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

Great Expectations & Snooker Psychology

psychology Jun 07, 2018

One of my regular clients recently sent me an email the type of which I sometimes see: one of frustration with the game!:


The Problem

‘Hi Nic

Just got home and feel the need to relieve my frustration by writing it down…

So, for the second time this week I’ve lost my temper during a match.

This time, after missing a shot and leaving it for the 1000th time over the pocket, I threw down my cue, ok not hard but hard enough 😊 for people to notice my anger.

I’ve come to the point that I’m wondering why I’m putting in all those hours.

It’s fun when there is progression like this week when I play effortlessly, but now….

Anyways… I’ve tried to find a positive to end with and I found one:

I used to have these very deep ruts that took weeks or months to get out of.

Nowadays I seem to have ruts that last for a day or even just one frame.

I hope that these ruts will get less deep and take less effort to get out of.

Thanks for letting me “vent” my frustration a bit 😉


As I started writing the answer, I turned it into a blog post for him – and here it is:


Yes, I have been where you are dozens of times. and I am STILL wondering now whether I should have carried on – is there any point to this game…. OR EVEN MY ENTIRE CAREER! Maybe we will all find out when we are in heaven if snooker was in God’s plan or not?!


So, for expectation, I feel snooker is very much like life…

10% of the time is our worst 10%, and 10% of the time is our best 10%.

We go through bad times when we cannot work out what to do, it seems impossible, and we feel helpless.

Other times there is elation, high points, and we feel we can do no wrong.


Acceptance Practice

I have found a daily practice in acceptance to be very useful in managing expectations. So, making a daily list of ten things about myself (‘good’ and/or ‘bad’), and a list of ten things about life (‘good’ and/or ‘bad’) that I genuinely accept gets me in a healthier mental attitude for dealing in life – AND IN SNOOKER!


Expectation of Standard

The first expectation we need to manage is that of our standard – if we set our bar too high for our ability it CAN work for some players, but more often than not it can simply cause an upset.

Think of the joke – Why do cows wear bells? Because their horns don’t work.

The reason some of us laugh to that is our expectation of the answer has been broken. Being upset is the opposite of laughter – try on the idea that we can only be upset if we have a broken expectation. Then, if we are upset… look for the expectation that is broken. For example, if we make hundred breaks every day and then one day we cannot make a break of ten we may get upset that we are not playing to our subconscious standard of at least 40 breaks every day. If we cannot move around this upset, we will lose perspective and not have the clarity to self diagnose what to do to recover and get out of our rut.

Another example of a broken expectation would be a feeling of annoyance with the table. We can easily trace that back to an unconscious expectation that: ‘The table should not be slow, should not roll off, should not have very fast cushions, should not have a light cue ball etc etc.’ It took me years to get out of these expectations and be happy with any table condition – whilst some conditions were sometimes perplexing, after my mid 20’s I very rarely would get upset at a table and in fact enjoyed the challenge of adapting to very different conditions.


Expectation of Recovery

Secondly, if we can manage our expectation of standard despite not playing ‘well’, we can have an expectation that we should quickly recover from playing ‘badly’. If we cannot, or do not know how to, recover it can very easily lead to upset – which blocks our ability to get out of the rut we are angry about! Then, we might even get angry about the fact we are getting angry about not getting out of our rut on time!

All these issues are a normal part of snooker for all players, and get more prevalent the better we get because we are less focused on technique which becomes automatic and more focused on playing the game. The better we get at untying these mental knots, the better we will get at doing so in our day to day life. This is one reason Gary Player said that professional golfers tend to have long and peaceful marriages – because they have learned how to manage their mind and keep a calm demeanour during the rough seas of life.


The Real Reason We Are Upset

So, it is not what we think we are upset about that we should be upset about, it is the expectation that causes the upset that we should unhook. We are then in a position where if we are not making ten breaks for many days in a row, we could make a cool and calm decision about whether to take a break from the game or give up entirely. But I always try to discourage clients from deciding to give up when they are playing badly – as it never lasts and they almost always will come back to try and fix it! Rather, I prefer to help them build up the self diagnosis skills to get to a more satisfying standard from where they can make a cool and calm decision about their future in the game.


Plan ‘D’

Lastly, a solution you can try which snooker players usually avoid is telling someone their issues. Maybe a family member, spouse, or other player. Even just writing down everything you feel about how much you hate the game until you have nothing else to write can be a good way to get the spaghetti out of your head in a place you can see it – on a piece of paper where they way out of the problem can often seem a lot clearer.