It’s coming up to the 12-month point since I qualified as a Level 2 coach. Here is a list of the top ten learning points that I’ve taken from experiences during this time. I hope that players might find this useful or interesting to read and that it might encourage some players to consider getting some professional snooker coaching. They are based on watching the players I coach regularly and which changes cause improvements and which do not, and under what circumstances. I’ve also come to the rather frustrating conclusion that I made an error of judgement by not having coaching for my own game when I was younger. As a result, I’ve rather belatedly started taking lessons myself as of last May, and after some initial doubts following a dip in form, managed to get some improvement, with relatively little time investment. I believe that you can do the same.
MY TOP TEN LEARNING POINTS, THEREFORE, ARE:-
1. As players, almost all of us think we are better than we actually are. Most players judge themselves by their greatest achievement, biggest breaks, rather than their average standard. However, when assessed against specific criteria and shot routines (in a similar way as would be used for example to assess competence in playing a musical instrument), many established players would be surprised to learn that they are technically a beginner. The starting point, therefore, is to put your pride to one-side and get an honest assessment of where you're at.
2. Don’t concern yourself simply with the amount of hours you spend practicing, instead, focus on the quality of practice. In order to improve, a player needs to repeat shots, until they are mastered. Especially the ones they struggle with. Shots need to be linked to form routines of gradually increasing difficulty. Practice needs to be targeted, enjoyable and challenging. A coach can help you with this.
3. There is no single, correct way to stand, hold your cue, create a bridge or any other approach*. However, there are certain ways of playing that are highly correlated with successful play and that can be proven to work with most players. A coach has the advantage that they have seen what works and can therefore advise you based on facts, rather than opinions.
4. A snooker player, above all things should seek to establish the correct line of aim and deliver the cue down this line. This may seem obvious however, most missed shots are as a result of not doing this, and techniques for striking the cue ball in the middle and finding the correct line exist, even though they are not well known.
5. Many players do not prepare sufficiently for the shot. Many amateur players do not have pre-shot routines, stand inconsistently or have their bridge hand too far from the cue ball. This is often linked with holding the cue too near the end and has other knock-on effects. A reliable pre-shot routine can be developed fairly easily and can improve consistency.
6. Quite often, a player’s set-up lacks the necessary firmness and can lead to movement during a shot. Simple corrections to this can make a marked difference. Examples include:-
Involuntary or accidental/unnoticed movement of the bridge-hand
Not bracing the shoulders correctly, leading to a ‘loose’ upper body that is prone to movement especially in the shoulders
A ‘busy’ cue hand, fingers or wrist
A rigid left arm with various disadvantages arising. (For most players, playing with a slightly bent left arm usually yields better results).
The cue is not sufficiently guided by touch points with the body, in order to help the cue move in a piston-like motion (and to prevent the to cue from going up-and-down or side-to-side)
7. The feathers and the final stroke are often quite random with little method or knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. They are usually not controlled sufficiently, lack a definite start and end point or lack rythm, leading to timing problems and inconsistent cueing.
8. With practice, dedication and expert input, you will improve, irrespective of ability or how long you’ve played the game. (Snooker is a learned skill, like playing a musical instrument). If you’re going to get coaching input, make sure that you find a coach you can put your trust in and persevere with his advice. Be prepared to have to take one step back to take two forward. Picking and choosing which advice to use may not serve you well.
9. Amateur players can 'steal a march' on their fellow players by taking a more structured route to improvement, using a qualified coach and with relatively little time investment. There is a reason why other sports such as golf, tennis and football emphasise coaching more than snooker. Go figure.
10. If you are a keen player, make sure you have the best equipment you can afford. There are so many excellent choices, there is no need any longer to stick with that second rate piece of bamboo you’ve had for years. You may need to change it more than once before you get the right cue, but it should be worth the effort. Check you have a decent set of snooker balls that are legal and weigh within 3 grams of each other, as you should start to notice as you improve, particularly if you are practising repeated shots that involve controlling the distance of screw-back and run-through shots.
* We all may have examples, in my case, the single worst piece of advice I have been given as a right-handed player is to “put your right foot on the line of aim”. Many professionals and coaches say this and whilst it may be a good guide, in my experience, this is not always appropriate. You don’t hit the cue ball with your feet. In my opinion and based on what I have seen through coaching, the only thing that matters is that the stance should ensure that the player is comfortable, well balanced, can stay still on the shot, is sufficiently low to the shot and can push the cue through in a straight line without moving.