A Snooker Player Life Cycle

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If you want to become a master violin maker, you follow some fairly predictable stages throughout your career:

  1. Beginner Level where you are learning about violin making. Nothing is straightforward and you make a lot of mistakes.
  2. Awkward Level where you can build a violin but it’s not anywhere near perfect and it doesn’t have a world class sound.  You know the fundamentals but there is a lot you need to learn.
  3. Competant Level where you can now build a fairly decent looking and complete violin. It has enough life and personality to be a musical instrument that some musicians may want to buy. You don’t know everything but you know enough to do a decent job.
  4. Master Level where you now can build a world class violin that is highly sought after by musicians of all levels. You have gone through all the trial and error and you now understand the process quite well. You don’t ever stop learning but you know what works and you have some fairly good ideas on what it takes to have success as a violin maker.

I’m showing the typical stages above with a violin because it’s easier to see with something tangible that we can all understand and probably relate to.  I have never built a a violin but I’m sure that 90% of violin makers go through the above stages.  It’s all hard work and years of knowledge, practice, trial and error, learning from others, sharing ideas, experimenting and much more. Getting to the master level takes some real dedication and most violin makers never reach that far.  The few that reach master level do it because they love the work.

Now think about your snooker game.  Can you relate to one of the stages above?  Are you at the Beginner level where you are constantly seeking ideas, advice, experimenting, making mistakes, getting frustrated?  Whatever stage you are at, I can just say “Congratulations!” You are doing what nearly every other snooker player has already done in their career!

Now let me take the above metaphor with violin making and describe the stages above in snooker terms:

  1. Beginner Level where you are learning about snooker and cueing action.  You understand the basic rules of the game and you are trying to become a competent potter and positional player. Nothing is straightforward and you make a lot of mistakes and are very inconsistent.
  2. Awkward Level where you can now make the odd 20/30 break but it’s not anywhere near perfect and it’s certainly not world class positional play. You lose the white ball a lot and you play a series of recovery shots throughout a break.  You know the fundamentals but there is a lot you need to learn.  You probably struggle with staying in position and you all too often miss a black or pink or other ball off the spot.  You think it’s cueing, and it probably is, but it’s other areas of your mechanics and understanding of the game too.
  3. Competant Level where you can now build a fairly decent break in the 40’s and 50’s or higher and you know what it takes to win frames. Your safety play is decent and you can make plenty of balls now.  Your potting ability has matured and you know how to make just about every shot at one time or another. Consistency, however, eludes you. If only you could string 25 shots together (yes, that’s all you need for a century – 12 blacks plus a red and any color higher than yellow) you would make a century! You still don’t know everything about break building and positional play but you know plenty enough to win matches and become a decent player. For some that reach this stage (like me), you start looking at the mental side of the game in this stage because you know it’s a stumbling block.  For others, it’s the cueing or positional play that isn’t perfectly understood and that becomes your stumbling block.
  4. Master Level where you now are a very capable and near complete snooker player.  You have made at least a few centuries and you can now see cueing action imperfections and minutae like a bouncing white or an slightly imperfect cue action – both in yourself and in others. You have gone through all the trial and error and you now understand the process of winning, break building, match play, and practice time very well. You don’t ever stop learning and there are probably a few areas you need to improve but you know what works and you have some fairly good ideas on what it takes to have success as a snooker player.

I would say for myself, I’m at the Competent level right now.  I’m an excellent potter and I can string the odd break together but it’s the mental side now that will likely be my stumbling block. I know what it takes to win but I can’t execute quite yet because I don’t have the level of familiarity needed to be playing at a Master level.  I still lose the white every so often but on balance, I can stay in position if I’m focused and playing well.  My 50 breaks usually consist of mostly blacks and pinks and the odd blue or baulk color.

I’m highlighting the above stages because I think as snooker players, we all get into ruts where we start to hate the game.  We know we need to improve but we don’t know how or where. Maybe it’s the cue?  Maybe it’s the cue action?  We aren’t entirely sure sometimes but we keep trying and experimenting.  For the lucky few, we progress but for most other players, they reach an impasse and never get over it.

It’s common for snooker players to have an ego but for many it gets to their heads and they never progress because they think they know what it takes to win. Even when they are getting beat, they think it’s the table, or the balls or the cue or something else and they never progress. Sometimes, winning is the worst thing that can happen to you because you fail to see the truth about yourself or your game. Maybe the above examples will help you realize the shortcomings in your own game are real and not made up.

So what then do you need to do to get to the Master Level in snooker and become a regular century maker and world class player?  Well, let’s turn the question around and think about what you would tell a violin maker if they asked you the same question. The answer, of course, would always be, “go seek out the best Master violin maker you can find.  See if they will show you the ropes and be your guide. Take a course or hire a teacher if possible. Trust their judgement and advice and learn as much as you can from them.”

If you want to grow from the stage you are at now, it’s almost certain that you need someone to lead you there.  It’s very rare for us to see the shortcomings in our game. The odd video recording of yourself might show you a thing or two but that’s assuming you are able to see yourself and your game in a completely objective manner.

Don’t have someone around that can show you the ropes?  Whatever stage you are at, I’m  happy to be your guide. By watching you on video, or seeing you in person, I can give you a helping hand with your game and help you highlight your shortcomings. Get in touch with me.

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13 replies
  1. Will Tyson
    Will Tyson says:

    Thanks for that, I might give you a message on TSF this evening if that’s alright? I don’t think it’s my cue action though, as have lessons, but could do with some help on shot selection and pace judgement if that’s ok? Really enjoying your post atm, keep up the good work pal :) Also often talk myself out of shots and take them even when thinking I won’t pot them, that’s a whole new story though lol

    Reply
    • SnookerDelight
      SnookerDelight says:

      Thanks Will for the feedback. I like blogging and I want this site to become a free coaching resource for snooker fans and players. I’m happy to help you with your game wherever I can.

      As players, we all talk to ourselves about shot selection, fear, courage, and much more. There isn’t really a recipe per se that works for everyone. Mental approach can be a very individual and intimate thing based on our past experiences, way of thinking, how we deal with life, etc. There are methodologies that are universally accepted as good practice when dealing with shots, shot selection.

      I will put some thought into your comments and feedback and see if I can post a blog entry pertaining to the challenges you face right now.

      Keep in touch. Thanks!

      Reply
  2. Will Tyson
    Will Tyson says:

    I think that judgement of pace, and shot selection just comes with practice? So I’ll stick to that, but my main problem is taking shots that I’m not 100% committed to, I do this far to often and generally miss when I take them. I often find that I can consciously miss the shots by convincing myself that I’ll miss them. If I tell myself that I will pot them and visualize doing so, I pot more. I think I know a lot of my problems, but I’m stuck in a rut of not taking a step back, thinking about it and making sure that I choose to pot rather than miss, if that’s possible lol. Thanks for the help mate :)

    Reply
  3. Mayur J
    Mayur J says:

    Judgement of pace DOES come with practice assuming you are following recommended practices on cueing, alignment, aim and so forth. For example – and I’m making assumptions here – if you aren’t gripping properly or haven’t understood how to accelerate the cue (vs throwing the cue at the cue ball), then you won’t ever achieve consistent pace control. I’m not sure where you are in your mechanics but it would be good to see you pot a few balls on a practice table. I might be able to help you out.

    Shot selection, however, isn’t just about practice. It’s very easy to practice and consistently execute the wrong ball and shot selection. I have seen way too many players where their understanding of snooker is based on the wrong fundamentals altogether. It may win matches and get them potting balls and scoring, but it’s not the path to great results. If you follow some key principles which I hope to outline, you WILL get better at it with practice. Shot selection the way I see it includes concepts like table management, planning ahead, opening key balls, re-spotting colors, narrowing your focus into the shot at hand – vs the player, the score, etc – and more. I was taught these principles from a m8 and capable snooker player and I think it’s one I will blog about next. I think it will help you a lot.

    It might be hard to believe just yet cause you aren’t seeing the results you want, but it’s entirely possible that your game will improve dramatically if you follow some key principles on how to play the game. The principles I will describe will completely solve your concerns like not committing to shots, subconciously missing and more.

    In the meantime, see if you can record some of your match play if possible and put it up on Youtube or send to me privately with Dropbox. I won’t comment too much on mechanics – that’s not my strong area – but will be able to give you key pointers on shot selection, match preparation, and shot execution that I’m sure will help you.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  4. Will Tyson
    Will Tyson says:

    If I am able to record a video for you, what areas would be good for me to video? Break building? Tactical play? Or just game play situations? :) Thanks for this

    Reply
    • Mayur J
      Mayur J says:

      Well, I would like to see everything eventually. Let’s start with the primary issues you contacted me about: being unsure about shot selection. Setup some scenarios on a practice table that you remember having difficulty with.

      Also, so that I can also quickly assess your current ability, also record a table clearance (or your best effort) with 2 reds, 2 blacks and all the colors. Place the 2 reds in an easy position somewhere between the pink and black and give yourself cue ball in hand. Position the cue ball for an easy shot from red to black, and then follow up with another red black and then proceed to clear the table if you can. If you fail, don’t worry, just reset the last shot you missed.

      Reply
      • Will Tyson
        Will Tyson says:

        Ok, I’ll try that. It’s not so easy as I very rarely get into the club at the moment unless I have a match, when I’m next able to I will :) thanks

        Reply
  5. Richard
    Richard says:

    Hi Mayur,

    I am a studious player who has picked up the game later in life but would still like to achieve my potential even at a competitive level. I have studied the books from cover to cover and I have built up a very orthodox technique, so much so that many player accuse me of being slow. Over the years I have received a lot of negative criticism for this ‘slow’ style (mainly from the faster players it has to be said) and this seems to be etched into me and now has a very negative psychological impact on the way I play, causing me to rush and missing relatively easy shots as a result.
    I’ll admit that a lot of players would claim very impressive breaks in practice but struggle in a match, perhaps also due to the psychological stresses. I feel much more comfortable playing a slow/methodical player as I feel as if I don’t need to speed up my game, if not for my opponent but for the spectators watching the game and judging me as a time waster.

    The truth is that no matter what situation, match play or solo practice, I try to keep the same rhythm of play throughout. I do not believe my time between shots is slow – its more the execution ie slow smooth feathering of the white ball and keeping still, in an almost exaggerated way even after the object ball has been struck – which ruffles and seems to get other players and spectators fidgety.

    I know I should just try to block this out from my mind and I have tried to do this on many occasions in matches but only for a relatively short period of the match. I seem to speed up gradually from the moment I start a break and then end of rushing a simple shot missing it. This is something I rarely, if ever, do in solo where I can often go on and score heavily.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t personally enjoy watching myself play and would prefer to watch a more flowing player mop up but if I try to play like this I’ll just end up missing and think to myself that I could have taken more care over the shot.

    I guess I have two options: To either work on battling these negative thoughts or to try to somehow speed up my game.

    I must admit that my highest break in a match was 64 and if I remember I was playing quicker than I usually do. Perhaps this slow/methodical way is stifling any natural talent I may possess.

    If you have any light to shed on this I will be very grateful.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    Reply
    • Mayur Jobanputra
      Mayur Jobanputra says:

      Hi Richard. It’s a very interesting email and I would be happy to chat with you more about it and help you work through your concerns. Perhaps we can have a Skype or phone chat in the future. Regarding your comment, a few pieces of feedback. It seems clear to me that your slow and deliberate style is now affecting your game play negatively in that you worry what others are thinking or saying about it. Peter Ebdon has been accused of gamesmanship and perhaps this is in the back of your mind also. It’s a very common issue where someone in a break speeds up… its adrenaline and hormones playing a role here. Anxiety increases in a break. The anxiety and stress are then used as primitive hormone triggers which cause either the flight or fight response which in turn makes you act more quickly as if you are killing prey. One way to overcome this is to look at every red (or remaining color on the table) as your prey. Picture yourself as the hunter that will delicately and predictably take every last ball and point on the table. Imagine yourself as the silent and invisible hunter that has power over the table.. the opponent is of no concern.. and the prey (the points) are yours for the taking. This is just one example that I have used in competition before.. Once I approach the table, its like I’m the hunter, and the prey are all frozen in time.. I’m not rushed because they are all there for me. I will take my time and savor the hunt. You can come up with any similar concept or story in your head to reduce the pressure of making a big break. One thing you can do is count your break as you play.. or you can also count your break in reverse… for example if there are 10 reds.. count them down as you take them. This will help break building also. Finally, in practice, forget line ups and silly pre-determined drills.. I’m not a fan except in certain circumstances. Practice what you will get in match.. 3 or 4 or 5 reds on the table.. cue ball in hand.. attempt clearing up.

      Specifically regarding slow play.. there are a few areas I would need to look at.. your current understanding of play and break building may need to be improved. Typically, in sport, there are predictable stages. Stage 1 is awkward.. Stage 2 is mechanical.. Stage 3 is flow and unconcious. If you look at interviews and youtube videos on flow state, you will realize that the individual isn’t thinking of anything specifically. The mechanical concepts they learned in their journey help them understand what to do when something is broken.. but generally, in break building.. it’s all super conscious, sub conscious activity. So you may be in Stage 2. Read on for some insight into getting into stage 3:

      And this brings me to the last and most important talking point. Something I started asking many years ago when inspecting my own game.. When I’m playing well, what am I doing? When I’m making big breaks, what am I focused on? If you consider these questions, you will realize that there generally is no answer. You can try to answer the question by stating what you ARE NOT doing. When you play your and are in flow state, you ARE NOT worried about the mechanics all that much. It’s most often in flow state that you will make the big breaks.. and they aren’t rushed. Time, space, points, the competitor, the patrons, and the observers don’t matter. You don’t even know they exist because your mind is within the rails of the table. This flow state, by the way, is part of the reason people become obsessed over their chosen sport. They are trying to re-live that moment again and again.

      At the stage you are at, consider that all the practice is really to bring your mind and body into flow state. The entire body should be relaxed, the mind focused, and clear, and then your game will improve and level up. So don’t beat yourself up if you feel or look mechanical right now. It’s a stage and it won’t last forever. Looking forward to your response.

      Reply
      • Richard
        Richard says:

        Hi Mayur,

        I hope you are well. Thank you so much for replying to my message. It made very interesting reading as I am still very keen on getting to the bottom of this.

        I do apologize for taking so long to get back to you on this. I have recently started a new job and the training has eaten up a lot of my time. As a consequence I haven’t been able to practice my snooker as much but I think this has been not such a bad thing :-)

        I have taken part in a few fortnightly league matches and I think this has been of real benefit to my game. I have been able to understand myself and the way I think more as a result of playing tough matches and matches which involve spectators.

        I haven’t forgotten the interesting piece you mentioned about the ‘hunter and prey’ mentality during a break and I am keen on trying it out to see if it helps. When I wrote to you, I felt as though the mechanical approach had been stifling my game and perhaps it was best to keep things simple ie, trying to keep the most pertinent aspects of my technique which I seem to slacken up as the match progresses. Perhaps I’m just trying to compensate for the lack of practice but I believe if I keep these techniques fresh in mind then I seem to play a more consistent game and these become more and more subconscious.

        Anyway, I think as I become a more experienced player so too does my ability to make better decisions as to which path I choose in order to improve the bigger part of my game.

        Please do shoot my a reply, its always a pleasure to receive your wisdom :-)

        Reply

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