more to it than that, particularly for players who have not got that natural talent. We are looking for a grip which will enable a player to send the cue along in a straight line up to and well through the ball.
Since top professionals have so many different grips, it would be wrong to suggest which is right and which is wrong, so I am not going to advocate one grip for all players. It will be right if it is right for you. Experiment with several until you find one that suits you.
It could be that your wrist is turned out to the right, which naturally puts the grip more into the fingertips (1); you could have the wrist dead straight and in line with the forearm (2); or with the elbow jutting outwards, like Ray Reardon, which takes the grip more into the palm of the hand (3).
Reardon was thought to be very unorthodox in this respect but that didn't prevent him from winning six world titles. Could he possibly have done this if he had had a grip which prevented him cueing along a straight line?
Is it wrong when a world champion, the best player in the world at the time, has a grip with the wrist cocked slightly to the right? Unorthodox maybe, but effective for him.
Steve Davis does not conform to the accepted orthodoxy regarding the feet. He stands face on to the table but has a classically orthodox alignment of his elbow directly behind the cue.
He won his first two world titles with a grip which conventional coaching would have argued was wrong. As it happens, he did subsequently alter it.
How you grip your cue influences, in some cases, where your elbow is. You just cannot say that one is right and another is wrong. Remember that the grip (your back hand) is what you play Snooker with, and it should not be dismissed in just a few lines, as in most coaching books.
Patsy Fagan, the 1977 UK champion, used an extreme fingertip grip but developed a problem using the rest, freezing so badly that he could not even hit the cue ball.
I do not think he understood the other ways he was not in control of his cue. It could be that if he had had somebody to show him a better grip when he first started to play, he would have been an even better player.
Dennis Taylor, the 1985 world champion, also has a loose grip, though not as loose as Fagan's, with a large gap between the cue and the V formed by the web between his thumb and forefinger. Willie Thorne, who has made more 147 breaks than anyone else, hardly uses the V as his cue rests hard against the top of his forefinger. Terry Griffiths experimented with three or four different grips and finally settled for the firmer one with the V in con¬tact with the cue.
Your grip is all about feeling the cue, and that feeling has got to come into your game when you are playing differ¬ent types of shots.
In (4), the grip is one where the V formed by the thumb and forefinger is not in contact with the cue. In (5), the V is closed up with a much firmer grip and is in contact with the cue. Billiards players of old had a looser grip because power play seldom came into the game. Even Joe Davis had to close up his V to get a firmer grip for Snooker, which requires far more accuracy in terms of hitting the object ball on the necessary spot.
What matters in Snooker is straight cueing and getting through the cue ball. The right grip allows you to do this, and while there are a number of ways to look at and experiment with, they all achieve the same objective - sending the cue along in a straight line.
If a player feels more comfortable with his hand in a particular position, is able to send the cue along a straight line, can get well through the cue ball - and with that grip is capable of playing all the shots needed, quite simply that is the correct grip for him.
In their tens of thousands, local league amateurs grip the cue too tightly and, worst of all, grip it even tighter when a power shot is required. It is very important to keep your cue as horizontal as you can.
But if you grip the cue tightly with all the fingers when your cue arm is verti¬cal from wrist to elbow, you will auto¬matically lift the butt end above the hor¬izontal on your backswing.
This produces a scooping motion instead of a horizontal strike and causes some of the spectacular miscues which are seen when a player attempting a deep screw shot instead jumps the cue ball over the object ball.
When a professional does this it is almost invariably because tension has caused him to grip the cue more tightly than he knows he should. Many books say that the grip of the fingers should be just strong enough to pick up the cue from the table, but I would stress the importance of easing the grip of the second and third fingers as the cue swings back. Most professionals do this instinctively.
If you have a four-finger grip and keep the back finger on the cue on the backswing, it is bound to lift the cue above the horizontal. I would emphasize that the back fingers should be relaxed on the backswing. You can even lift the little finger off the cue altogether (6).
Steve Davis did not actually go as far as this, but there is no strength in the grip of his little finger on the backswing and I do not therefore believe that the little finger itself plays any significant part in the shot itself.
Most books advocate nipping the cue on impact with the cue ball but, once again, if the grip is too slack - if the cue is not in contact with the V - this could lead to a snatch on hitting the ball. With such a snatch, is it likely that you will be able to keep the cue on a straight line as it goes through the ball?
If, as I advocate, you have the cue flush with the V, you will feel the cue tighten against the V on the backswing. By taking the cue back with the first finger and thumb at the same time relaxing the second and third fingers - you will automatically cock the wrist. Now there is no need to pinch the cue on impact. I repeat: the thumb and first finger should remain constant through¬out the stroke.
Jimmy White takes the cue back with the first finger, which gives him the immediate wrist cock which is the secret of his cue power. John Parrott has exceptional cue power and he, too, uses this method.
Watch him when he has finished a power shot; as with Steve Davis, only his forearm has moved. The rest of his body has remained perfectly still until the completion of the shot. How many players, even professionals, can claim this?
An extreme example to the contrary was Alex Higgins who constantly used body movement to generate power. When he was younger, with all his natural co-ordination and reflexes still in perfect shape, he got away with this a lot more than he did later.
Session 2. Bridging
All top players have a bridge with which they take a firm grip of the cloth and provide a channel through which they send the cue on a straight line.
Without a good bridge, you are doomed. You are a no-hoper. An unsteady bridge can ruin everything. If there is any movement, say with the thumb, any shot can go wrong.
I believe that more players should be more concerned with getting the bridge hand firmed up. Place the hand flat on the table. Then draw up all the fingers in a crab-like manner before cocking the thumb is such a way that you are able to form a V between your thumb and the top knuckle of your forefinger. Emphasise the firmness by pressing the forefinger into the cloth.
Anyone who wants to realise just how important the bridge is need only try a simple experiment. Bridge along the baulk line, making sure that the cue covers the baulk line itself so that it is no longer visible from above. Now lower the thumb and notice what happens. The cue goes off line. If that should happen while you are playing a shot, it is one way of putting accidental side on the cue ball.
Press all fingers of the bridge hand into the cloth but put more pressure on the forefinger, the one that is the real basis of the bridge. The bridge formed by the forefinger and thumb is as strong as the rest itself.
However, do not drag your bridge hand back, particularly against the nap of the cloth. There is no advantage in this and it will create so many furrows that the table will look like a ploughed field. It could also rough up the nap sufficiently to make slow shots more hazardous. When you have completed your shot, just lift your hand from the table.
I believe that players pressing the first finger into the cloth will aid firmness along the left-hand side of the body. If the left side is firm, it seems to make the right hand even more free to get rhythm into the cue action. The reverse, of course, is true for left-handed players.
Joe Davis adapted his bridge for screw shots by turning the hand over on to its side just by lifting the left of the palm. But this is not the only way. Most players today simply lower the whole hand and still maintain a good V in the bridge. It is up to you which method suits you better.
For a very deep screw shot, Joe would use the loop bridge, which very few players use today. The real reason he used it, even if he was not aware of it, was that he was inclined to lift the cue when striking the cue-ball. This came about because he had the flourish so many Billiards players have of lifting the cue when playing a forcing shot - sometimes even striking the light shade with the tip. The loop bridge counteracted this by stopping the cue coming up.
Young players today appear reluctant to use the loop bridge, but my advice is to try it out. It can be adapted for playing over a ball when stretching across the table or, when the cue-ball is tight to the cushion.
Cushion heights can very marginally, but whatever the circumstances there is not much of the cue-ball to hit when it is tight against the cushion and you have to play outwards from it.
A method that Steve Davis operates very well is to raise the bridge part of the hand very slightly as it rests on the cushion rail. If you watch Steve in a situation like this, you will notice he can cue freely without the tip of the cue coming into contact with the cushion.
Obviously, you should not try to do anything very ambitious with the cue-ball in this sort of situation, but if you need more power, raise the bridge slightly higher. Once again, firmness of the bridge hand is essential. These shots do mean you have to hold the cue at an angle instead of near the horizontal - which in itself is not a good thing - but smooth cueing and, I repeat, not attempting too much with the cue-ball will help to even things out. You will at least be more positive on the shot if you are actually coming down on the cue-ball rather than trying to strike it by scraping along the cushion rail.
When playing unusual shots, most players fail because their preparations lack rhythm or are otherwise not right. If they knew how to go about it, their apprehension would disappear. It is all a question of practice and making the correct choice of bridge, though you can, of course, practise as much as you like and some positions will still be a lot more difficult than others.
Session 3. Sighting
First, a player has to find out which is his master eye. A certain percentage of players have the left eye as their master eye, others have their right, and others are even sighted. Stephen Hendry has an even-sighted approach with the cue under the chin.
To determine which eye is your mas¬ter eye place a piece of chalk at one end of the table and stand directly in front of it at the other end.
Point your forefinger at the chalk with both eyes open. Close your left eye and see if your finger is still pointing at the chalk. If it is, you will know you are right eyed. To confirm it, close your right eye. If you have to move your finger to keep it pointing at the chalk you have further proof that your right eye is your master eye. Obviously, if by closing the left eye you have to move your index finger - but not when the right eye is closed - you are left eyed. If you are even-sighted your finger will deviate slightly to the left or right whichever eye you shut. It seems amazing to me that no previous coaching book has ever emphasised the importance of finding out whether a player is left-eyed, right-eyed or even-sighted.
If your left eye is the master eye you want your left eye over the ball when you go down to sight the shot.
Now that you have found out about your master eye, which ball, cue ball or object ball, should be looking at when you actually strike a ball? (A Golfer, Tennis player, Footballer or Cricketer does not have this problem as he has only one ball to worry about.)
Here, I want to make an analogy with a darts player. Just imagine Phil Taylor playing darts. He has his waggles - his preliminary address - just the same as a snooker player. After this preparation he throws the dart. He is also luckier than a snooker player because he has only one thing to look at. We'll say he wants the bull for game. All the time he is doing those waggles his eyes are on the bull. At the very second he releases the dart his eyes are still on the bull, if he wants to have any chance of hitting it.
So if you want to direct the cue ball to the correct spot on the object ball in the same way that Phil Taylor looks at the bull, you have to have your eyes on that spot on the object ball when you hit the cue ball.
To take the analogy further, Phil Taylor wants double six for game. Double six is at three o'clock on the board. He has lined up and got his eyes on the double six. Suppose, in the split second before he throws the dart, his eyes switch to the bull. He now throws the dart. Because he has switched his eyes from double six to bull there is no way that dart is going to go in double six. No darts player would ever do this, of course. I merely make this analogy because this is what happens so often at snooker.
Translated into snooker terms you may be on the black with a three-quarter ball pot into a top pocket, but you don't just want to pot the black, you also want to split a cluster of reds. You line up correctly on the black, but just before you come through to hit the cue ball your eyes switch not to the point on the black you are trying to hit but to the pack to see if you have opened the reds. Have you any chance of potting the black? This is what happens without players realizing it. They miss the black because they are looking to see what will happen to the cue ball when their eyes should still be on the object ball.
Another very common fault is to switch your eyes to the pocket to see if the ball has gone in! This is another way to invite disaster. When you play a pot, two things are required of your brain. One is to pot the ball you are aiming at, the other is to send the cue ball along the line you want it to go for position. Your eyes are not going to help you hit the cue ball to open the reds. Where you put the tip to the cue ball - right or left of centre, above or below - how much you move that cue in preparation for the shot, the strength of the stroke: all this will take care of the positional side of the shot. But you have to pot the black and that is why you have to have your eyes on the spot on the object ball that needs to be hit. Every decent player knows this, but not every decent player does it.
Never forget: eyes on the object ball when striking the cue ball.
Session 4. Stance
As long as you are well balanced, stance is not as important, in my view, as it has often been made out to be. We are human beings, not automatons, we are all different and, as in golf, everyone does not develop the same stance.
I don't believe any two players in professional snooker adopt the same stance but they can achieve the same objective, which is to cue straight and true. It is not essential to put your front foot here and your back foot there. You don't have to have your elbow behind the shot and you don't have to grip your cue in a certain manner.
With regard to stance I would go along with the old traditional line only as far as bracing your back leg, leaning forward and bending the front leg in order to move into the shot.
A player's weight needs to be distributed so that his body does not move as he swings his cue arm but other than that I forget about stance and concentrate on getting the cue through along a straight line.
The stance should be so firm that if anyone tries to push the player off balance, he would waver not to the left or right or backwards but only forwards.
What you need to do is to put the cue on line and then, whichever eye you are going to favour, right, left or even sighted, you will adopt a stance which is natural to either left, right or both eyes to drop naturally over the cue.
When you get down to play put your cue on a straight line to your intended shot and place your body to the cue rather than putting your body in place and then your cue to the body. Even player who do not do this now will find no difficulty in changing.
I would say that 99% of players operating this method get down until their cue is just brushing their body so they feel the cue is in a familiar place. It is reassuring to feel that you are using the same set-up every time. This is what we are after: consistency, the hallmark of class.
In his book Understanding Billiards and Snooker, Jack Karnehm says: "It is important that, when approaching your shot to find the line of aim, you place your feet correctly in the standing position before getting down on the stroke. If you face the shot front on with feet astride, you will either be off the line when you get down or off balance, allowing unwanted movement or sway to upset delivery of the stroke."
This theory has been disproved by the current generation of leading players.
There is no need to struggle for some `text book' position, standing at right angles to the shot and twisting the top half of the body to line up the shot.
The artist's impressions here are of Steve Davis. He won world titles using both feet positions.
Remember also that the further the cue-ball lies into the middle of the table, the more a player has to lean over to reach it. This inevitably brings the body face on to the line of the shot. If a player can play face on when he has to, he surely can when he has the choice, when he does not have to reach over.
Players should not be bound by principles generally laid down in previous books. If need be, they should experiment and find out if they can achieve their objectives in other ways. What suits one player will not automatically suit another.
Session 5. Bridge Arm
One of the so called essentials that Joe Davis and other top players of his era all advocated was a straight bridge arm.
It might have suited Joe, who was not tall and had relatively short arms but in my opinion, this does not suit most people and nowadays very few leading players play like this.
Joe used to talk about bending the front leg to move into the shot but then, in referring to getting down into the stance to address the cue-ball, would advocate a straight bridge arm - which is a contradiction.
The contradiction is between moving into the shot and then a recommenda¬tion to hold off it by having a straight arm.
Instead, why not bend the elbow as you are bending the front knee in order to get better stability with your forearm? This also helps you get through the cue-ball.
Most of today's top players find that bending the left elbow will tend to pro¬duce a steadier bridge.
Years ago, when I tried to put into practice what Joe Davis had advocated, especially the cue action with the forearm acting as a pendulum, I could not get my cue hand past my chest.
I turned my body this way and that but found that, with my left arm straight, I always felt I was holding myself off the ball.
But by experimenting with my left arm bent, I could get the whole of my left forearm onto the table, thus assisting me to a firm bridge.
Session 6. Cue Action
When Joe Davis played Snooker, he did so in a style not adopted by even 1% of players today.
When Joe went through with the shot, he dropped his elbow. The fact that he did this causes problems to those trying to copy him.
To avoid his back hand hitting his chest at the time the cue-ball was struck, Joe stood sideways on.
He was able to do this because he was left-eyed and so could get his body over to the side and his hand underneath his chest.
Consequently, he was able to send the cue through in a straight line, but take it from me, most people will have a lot of trouble trying to emulate Joe.
In fact, I have known people give up entirely because they could not manage the same action that Joe was advocating.
Today, more people tend to play in a way which comes naturally to them. If they do not drop their elbow, what method do they use? This is the one I have evolved myself.
To make sure the length of your bridge is constant, mark the cue (1) at the point where it rests over the bridge at the address position - when the tip of the cue is not quite in contact with the cue-ball. The distance from the mark to the top of the cue will be about 12 inches (30 cm).
On the last back swing (2) the tip of the cue should be some four to five inches (10-12.5 cms) away from the cue-ball, as the mark on the cue shows clearly.
At the finish of the stroke (3), the cue will have gone well through the cue-ball. If the back hand is five to six inches (12.5-15 cms) from the chest when
the waggles (or preliminary addresses) start, a player can complete the shot and get well through the cue-ball before the back hand hits the chest.
How-can we ensure that the cue will not lift at the back? The key lies in the grip. You must ease the back fingers as the cue goes backwards.
Session 7. True Cueing
Joe Davis used to talk about having one final look at the cue ball to check that he was still addressing it dead centre before commencing the last backswing. His eyes are on the cue ball. Before he actually hits the cue ball he has to switch his eyes back to the object ball.
But he did not say exactly when this switch took place. I think this is very important. There are three points at which they can make this switch.
1. Having had a last look at the cue ball and your eyes switch back to the correct point on the object ball before starting the last backswing. This would entail having a pause at the front as well as at the back of the last backswing.
2. As the cue comes back on the last backswing your eyes go forward to the object ball.
3. Complete the last backswing before getting your eyes back to the object ball. The three methods above assume you are following Joe's principle of having one last look at the cue ball.
Some players do not use any of them. They simply switch their eyes from the cue ball to the object ball while they are lining up the shot. Some do this more than others; it is something which comes naturally to them.
One snag about this method is that as a player gets older, his eyes focus less quickly. It is, in fact, a snag with any method, but with an adequate pause at the back of the last back¬swing, a player's eyes have time to focus back on the object ball. All we're concerned with is that the cue ball is struck correctly - in the middle - and that the eyes are back on the spot of the object ball the cue ball is supposed to hit. If your cue has strayed off slightly you can, of course, stand up and begin the preparation for the shot again.
Having taken up his position at the table, a player will glance at the pocket into which he wants to pot a particular ball. He should then look for the spot on the object ball that he needs to hit for him to do so. Steve Davis imagines the cue ball covering the object ball.
If it happens to be a dead straight pot then it is fully covered; if a three-quarter ball, the cue ball covers three¬ quarters of the object ball if a three-quarter pot is being attempted; if a half-ball, then half of the object ball is covered. The same logic applies to a quarter ball or fine cut.
The point to remember is that this is a matter of your own judgement because if you miss the shot, having struck the cue ball correctly and not put any side on it, your estimation has been at fault. You have assessed the potting angle wrongly. Only by trial and error can the right estimate be made so regularly that, with practice, you will automatically look at the right spot on the object ball and pot it. This is why practice is so important. Players will tend to recognize the potting angle more easily for some shots than others. The best natural potters do this instinctively, without conscious calculation. Players - and not just novices - should regularly practise striking the cue ball correctly using only the cue ball and not an object ball as well.
The old proven method of going up and down over the brown, blue, pink and black spots is not one I use because a player could put a little side on the cue ball which sends it off line slightly going up the table, only for it to correct itself on the way back. It helps to make a small chalk mark on the top cushion at the point it needs to be hit.
I think it is better to use the baulk line. You don't even need a cue ball. A player will soon find out whether he is cueing straight just by checking the direction of the cue along the baulk line, The cue should be hiding the baulk line from view as you look from above. It is surprising how many play¬ers have difficulty doing this accurately.
Even players who know only a little about snooker appreciate that if you do not hit the cue ball in the centre then left¬ or right-hand side will be applied to it. But even if the cue ball has been struck in the centre, side will still be applied if the cue does not proceed through the cue ball on a straight line, this is one of the most common faults in the game.
If the cue starts to go off line as it strikes the cue ball, it means a player is coming through across the line of the cue ball instead of straight through it. A true, straight follow-through is essential to prevent this happening. With the backswing and follow-through, a player can observe whether he is cueing straight or off line simply by bridging on the baulk line itself and watching the path the cue takes above it.
Keep practising this. It sounds boring but the rewards will make it worth while. After practising both with and without a cue ball, attempt some straight pots. Six reds are sufficient. They should be placed across the table - not too far apart - some 18 inches (45cm) from the baulk line and parallel to it on the centre spot side.
Place the cue ball on the baulk line and try to pot each red into a top pocket. Make each pot dead straight so that you have to strike the cue ball dead centre and, of course, the object ball too. If you make the pot, you know you have played the shot correctly. But if you have missed, you must stay down at the table. Don't get up and don't move the cue until you have found out whether it is pointing at the middle of the pocket you are aiming at. If it isn't you are not cueing straight.
Once again, the hard work starts as you practise the shot time and time again, setting yourself the target of knocking in all six reds in successive shots. If you can do that, you are not doing too badly. To improve even more, the six reds can be taken further back and placed between the two centre pockets. The cue ball now has to travel further before arriving at the object ball, and this is where a player discovers that the greater the distance between cue ball and object ball, the more difficult the shot. Only by constant practice can a player achieve any significant degree of consistency, for the more you progress with this exercise, the harder it becomes.
Steve Davis used to place all 21 balls from one middle pocket to the other. He used to try to knock in all 21 and I can tall you that his record is 19. He told me his 'bottle' went as he attempted the twentieth pot. Here's the lesson: set yourself a target and learn to cope with the pressures as you come near it. Steve would rather knock in those 21 balls in consecutive shots than make a maximum. Why? By potting all 21 balls, he would know he was cueing absolutely correctly, and that is the basis of the game.
Session 8. The Drill
To be in control of everything, there is a drill. Consistency is the aim. The drill breaks down into four parts.
1 Before getting down to play a shot, look at the situation on the table and decide what is the best shot to play. Very important.
2 Then comes what I call the 95 per cent. Having looked at the pocket and decided the spot on the object ball that must be hit, address the cue ball where you intend to hit it. It is no good getting down before you have decided what to do. If you brain has not a clear message, how can it possibly send directions to your cue hand?
3 You should now be 95 per cent certain of potting the ball. You begin your waggle trying to feel the shot you are about to play, You have made up your mind whether to play with top spin, side spin or back spin, and how hare you are going to hit the cue ball. This takes care of the second part of the shot, which is the positioning of the cue ball.
Your waggles should be short, medium or long according to the type of shot you are about to play, For example, if you are playing a deep screw shot and have reached the last waggles, the cue has to go back several inches if power is to be obtained on the follow-through. If you address the cue ball with, say, no more than a two inch (5cm) waggle before playing the shot itself, you will have to judge the pace, power and feel of the shot with one last movement. This is asking a lot of your brain and takes concentration away from the pot which, after all, is the priority. The waggles should be an aid to aiming only to a very small extent.
You should have assessed the angle before you even start them. The primary purpose of the waggle is to `feel' the positional side of the shot.
By getting the right movement from the start, you have more chance of achieving the shot successfully because you will have more feel for it beforehand.
4 On finishing the waggles, address the cue ball for the last time and take a final look at the cue ball to make certain it is going to be hit in the right place. Get your eyes back to the object ball before coming through with the cue.
This is what I call the 5 per cent. Without observing the last 5 per cent of the drill, you will not be giving the shot 100
per cent effort.
How many times have you seen professional players miss simple shots and wondered why? It is usually because they have neglected the 5 per cent, that is, getting the eyes back on the object ball.
How many times have you seen Steve Davis get down for a shot and then get up, stand back and start his preparation again? It is because he has realized that his 95 per cent was wrong because, in his opinion, he was aiming at the object ball either too thick or too thin.
I don't claim that 95 per cent and 5 per cent are mathe¬matically accurate, but the terms are there for you to relate to.
Each shot, in my opinion, consists of the thrust forward of the cue from the pause at the end of the last backswing to the completion of the follow-through. Everything else is preparation - albeit very important preparation
Session 9. Spin
For screw shots I recommend longer wag¬gles in the preparation. What is needed is a smooth cue action and a clear pause at the back of the backswing before driving the cue through, striking the cue ball below centre and following through on a straight line. If the waggles are short, the shot will be more difficult as the last backswing has to be longer. There will be loss of rhythm in the stroke. To make sure this doesn't happen, prepare for the actual shot with each waggle and get a feeling of how much power is required.
I must emphasize the need to follow the drill (see June issue) and how important it is to stay absolutely still on the shot. The harder you hit the cue
ball, the more chance there is of error creeping in, especially in striking the cue ball where not intended.
The lower you strike the cue ball, the more backspin (screw) there will be. To find out what happens is a case of trial and error. If you strike the cue ball just below centre, and for the purpose of this exercise the object ball is no more than a foot away, the cue ball will come back only a short distance once it has made contact. If you address the cue ball a little lower still, and providing the shot is played correctly and at the same speed, the cue ball will travel back fur¬ther.
Keep practising the various distance and strength-related shots to develop the
right feeling for whatever shot you might want to play. But whatever you do, do not make the mistake of lining up the cue ball directly behind the object ball so that when the shot is played the cue ball trav¬els backwards and into a pocket, an exer¬cise usually practised on the blue spot. If you do this, also remember that, having struck the cue ball, the cue has to be with¬drawn quickly for fear for the cue ball trav¬elling back and coming into contact with the cue tip. This defeats the whole object of good cueing, which is to make the cue strike straight and follow-through. With this shot you just don't have time to followthrough properly. I shudder when I see coaches lining up a straight pot with cue ball and object ball only six inches apart and asking the player to screw back. He will be so preoccupied with getting his cue out of the way of the cue ball as it comes back that he will not only pull the cue back but probably jump up on the shot as well!
All that is required to prevent this is to make the pot slightly off centre. When the tip of the cue comes into contact with the cue ball, you can follow-through as usual and there will be no need to stand up quickly to remove the cue from the path of the cue ball. Instead, you can stay down on the shot and check that everything has been done correctly.
Stun and screw are not different shots. It all depends on table position - distance, strength of shot and where the cue ball has to hit. A screw shot at a distance of no more than a foot (30 cm) would be a stun shot if played in exactly the same manner but with the cue ball some 3 feet (1 metre) away from the object ball. What happens is that the cue ball loses spin gradually. At 12 inches (30 cm) there is still enough back spin to propel the cue ball back¬wards, but at around 3 feet (1 metre), most of the spin has disappeared and the cue ball is killed at the point of impact.
Top players use side (side spin) only when it is absolutely necessary, simply because it is so complicated and governed by so many things. The average player will always have problems with side. There are even some professionals who use it without understanding the difficulties involved.
All of us put on unintentional side at one time or another so imagine the complications involved when putting side on the ball intentionally. Although side cannot be transferred from the cue ball to the object ball in the ordinary way it can influence the direction taken by the object ball. Joe Davis put it well: 'It is not transmitted side but the transmission of side effect'.
I will try and explain just what happens with one particular shot which you can experiment with. Place the black on its spot and the cue ball about a foot (30 cm) away but not quite in a straight line with one or other of the top pockets. Assess the potting angle as you would if not using side but hit the cue ball in the horizontal middle and to the right. The cue ball is first pushed out to the left. If it hits the black before it has had time to come back in line, it will strike the black fuller than intended and the black will probably hit the top cushion jaw. With left-hand said, you would tend to make a thinner contact and the black would strike the side cushion jaw. But if this shot was played slowly with side, the cue ball would have plenty of time to come back on line and might even have drifted to the right so that, with right-hand side, you would tend to push the black on to the side cushion jaw.
What happens if this particular shot is played with screw or top spin? The practice table is the place to experiment because there are so many complica¬tions like the distance between cue ball and object ball, the strength of the shot and the point of impact where the tip strikes the cue ball. A ball struck with top spin and side spin is a shot which does not go off line as much as one with screw and side or one hit in the
horizontal middle with side.
Remember above all that when using side, the cue must still move on a straight line and not go across the ball. You can practice the correct method by cueing along the baulk line.
Because you are striking the cue ball right of centre to apply right-hand side, the cue should travel parallel to the baulk line, not only in you preliminary waggles, but on the follow through. Practise this and then practise also with left-hand side. With practice you will even be able to judge the amount of side necessary to send the cue ball in to the baulk pocket or a middle pocket.
When it is given swerve, the cue ball makes an arc on its path to the object ball, the first part of the arc being shorter than the second. It is achieved by apply¬ing a great deal of side spin to the cue ball. Swerve is most useful for escaping from snookers, but normally you can expect only to make contact with the object ball, not pot it or play safe.
Some players go wrong with the swerve shot by playing the cue ball well above centre. Strike below centre, and raise both your bridge and the butt of the cue. The bridge should involve four fingers, pressed firmly into the cloth, with the thumb cocked high. The cue should be angled at about 45 degrees, as the stroke is downwards. If you need to swerve to the right, strike the cue ball with little follow- through below centre and on the right-hand side. The ball will first be forced out to the left before the spin pulls it round to the right. Feel for the shot is important. Strike the cue ball too hard and it won't have time to complete the arc; too softly and you will be unable to get enough side on the ball to bring about the swerve.
By addressing the cue ball well above the middle, top spin will be added to the strength of the shot and will increase the distance the cue ball travels. It is a shot which should be in every player's armoury. Very many players today have never played Billiards and therefore don't realize what advantage top spin can give them. Some do not even make sure they raise their bridge to make sure they strike well above centre. Top spin is particularly useful when it is necessary to open a pack of reds. There will be more displacement with spin on the cue ball than without it.
Session 10. The Rest
Not even the best players are keen to use the rest, but everyone has to play with it sometimes and a good method is required if consistency and accuracy are to be achieved.
All the top players use the low side of the rest head to run their cue along, rather than the other section in which the angle of the V is smaller. By using the wider angled and lower V of the rest head, the cue can be kept on a straight line instead of dipping towards the cue ball, which is what happens if the rest head is placed in the more upright position.
On the other hand, even if the rest is held with the legs of the wide-angled V touching the table, problems will arise if the distance between the head of the rest and the cue-ball is too narrow. The closer the head of the rest is to the cue¬ball, the more angled the cue will be. If the rest head is too far away from the cue-ball, the cue itself will be harder to keep in a straight line.
Having the rest head too close to the cue-ball creates all manner of errors when trying to play any sort of power shot. For a start the cue will be angled; it will dig into the cue-ball and, if the shot isn't properly centred, unintentional side will be accentuated. If the rest head is too far from the cue ball it is impossible to complete the final backswing, play a smooth shot and follow-through. What we have to work out is a distance which enables a nice, smooth action and good follow-through.
There are a number of different ways to play with the rest, and they are all a question of personal preference. Steve Davis plays by putting the back of the rest on the table then pressing down with his left hand for firmness on the shot. Stephen Hendry prefers to hold the rest and place his forearm on the table. What is important is that the rest is held firmly and doesn't move when the shot is actually being played. As to holding the cue, most people will have the first two fingers and their thumb around the butt end. The two fingers will be on the top of the cue and the thumb underneath in order to give them the best feel of the cue.
A number of players will get down with their head behind the butt, a method which restricts any backward movement. You would hit yourself on the nose if you came back as far as you should. What I advise is to lift the cue to pass underneath it.
When addressing the cue-ball, the forearm, from the elbow to the cueing hand, should be as near as possible forming a right angle to the shot. If you are reaching out when first addressing the cue-ball, the follow-through is restricted. This can bring about errors by hitting the cue-ball on one side or the other, or not following through on line.
In all books where reference is made to playing with the rest, there is no example which advocates a good method of practice to hold the straight cueing that is essential. Unless you stay down after the shot is played and see whether the cue has gone on a straight line or strayed to the left or right, problems with the rest will never disappear. Certainly, players who don't bother to find out will never master the rest.
In the same way that I advocate using the baulk line for correcting cueing, the rest itself can also be used as a guide. What must be done is to line up the rest and cue together in a straight line, not always possible during an actual frame, and having played a shot check whether your hand has finished slightly to the left or to the right of the rest. Ten minutes of this on the practice table could work wonders. If the shot is played correctly, the thumb which is underneath the cue should remain, on completion of the shot, on top of the rest.
The picture shows the cue line at address. It should still be on the baulk¬line at the completion of the shot.
If the cue is back at the address posi¬tion but then in making the shot, the cue hand moves to the left it will send the cue to the right and vice versa.
The same procedures, of course, apply to the use of cue extensions, used by most players these days instead of the half and three-quarter butts. An extension does mean you are further away from the cue-ball, but everything else still apples grip, following through and checking, after completing the shot, that you have cued on a straight line. All these essentials also apply when using any of the varieties of spider.
With abnormal shots that require the rest, don't attempt anything beyond the minimum.
Simply try to pot the ball or play safe.
Session 11. The Short Rest
It is rare to see a snooker player who feels completely at ease with the short rest. Many players who come to me for coaching mention that they need to see some improvement with this implement. With the introduction of mini butt extensions and the popularity of ambidextrous cueing, many feel that the short rest is not as important as it used to be.
This may be true to some extent, but it is still an area where many players (especially young players) can seek improvement that will allow them to take their overall game to the next level.
Common faults with the short rest
Shown below in bold italics are a number of faults I see when coaching with the short rest. A suggested correction is shown underneath each common fault:
Poor shot selection (not accounting for the difficulties involved in using the short rest)
You should be aware that your chances of success may be reduced when using the short rest. This, along with your confidence and ability level with this implement, must be accounted for when making your shot selection. Do not be too aggressive.
Using the high side of the rest head
Use the lower side of the rest head whenever possible as this makes it easier to avoid hitting down on the cue ball (high side of the rest can be used for top spin if preferred).
Rest head too close to the cue ball
This fault tends to encourage a raised butt (especially for backspin) and in turn means the player is striking down on the cue ball. Striking down on the cue ball decreases the chances of accurate striking. The rest head should be placed, and remain, somewhere between 250–300mm (approx. 10–12 inches) from the cue ball.
Cueing forearm too far forward in the address position
After you have placed your tip as close as possible to the cue ball (the address position), you need to be looking to get an 'L' shape for your cueing arm. Your forearm should be as close as possible to 90 degrees to the line of the shot in the address position. This gives you the best chance of maintaining a straight line of delivery through the cue ball.
Tip too far away from the cue ball in the address position
Tip must be as close as possible to the cue ball to give best chance of correctly assessing line, spin application and centre striking. If you are having difficulty in seeing how far away your tip is from the cue ball, try dropping the tip down on to the cloth to give you a better idea of the distances involved.
Head (chin) restricts longer backswings
The head must be raised slightly to allow the butt of your cue to pass under your chin as you complete your feathers (if applicable) and final backswing.
Hitting across the cue ball
This is caused by not dropping the tip and butt of your cue on to the correct line for the shot. Having the shaft of the rest in line with the cue (and hopefully in line with the line of the shot) can help with this problem. Getting the tip right up to the cue ball to ensure centre ball striking is also important to help with this fault.
Grips that place the butt of the cue into overactive fingers can lead to delivery problems with the fingers tending to pull the cue off line. I suggest that the cue should be placed in to the palm of the hand (thumb and forefinger of the grip nearest to your head) with all your fingers wrapped around the cue. The grip should be dominated by the 'ring' formed by your thumb and first finger.
Dropping the butt of the cue down during the delivery
The plane of the cue should be maintained through the delivery. Dropping the cue as you deliver will give you problems in positioning the cue ball (as your tip is likely to strike higher than intended on the cue ball) and could also cause problems with delivering the cue along the chosen line.
Grip or forearm pulling the cue off line during delivery
Curtail the follow through to help with this problem. Try using the grip described above to seek improvement in this area.
Trying to follow through too far
The longer your follow through with the rest then the more chance you have of your cue deviating from your selected line. The follow through with the rest should be curtailed when compared with the follow through of your normal action.
Failure to practise with the short rest
Many of our students claim that they have major problems with the short rest. However, even though they have admitted it is a weakness in their game, they give little or no time to practise with this implement. To improve with the short rest you must look to avoid the common faults outlined above and you must introduce it as part of your solo practice sessions. Give some time to just setting up and trying different shots with the short rest so that you become more confident in using it.
Aim to replace your common faults with some of the suggestions I have outlined above and you will almost certainly see your short rest play improve
Session 12. Judgement of Pace
Once the beginner has a reasonable grasp of potting angles and his/her game is starting to improve, the next challenge they will face is positioning of the cue ball. In simple terms, cue ball control comes down to two main factors – tip height (for spins) and, the area we will look at in this article, judgement of pace.
In snooker it is possible to get a feel for the pace of a shot during your preparation. 'Feathers' or 'waggles' (the backward and forward movement of the cue in preparation for the final delivery), if used correctly, should prepare your cue action for the shot you are about to play and will increase your chances of success when trying to apply the correct pace to a given shot. It is the correct use of your practice swings (from here termed 'feathers') that will help you to achieve the correct length of backswing. The correct length of backswing will in turn aid your consistency in achieving the correct strength or pace for the cue ball.
Common faults in judgement of pace for cue ball control
Shown below in bold italics are a number of faults I see when coaching 'judgement of pace'. A suggested correction is shown underneath each common fault:
Fault - No feathers
Having no feathers during your cue action in readiness for your final delivery is giving away the chance to have the best possible preparation.
During your feathers it is possible for you to get a 'feel' for the pace of the shot you are about to play. Using feathers to rehearse the length of your backswing and the opening and closing of your 'grip' (where required) will enhance your chances of making a well timed delivery, which in turn will improve your chances of controlling the cue ball as intended.
Fault - Not recognising the pace the shot requires
This fault is just an error in judgement – making the wrong call on the pace required.
Better judgement in this area comes with trial and error used in conjunction with a sound method. There are two methods I use to help players in this area. For each of these methods (and for all shots) it is imperative that you are getting your tip as close to the cue ball as possible in your 'address position' and each time you feather the cue ball.
The first method is the 1-10 method where your feathers and final backswing will be of a length (in inches) matched to a 1"-10" scale. Therefore, a gentle shot may be a '2' on the scale (feathers and final backswing of 2 inches), whereas a shot requiring medium power maybe a '5' on the scale (feathers and final backswing of 5 inches). You can simplify this method by not using numbers but by using 'gentle, medium or power' as your criteria for decision making.
The photos shown illustrate how you may want to set this up on your table to practise this particular method. Feathers and a final backswing back to the yellow should be used for 'gentle' shots, back to the green for 'medium' shots and back to the brown for 'power' shots.
This second method offers only a guide – do not see it as an exact science. There will be shots that will fall between these three options and perfecting your judgement of pace will be down to a lot of trial and error on the practice table.
Fault - Inconsistent length of 'feathers'.
I see many players with an inconsistent length of feathers. Here I am talking about inconsistency of length on the same shot! As I have mentioned above, a medium powered shot may require feathers and a final backswing of approx. 5 inches (130 cms).
Some players for this type of medium-paced shot will start off with feathers that are 3 inches in length, then start to feather to about 7 inches (as they realize the shot needs more power) and will finish off with two very short feathers (maybe 0.5 inches) – I call these 'woodpeckers' – before making their final backswing and their delivery.
The result is three different lengths of feather in preparation for one shot!
When you come to play the final backswing, your mind is somewhat confused by the inconsistency in the preparation and will fall back on instinct (sometimes good, sometimes bad). This inconsistency in length during your preparation is giving away the benefit you can achieve by using feathers to help with judgment of pace.
For a medium pace shot, for example, make a decision on the length of the feathers and final backswing (approx. 4 – 6 inches) – and stick to it – for each of your feathers (first to last) and your final backswing. The same rule applies to all shots.
Fault - Incorrect length of feathers for the pace required
This is slightly different to 'not recognizing the pace the shot requires'. This fault assumes you have made the correct decision with regard to the power required, but then you do not adopt a length of feather and final backswing that matches your correct decision.
For example, you have correctly assumed a particular shot is medium power, but you have feathers and a final backswing that are much too long and suited to a power shot.
Make sure that your feather and final backswing length are in tune with your decision on the length required for a particular shot (the 1-10 method and the gentle/medium/power method outlined above can help to improve this discipline).
Fault - Delivering the cue too fast or too slow
This fault occurs as a result of feathers and/or a final backswing that are too long or too short for the shot you are attempting. If you have feathers and/or a final delivery that are too long for a gentle shot, then you are very likely to make a delivery that is much too slow to compensate. If your feathers and/or final backswing for a power shot are too short, you are likely to make a very fast delivery to compensate.
To give yourself the best chance to make a well timed delivery I suggest you aim to make a similar speed of delivery for every shot (with the exception of very gentle and extreme power). I advocate that your judgement of pace should be managed by the LENGTH of your feathers and final backswing and not by the speed of the final delivery.
Fault - Final Backswing not the same length as the length of the feathers
It is very common for me to see players with the same length of feathering for every shot. This will usually lead to a final backswing that changes in length to suit the pace required (unless they have the previous fault and look to alter the speed of the delivery). If your final backswing is not the same length as your feathers, then why are you bothering to feather the cue ball at all? You are rehearsing one shot and playing another with your final backswing – think about it!
Aim to make your feathers and final backswing of the same (or very similar) length.
Aim to replace your common faults with some of the suggestions I have outlined above and you will almost certainly see improvements in your striking and cue ball control.
Session 13. More on Spin
In last month's article I stated that good control of the cue ball comes down, in the main, to the mastery of two main elements judgement of pace and application of spins. Last month we looked in depth at how to improve your judgement of pace. This month we will look at the application of spin. Improvements in these two areas should take you to the next level of positional play, helping you to make the most of your scoring opportunities as a result of better cue ball control.
When I talk about application of spin in this article I will be referring to centre ball striking only. Side spin is to be left for another day!
Remember that application of spins will be affected by two (technical) variables:
• Length of backswing (and/or speed of delivery); and
• Tip height (i.e. the position on the cue ball that your tip makes contact with)
Just by altering one or both of these variables, you can give yourself a large number of positional options for the cue ball.
We all lose control of the cue ball at one time or another – some more than others. Have a look at the common faults below to see if they could apply to you. If they do, take some of my suggested corrections to the practice table and see how you get on.
Common faults for application of spin
Shown below are some (not all) of the faults I see when coaching 'application of spins'. A suggested correction is shown underneath each common fault:
Tip addressed at the wrong height on the cue ball:
To position the cue ball using spins you first need to make a judgement on what height your tip needs to be on the cue ball. Many players simply have poor judgement when making this decision. The most common faults are placing the tip too low on the cue ball for top spin and too high for back spin. These faults are generally caused by fear of mis-cueing.
It may help to think of the cue ball as a clock face. For top spin you need to have your tip addressed near 12 o clock. You will be tempted to drop the tip too low or raise the butt of the cue too high to avoid the mis-cue. Experiment with getting your tip as high as you feel comfortable with (with a level cue).
Even by getting a few millimetres closer to the top of the cue ball you will see your top spin application improve. This in turn will open up more positional options in your game. For backspin you need to lift the butt of your cue slightly to get to the bottom of the cue ball. Make sure you keep this plane of delivery as you strike the cue ball and complete your action.
Not striking the cue ball at the height you selected at address:
This fault comes about when you have selected the correct height in the address position, but then go on to hit a different part of the cue ball when you deliver. Some players, like Jimmy White, do this consciously, while most players are not aware that this fault is occurring. Whether you do it consciously or subconsciously, I see it as a fault.
This fault usually occurs for one of two main reasons. The first is in the back three fingers of your grip. Many players close these fingers too aggressively when they deliver the cue. This causes the butt to raise and the tip to drop as you make the delivery. The result is often hitting the cue ball lower than you intended.
The second reason for this fault is players who drop their back elbow before they strike the cue ball. This causes the butt to drop and the tip to raise. The result is that you will strike the cue ball higher than you need. Many players (including Ronnie O Sullivan) will drop their elbow intentionally - and this can give extra acceleration through the ball.
The key, however, is timing. If you have fantastic timing (like Ronnie) then it is possible to drop the elbow as you strike the cue ball and still get the spin applied as intended. If like most players, you do not have this gift for timing, you may be in trouble.
To help negate the damaging action of the back three fingers, try to dominate the grip of the cue with the thumb and forefinger. The ring formed by the thumb and first finger should be at a strength of approx. 7/10. The strength of the back three fingers should decrease towards the little finger.
Middle finger strength should be at about 5/10, next finger approx. 3/10 and the little finger at about 1/10.
Try to feel the strike in the 'ring' of the grip and try to keep the back three fingers a little less active during your final delivery.
If, on the other hand, you have inconsistent positional play as a result of dropping your back hand (and elbow) too early I suggest you look to maintain the height of the elbow during the delivery. To help make sure you can do this while still getting a good follow through the cue ball, I would suggest that you visit a qualified coach to ensure your set up is correct. A good set up will allow you to have a vertical back arm in the address position and will allow you to maintain the height of your elbow while still getting a complete follow through (approx. 10 - 12 cms.).
Delivering too fast or too slow (mistiming the delivery):
This fault is usually caused by a final backswing that is too long or too short or when trying to get the spin through power instead of timing. When this happens you will almost invariably try to speed up or slow down the speed of delivery to make up for your poor preparation – the result is a mistimed delivery. The spin you apply in this instance is often not the spin you were hoping to achieve.
Use your 'feathers' to get a feel for the shot and to get the correct length for your final backswing. For power shots, feathers and final backswing should be longer. For more gentle shots have feathers and a final backswing that are shorter. Try to get the feeling that your speed of delivery is constant for every shot. Only the length of the feathers and final backswing change, depending on the power required.
Not addressing the cue ball with a level cue:
This fault usually occurs as a result of the player elevating the butt of the cue in the address position (when this is not required). This fault is made even worse if your tip is too far from the cue ball in the address position.
You must aim to have your cue as level as possible in the address position. Raise and lower your bridge to allow you to keep the cue as level as possible while still getting your tip to the desired height on the cue ball.
For backspin shots you will need to elevate the butt slightly to get to the very bottom of the cue ball. This may also be the case when the cue ball is near the cushion, when there is a ball impeding your normal bridge or when you need to play a swerve shot. The rule however, never changes – keep your cue as level as possible.
More often than not, I see people with the butt of their cue too high in the address position. This means they are hitting down on the cue ball (making accuracy more difficult).
Get the cue as level as possible and the tip as close to the cue ball as possible without touching it (within 1 cm if possible). Your aim should be to deliver the cue on the same plane as you have used at address.
Not completing the follow through:
This can happen for any shot but is most common on backspin shots when I often see not only a poor follow through, but the cue actually recoiling backwards after striking the cue ball.
If your set up and address position are correct you should look for a follow through of approx. 6" (150 cms.) from the back of the cue ball. This consistent follow through should be used for all shots with the exception of the more gentle ones.
For gentle shots you should look to curtail your follow through. A good guide, for gentle shots only, is to match the follow through to the length of your backswing - which for more gentle shots will be shorter.
This consistent follow through is important when applying backspin as well as topspin. A good follow through will give you the best chance of accelerating through the cue ball, keeping the tip in contact with the cue ball a split second longer and making your application of spin more efficient. (You will obviously need to be careful not to foul the cue ball with your follow through usually when you are using backspin on a straight shot or when the object ball and cue ball are very close together).
Not changing the height of your bridge to meet the requirements of the shot required:
You cannot keep your bridge at the same height for different spins.
To keep the cue as level as possible at all times, you will need to vary the height of your bridge for applying different spins. For backspin, where you are looking for a tip position very low on the cue ball, you will take your bridge as flat as possible.
For stun shots (any shots where spins are applied between backspin and topspin) you will need to alter the height of your bridge accordingly. The aim is to keep the cue as level as possible in your address position and throughout your action.
For topspin shots, your knuckles should be raised to allow the tip to get to the top of the cue ball. For unhindered topspin shots there is no excuse for not getting the cue perfectly level. When you raise your bridge for topspin shots, be careful not to raise the palm of your hand off the table.
For stability in the bridge it is very important that the pads of the fingers and part of the palm of your hand are in contact with the cloth.
The alteration in height for the bridge should be done as soon as you address the cue ball, before you start your feathers. The bridge should have no movement during your cue action
Unwanted body movement:
Very often players search for extra spin with a delivery that is too fast. These faster deliveries usually come with unwanted head and body movement. If the head and body move before the point of impact (tip to cue ball), then almost invariably pot and position will be unsuccessful.
Apart from your eyes, only your back arm, with your hand and wrist, should be moving during your cue action. Try to keep everything else as still as possible until completion of your final delivery.
Aim to replace your common faults with some of the suggestions I have outlined above and you will almost certainly see improvements in the consistency of your cue ball control.
Session 14. More on Bridging Practice and Preparation
</strong>To maximise your improvement in the competitive arena (whether in a local league match or in the professional game), your practice and preparation needs to be utilised in a way that will allow you to reach your full potential.
In my experience in the game, which amounts to more than 40 years, I have come across very few players who get everything possible from their practice and preparation. This is worrying when you consider that the vast majority of your Snooker playing time is spent on the practice table and not the match table.
In this area of practice and preparation, snooker lags a long way behind sports such as swimming, athletics and golf. There is no reason why this should continue to be the case.
Introducing some simple rules to your practice and preparation can offer significant improvement to your all round game.
Common faults for practice and preparation
Shown below are some of the faults I see when dealing with a player's practice and preparation. A suggested correction is shown underneath each common fault:
Not getting the right balance between solo practice and competitive practice.
I would advocate approx. 30% of your total practice time should be solo. This may increase if you are working on technical changes following a visit to a coach. During your solo play you should be keeping things simple to work on your technical changes or using structured routines that help to build on your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses.
Not getting a good 'mix' of competitive practice partners.
Your competitive practice (playing against another player) needs careful consideration. You should seek to split your practice between players that are of a lower standard (use a handicapping system to keep motivation levels high if required), a similar or competitive standard and of a higher standard (to bring your game on through 'watch and learn'). A good mix of standards amongst your practice partners gives you the best chance to maximise your improvement.
Not keeping a Snooker diary.
The benefits of keeping a Snooker diary can be far reaching. Writing down your thoughts on what went well or went wrong (in a practice session or match) for example, can help you to focus on the areas of game you need to work on in your next solo practice session. Another advantage could be that you are looking to find out why you have lost some form. Referring back to your diary over the last six months may pinpoint an area of your game that gives you a clue to what may be going wrong.
Diligently keep a Snooker diary that captures your key thoughts and feedback from each match or practice session. There are no strict rules as to what you should record in your diary. It is a personal decision, but one that you should take with improving your game as the key driver. Use this diary to structure your future practice and make sure you are working on the areas of your game that will give you the greatest benefit.
Not structuring your practice.
If you are preparing properly, you should turn up for your practice session knowing exactly what you will do and what you are hoping to achieve. This preparation should be carried out in conjunction with your Snooker diary. For example, if a diary entry following a match highlights a poor performance in breakbuilding, then in preparation for your next solo session you should select a routine that you can work on to overcome this weakness. Your solo practice session should always be planned in advance.
Not setting structured targets to increase motivation.
Using performance targets or 'goal-setting' can help to focus attention, help maintain effort and motivation, aid in setting action plans, can help people control their anxiety, will build self confidence and will allow player and coach to monitor progress and provide feedback. To get the most from objective or goal-setting you must follow some basic rules. Objectives must be SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, AGREED, REALISTIC, TIMED, ENJOYABLE, REVIEWED (think S.M.A.R.T.E.R). Having the goal 'I want to become a better break builder' does not tick the boxes. The goal would be better for the pupil if it stated 'I will make a 70+ break in a competitive match before the end of January, 2008'. Once the objectives are set you can start to work on an action plan that will facilitate delivery of your objective.
Poor concentration during practice sessions.
Like all disciplines, concentration can be improved with practice. There are many exercises you can do away from the table to improve your concentration, but as a serious Snooker player you should not throw away the opportunity to practice your concentration afforded to you during your practise sessions. To get the most out of your practice sessions you must give them full concentration – as you would in a match. Failure to concentrate in practice will not prepare you properly for a match and it is during these periods of poor concentration that bad habits will creep in to your game. One hour of well structured practice with good concentration is better than five hours of unstructured practice with poor concentration.
Not taking the same disciplines into your practice that you will try to use in matchplay.
Ask yourself some questions about your practice. If you are truthful with yourself, you will learn a lot through this process. Is the saying 'practice makes perfect' actually true – or should it read 'practice makes permanent'? Do you prepare for your practice in exactly the same way as you prepare for a match? Do you concentrate in practice as you do in a match? Do you adopt exactly the same routine and habits in practice as you do in a match? Do you play your practice session with exactly the same tempo and rhythm as you do in a match? Ask yourself these and other similar questions and then answer this last question – why do you practise? This last question may take a few more 'why' questions to get to the inevitable answer – we practise to improve our play in the competitive arena (whatever that arena may be – the local club or The Crucible). If we are practising to improve our competitive matchplay, what do we think we can gain from doing one thing in practice and a different thing in a match?
Keep your practice and matchplay as close to identical as is feasible.
Not making your practice realistic, i.e. not introducing consequence and pressure to your practice sessions.
We all know that practice at times can seem a lot easier than matchplay. There are good reasons for this – namely, consequence and pressure. The consequence of missing in solo practice is usually negligible – you can just carry on regardless. In competitive practice there is also little consequence as the practice game does not really mean that much (to most people). However, once you come to a match you are (or should be) desperate to win. All of a sudden the consequence of a mistake looms large. This introduces pressure which in turn affects your mind and, whether you like it or not, your technique – has your practice prepared for this?
It is not easy to bring these pressures to the practice table (there is no real substitute for match practice), but there are things you can do to help. When using routines in solo play you must discipline yourself to start an exercise again as soon as you make a mistake. This may not seem like much, but when you miss and have to start again and set everything up from the start it can become frustrating. This in itself can introduce consequence and pressure. Using objectives can also help. As you approach your target on a given routine you will start to feel pressure. This gives you the chance to learn how to handle it on the practice table before you get to the match table. For some people beating or losing to someone in competitive practice can be pressure enough. For others you have to think of some way to introduce consequence and pressure to these practice matches (forfeits for the loser for example).
Not preparing for any instance that may occur during a match.
In readiness for a match you must be mentally prepared for whatever may get thrown at you. Opponents' form (good or bad), luck (good or bad), conditions, distractions, the referee, your confidence, changes in strategy, two frames behind, two frames in front, you miss the first red by a country mile etc. – all these scenarios (and any other unforeseen circumstances) have to be faced at one time or another – and you must be prepared for them. The preparation you have will again be a personal choice. One key thing to remember is that a number of the examples I give above are not within your control. Learn to accept this and you will have learned a valuable lesson. Good preparation should mean that any given event is not going to divert your mind from your goal of winning the match in whatever fashion is required. Lose your mind and losing the match usually follows as sure as night follows day.
Aim to replace your faults with some of the suggestions I have outlined above and you will almost certainly see improvements in your all round play (match and practice).</blockquote>