Updated: Jul 19, 2020
1. Textbook Snooker
Read almost any snooker textbook and once the equipment has been covered, it will teach you HOW to play snooker, with topics covered in a particular order, typically: The stance ; The bridge and the grip; Sighting & aiming ; The cue-action.
This approach serves the absolute beginner well. The more established player, however, often gets frustrated quickly and needs more input. This article is designed mainly to assist and provide food for thought to players in this category. The findings and conclusions are based on my recent coaching, backed up by research, including insights from my coaching network, 1-1 advice from a former top 10 professional player & other top amateur players and was carried out March-July 2020 during COVID-19 lockdown.
Textbooks will explain how the feet are put in position first, (which is true) but this can be mistakenly understood to mean that a player should adapt everything else in their technique to their stance. I am advocating the reverse of this, in other words, you should focus first on what happens above the table and on cueing straight. Getting the stance right is a secondary priority. Hence the title of the article.
2. What is a Snooker Player trying to do?
The perfect shot is to strike the cue ball in the intended direction, at the intended speed, with the intended amount of spin.
This can only happen if the player is able to move the cue in a consistent and accurate way, along the line of aim. So (even if they don’t consciously try to do it) good players MUST have found a way to accurately and consistently control the movement in their lower arm, fingers and hand. (He/she must also be able to correctly line up the shot). One of my favourite examples that lends truth to this conclusion is with Alex Higgins here at 7:00 minutes. Alex famously did not keep still on the shot but on closer examination, it is apparent that his lower arm movements were in fact often very precise and controlled.
So the key to improvement is to learn how to better control your own body movements, specifically, your lower arm and eyes - and also to learn how to aim.
3. Improvement - Get the Right Mindset
My father told me a story about a promising young cornet player who auditioned for a top local brand band. He was asked to play a single note but was (sadly) sent away and told to come back when he could play the note with perfect pitch and tone. The message of the story is; if you want to play a concerto, learn to play each note well and learn your musical scales. There are no short-cuts. So many snooker players practise hoping that one day, if they play enough, they will make a big break. This is leaving things to chance because they’ve never really learned how to play a shot properly or successfully execute sequences of shots. They may not have grasped the fundamental point that no-one can control the balls, the only thing a player can control (and therefore change) is their own body movements.
Many gifted players do this naturally and so do not have to think about it too much. This is the ideal state to be in, where the player has formed a habit that becomes second nature. For most players, however, it won’t be so simple and they will need more awareness of what they are actually doing wrong, so it can be corrected. That can be tricky as you can’t see yourself, so you might try videoing yourself or even better to get feedback from others. Be ready to make adjustments and test their effectiveness. (Coaches advocate practising set routines that require a particular skill and gradually increasing the difficulty).
4. How Do I Know if I have a Cueing Problem?
If any of the things below happen to you, you may have fallen into the trap of sorting your stance first and adjusting other things in your technique second. The symptoms may include:
Even under 'normal' conditions, you feel and play very differently on different days
On some tables, you always seem to play poorly
Inexplicably, you sometimes know you’re cueing off-straight in an alarming fashion but you just can’t correct it?
If this happens, ask yourself, what changed? Did you play in boots one day and trainers the next? Did you play your last game in a t-shirt and this one in a formal shirt (wearing more restrictive clothing can affect your play). Was the table a different height? Maybe nothing changed, in which case you then know there's a problem.
It is common sense that, if any of the the playing conditions are different then you will have to make some slight adjustments in order to feel and play the same as you do normally. The question is, what adjustments?
5. Practical Steps to Improving your Game
Think of your cue, right arm and elbow forming a triangle. This ‘triangle’ needs to be placed behind the cue ball, on the line of aim in exactly the same position each time. The butt of the cue also needs to be exactly on the line of aim. The tip of the cue (at rest) will be very close to the cue ball, the distance from bridge to cue ball is a deliberate placement, your right arm will be hanging vertically (or near vertical) when at rest. These checkpoints will determine your grip point on the cue. The height of your elbow and hand above the table bed should be the same each time also; you don’t want to be cramped. The idea is to feel exactly the same, each time you address the cue ball. You should practice addressing the cue ball in this way until you get to ‘feel’ when you are in the same position. Many professionals and top amateurs will tell you that one of the best ways to get this alignment right is to approach the line of aim from behind the shot, so that your head remains on the line of aim from a standing position and never moves off this line, right through to execution of the shot.
If you are doing a few feathers as you approach, you will immediately feel whether the cue is moving along the line of aim. You should also glance at the cue - something rarely advocated but players must do it, as that's the reason for having chevrons on an ash cue. A slight adjustment to your feet and/or body should correct any problems. You will find that some body positions make moving the cue backwards and forwards in a straight line much easier than others. Once you can do this, you can make further dramatic improvement to how straight you are cueing by making sure that you only move your lower arm (re-watch the Alex Higgins link above). Research the various things that can be done to test straight cueing. For example, try hitting the cue ball straight into a pocket & check the cue-tip is still pointing at the aiming point in the pocket. Work on this, experiment with it and groove your cue action until it’s as straight as possible.
The goal is to ensure that what’s happening on the bed of the table is correct. What happens below the table, namely the position of your feet, torso & hips is very much secondary. The player should find a way of standing that means they are comfortable, solid and balanced so that the player will be able to keep still during the shot. The stance should not however, disturb the initial set-up that you’ve taken time to get right, on the bed of the table. As the player experiments and persists with grooving his/her cue action, the best position of the feet and body will become more natural. This video may be helpful, produced by Nick Barrow.
6. How Will I Know if Changes are Working?
If the suggestions here are new to you and you work at them, then you should see some improvement in your game.
When you start to truly cue straight, your confidence will sky-rocket. It will just feel right and you'll know the cue is going to be delivered straight. You might not know for sure if you're going to pot the ball, but you'll be very confident of getting very close.
You should be better at adapting to differing playing conditions as in 4, above. You should be more consistent even when playing conditions are unchanged. These things are the hallmark of a very good player.
If you’ve read this far, have a session with a coach, you’ll enjoy it and the coach will help you fill in some of the details not covered here (e.g. on cue action, sighting and aiming, a few do’s and don'ts). Good luck!