Knowing when you might miss a shot

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We all miss shots. Missing a shot is something you need to learn to accept, evaluate, and eliminate. Missing shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing, but instead as a learning experience that provides you the necessary feedback to improve.

Getting Upset

I see players that miss shots and then are upset with themselves. It’s natural, in a match or in practice to get upset initially, but you should move on quickly from that mistake. It’s history. It can’t be changed. The consequences of that action are already playing themselves out. Once the cue ball is struck, what happens after is not within your control. If you find yourself getting upset often, then your expectations exceed your ability. Or perhaps you lack the emotional control required to deal with failure. Whatever the reason, something you are doing needs to change.

Why you miss

If we could look back at videotapes or ourselves playing, it would be easier to identify why we miss shots. Recently I have been recording my own match play at a friends house. I have had the advantage of seeing a lot of video of myself and it has helped me become more self aware. Some people struggle in identifying their weakness or are unwilling to accept that they lack the skill. They stubbornly stick with the same way of thinking, unwilling to work on their weakness, and then wonder why they continue missing and get upset.

There are many reasons why we might miss shots:

  • difficult cueing – over a ball or near the cushion for example
  • pressure – either in a match, or when trying to reach a new personal best in practice
  • imperfect mechanics – either from your stance, your eyes, your hand, your grip etc.
  • difficult pot – the pot itself is inherently difficult like a long shot, or thin slice or having to pot into only a portion of the pocket
  • unwilling to sacrifice position – sometimes, potting the ball successfully means that you just won’t get the position you desire and need to reassess your outcome
  • equipment issues – kicks, bad cushions, miscues, etc.
  • inadequate understanding – of english, ball striking, ball control, cushions, etc.
  • unreasonable expectations given our level of skill

Everyone is individual and will have shots they are more or less likely to miss compare to someone else. For example, depending on your eye dominance, you may miss “right angles” more than “left angles” or visa versa. Pros on TV are no exception – some are just better at some shots than others.

Some shots, as a general rule, are also missed more than others by everyone. For example:

  • down the cushion
  • very thin cuts
  • shots with the rest
  • long shots

Playing your best vs playing perfectly

What if I told you that you won’t play the kind of snooker you WANT to play, and that you WILL miss shots you didn’t expect to? Most snooker players are always looking to improve their game and so always see a gap between their aspirations and their current ability. Would that make it easier to accept misses? I doubt it. Missing still hurts because its unexpected.

Now, what if I told you that for any shot you attempt (safety or pot) that there is ALWAYS an estimated chance you will be successful? That knowing your past history with that shot, we can guesstimate your success rate for the next one? This success rate is something we all know as snooker players. We know when it’s a tough shot vs an easy shot. For most players, that’s as far as their thought process goes: it’s hard vs it’s easy. It’s nearly impossible, however, to determine success rate on a shot by shot basis and then make a decision based on past performance.

Success Rate

Success rate is an important feedback mechanism in shot planning. I believe one day we might even start seeing success rate for any given shot for pros as they already have the ability to measure distances between cue ball, object ball and pocket on television with the technology available.

Since you have the ability to assess your own individual success rate for every single shot you play, are you able to use that in shot planning? I would venture to guess you probably already are. Subconsciously, you probably turn down shots that others wouldn’t pass up. Are you willing to pass up shots you haven’t yet perfected because you know based on past experience that your success rate is unacceptably low?

Knowing our own success rate from shot to shot often comes into the pre-shot decision making process – going for the pot or playing safe. Our success rate also gets used by our opponents in determining what shots they decide to leave us. I remember many years ago, friends would always leave me side pocket shots because I struggled to pot them until I practiced and overcame my own lack of skill.

We can also make general rules about success rates for different kinds of shots also and suggest that some shots are always harder to execute. For example, I have one friend that consistently plays his cue ball on or near the cushion. He claims that doing so is a defence mechanism against his opponent – as most people have trouble off the cushion, but I also know his success rate off the cushion isn’t that much better than anyone else.

Accept misses as part of the game, and work hard on perfecting your own skill level in the game and improving at your own pace. If you personal high break is 30, carefully monitor what shot you missed, and practice it until you fully understand it. Each time you do this, you increase your chance of beating your last performance.

Monitor your own progress

Watching videos of yourself playing will tell you a lot about your own game. I have also found that practice routines will give you this feedback. One practice drill in particular – the lineup – provides great feedback for most players.

I have been doing the lineup recently in practice (2 reds below black, 6 below pink, and 7 below blue). In every session I have discovered certain patterns emerging. At first, I was having trouble clearing more than 5 or 6 reds, but once I started assessing what shots I’m missing more than others, I worked on them and overcame the difficulties. The lineup – and any other practice routine – is great for this kind of individual feedback because the balls are always in the same position, and if you play close attention, you can pickup on patterns for yourself. You will, however, need to be disciplined in how you approach practice so that you can gain this additional benefit and feedback: if you miss, or cannon a red, start over. With the lineup start with the 2 reds below the black (nearest the cushion first), and then directly above the black and either side of the pink, followed by all the remaining reds in whichever order you prefer.

Practice is great for understanding what shots you are more or less likely to miss, but what about when you are in a match? I think as snooker players, we tend to have a black/white method in our decision making on shot selection – either we go for the shot, or play safe. This polarity in shot selection, however, doesn’t translate into our success rate on producing the outcome we desire. Overall past success is much more grey and uncertain. Depending on our personality or mood, we might be more courageous than past performance allows.

Should you ignore past performance?

I’m sure some of you are reading this article thinking that past performance shouldn’t be an indicator of future success. I fully understand that courage, determination, and perseverance shouldn’t be ignored and that you need those qualities in match play. I know that you should overcome your fears and doubt, and take the shot on that’s called for, but I also know that you will need to accept failure as a possible outcome, if you decide to take that path.

I have found that it’s very hard to play matches by taking any shot on. Offense has it’s place in snooker, but so does knowing when to play the safety as well. Being realistic about our own abilities, and following our own success formula in match play, and then working on our weakness in practice will reduce the pressure we place on ourselves, and provide a system for improving our offensive and defensive capabilities.

Think through your past results when faced with a difficult shot. Knowing how often you missed a shot in the past, can provide a good baseline to make decisions from. If you decide, in the end, to take the shot on anyways – regardless of past performance – you can at least do so knowing that the results might not go your way.

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