Nic Barrow's The Snooker Gym ... "We Train Frustrated Amateurs, To Beat Their Highest Break"

I entered a snooker tournament, played rubbish, but stayed happy!

how to improve your snooker Mar 07, 2019

To some, ‘playing rubbish’ is certain to lead to anger, frustration, and general misery.

However, I had an experience at the weekend where I had the former, but not of the latter.

Noticing this unusual reaction to playing at less than 20% of one’s ability, I decided to observe my thoughts during the remainder of my first round 3-0 whitewash and record them for the blog… in case there are players you know who may like to be able to deal with their own frustration a bit better.


The tournament was the Paul Hunter Old School Reunion Tournament held at Dunstable Snooker Club on 15th Sep 2018. It was for players who competed in the pro am scene of the late 80s and early 90s when Paul Hunter was learning his trade.


Having practiced a grand total of thirty minutes for the tournament, my expectations were not high for my performance – although I did not discount the possibility of getting on a wave of inspiration and playing very well!

I drew a main tour professional in the first round and our mutual performance was pretty ropey at best! My approach was to act as if I had practiced for three weeks solid before the event, as that has helped me feel confident before. I also applied my full pre shot routine with discipline on every shot.


The key to my mood remaining upbeat throughout and after the match was my post shot diagnosis.

After every miss I would ask:

Did I miss due to cueing or aiming?

Because I had stayed down properly after the shot, I knew exactly where the object ball had hit the pocket or cushion, and had the time staying still after the shot to feel if my cue delivery was straight.

If I did not feel the cue was delivered straight, then I put my reason for missing down as cueing.

If the cueing was straight and I missed, then I knew the miss was due to aiming.

Ultimately we want to cue straight on every shot so that the only reason we miss is reduced down to one thing – aiming. The fewer the variables, the quicker the learning.


If I potted the ball and lost position, my first question would be:

Did I miss due to cueing or height/speed selection?

So if I did cue at the cue ball height & speed that I had mentally committed to and rehearsed before getting down to the table and still lost position then I would know my mistake was committing to the wrong cue ball height & speed.


Whatever the reason for the miss, or lost position, I would then come up with a prescription for what I should have done to get the pot or position.

For example, if cueing was at fault then I may pay attention to the cueing action speed being a bit slower (for added control), or in contact with the chin so that I can feel if the cue is moving straight.

If aiming was at fault, I may have realised that I should have taken more care staying on the line as I approached or not rushed my pre shot routine.

With positional play height & speed being wrong, I would simply recalculate/re-estimate the correct height & speed that I SHOULD have played to get perfect position.

This way, even when I missed or lost position, I still ‘won’ and ‘succeeded’ at the shot because I learned something about how to play better snooker. So my attitude on every shot is that I will pot it or learn how to pot it next time. 
Most club players apply no learning to their missed shots, so get frustrated because improvement is impossible and there is only one on-off switch to achieving success at the shot – positional play.


I refer to these as first tier prescriptions, but there was a second and deeper tier that I was thinking through too – and something which helped me a lot to stay centred in competition in my twenties.

Namely, a prescription for how much practice and preparation I would need to be able to make the individual shot corrections.

For example, if my cue ball height/speed selection was wrong on a certain shot, I would estimate how that should have been different… but also how many hours I would need to be able to get it right first time. 
There was one shot where I estimated I would need forty hours of practice in a break building routine in order to not miss the easy balls I was missing. Because that is the amount of practice I prescribed to myself, I also could not blame myself for missing the ball in the first place – because I had of course been UNWILLING to apply those forty hours in that area of the game before the tournament started. This had the benefit of short circuiting any anger or frustration because it came down to a simple question of whether I was willing to put that work in – and I was happy that I had not done all that practice as I had a lot of other commitments to fulfill in the weeks leading up to the event.


Ultimately these post shot process maps served to help me:

  1. To remain present to what I was doing rather than what had just happened.
  2. To observe what happened after every shot, rather than judging it (positively for a good shot, negatively for a bad shot). Observation allows learning, where judgement blocks learning.
  3. To gain a sense of satisfaction, pride, and enjoyment at having extracted some learning from this wonderful game.
  4. Feel a sense of self mastery as I had managed to negotiate the goal of snooker happiness in the most difficult of circumstances… when playing rubbish!


Please comment below if you have any questions or feedback…


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