The video above was something I started doing in the 90's. I posted this video five years ago that demonstrates perfectly how cueing is separate from potting..
The issue I see with a very high percentage of players who are struggling to get into regular 40 breaks, is that they are simply WAY too focused on 'potting the ball'. That is the purpose of snooker, right?! Well yes it is, but what is so counter-intuitive about snooker is that the pot is a SIDE EFFECT... of correct aiming and correct cueing. This sounds obvious, but to the subconscious mind who wants so desperately to pot the ball... it sounds like a criminal statement: 'BECAUSE SURELY POTTING IS WHAT MATTERS, AND HOW CAN YOU EXPECT ME TO IGNORE THAT?!'
There are a few good exercises we can do to show whether we are sufficiently detached from the end result of the shot to allow our focus to be on the process of the shot rather than paralyzed with ‘Pocket Stress’ as my great friend Clive Bryant termed it.
In all the drills below, the idea is to develop an appreciation of how you strike the cue ball in these drills, and how you hit the ball when an object ball is in the way. I recommend you do these drills and then immediately do a few minutes regular potting practice to feel if there is a difference in your cue delivery. You can then gradually advance your ability to cue correctly no matter the difficulty of the shot.
Snooker Potting By Proxy:
This involves watching somebody play down at the local club. This CANNOT be your opponent, you must be watching another game to do this. The objective is to practice watching the object ball from impact until it stops moving, or goes in the pocket. This gets your eyes into the habit of watching the ball properly. Which, amazingly to most, is more important than potting the ball. If you DO NOT WATCH the object ball on its way to the pocket you will NOT know which side of the pocket you miss, as is the case with probably 50% of all missed pots in a club environment. Without learning the correct object ball paths by watching them, and without the mandatory result feedback, our learning of potting angles is very heavily reduced - which is why most club players never improve.
What I find is that most sub 40/50 break players think there is a magic sighting formula which will help them find the correct point on the object ball, allowing them to suddenly pot everything.
Ideally we want to look NOT at the light reflections on the ball, and NOT the shadows under the ball, rather at a point on the equator of the ball furthest from the pocket. The other main way is to imagine a ghost cue ball against the object ball lined such that both ghost ball and object ball line up with the pocket.
However, exactly where you look on the object ball to visualize either method above is not that important as long as your method is consistent and as long as you spend the correct amount of eye time on each ball. This is because 90% of our aiming is done with our peripheral vision. So, the eye patterns simply 'gather data' on the shape of the shot to help us confirm if our aim is wrong or not.
For club players I recommend a 50% eye time on both balls, and as they get better they will be able to put more and more time on the CUE BALL (NOT the object ball). Again, counter-intuitively for most club players, pros spend most (sometimes up to 90%) of their shot eye time on the CUE BALL. This is because they have done their aiming before they get down, and aiming the object ball is a waste of time anyway unless you are sure your tip is in the middle of the cue ball (assuming no side is needed). The more we are certain the tip is in the centre of the cue ball, and that the cue is moving straight and smoothly the easier it is to aim. If you look at the object ball too much you cannot confirm these cueing qualities in your peripheral vision as well as if looking at the cue ball. In addition, please don’t make the mistake of looking at the cue as you will lose your view of the shot as much as if staring at the pocket… and no pro looks directly at the cue during their shot other than NOT BEING ABLE TO NOT SEE IT peripherally for aiming purposes.
The next exercise is simply getting down to the shot and ONLY look at the cue ball – you can NOT look at the object ball AT ANY TIME (even to watch it go to the pocket). Start with very short range pots and gradually increase the distances. Most players are amazed how much they can pot with only their peripheral vision, which by inference demonstrates that where they look on which ball is just the icing on the cake and not the be all and end all of aiming.
Aimlessly Hitting Balls:
Spread a few balls around the table, and select random angles at which to send the cue ball onto the object ball. Your target is to do 100 of these with a straight delivery. You are NOT allowed to aim the object ball, try to pot the ball, or try to send the ball to any specific part of a cushion. The idea is simply: Learn to hit the ball where your cue is pointing, and watch the object ball until it stops moving. This teaches yourself what object ball paths result from which aims.
Knowing When You Will Miss:
Set up a blue in the middle with a potting angle that is difficult for you – for most players this is toward half ball and beyond. Play all shots just above centre cue ball (so as not to worry about position), and pocket speed (so that it just reaches the pocket) to keep cueing easy and give your eyes more time to learn the object ball paths for certain aims.
Go through three stages:
- Experiment: Aim random angles as in the aimless exercise. You are NOT allowed to aim the object ball at any specific point, but as a guide the object should be within a maximum of 18 inches from the pocket. Play ten shots with a straight delivery (which you will confirm by staying in position until the object ball stops) and simply observe the object ball until it stops or goes in.
- Guess: Based on what you have learned from step 1, GUESS where you think the object ball will go relative to the pocket before you make the final backswing. You are NOT allowed to aim the object ball anywhere specific and NOT allowed to try to pot it – you are just selecting random angles within 18 inches or so either side of the pocket. The shot only counts if you deliver the cue straight, watch the object ball and stay down on the shot until it stops. As you get better at guesswork, YOU WILL BEGIN TO KNOW WHEN YOU ARE GOING TO MISS. Thus, by default you are learning how to pot. Most players are fixated by ‘needing to know that the ball is going to go in’ before they play the shot. What professionals could, more importantly, also tell you is when they are going to miss when aiming incorrectly. Most club players cannot do this very well because they don’t put attention on watching where the object ball is going – and only think about where they want it to go (the pocket).
- Goal: You are then allowed the luxury of the goal of potting the ball, using what you have learned from the first two steps. THE POT ONLY COUNTS IF YOU DELIVER STRAIGHT, , WATCH THE BALL AND STAY DOWN UNTIL IT STOPS!
Attitude In Snooker:
It is OK to make your best guess with your aim, cue perfectly straight and miss. In fact, that is your default expectation from every shot – that you will play the shot to the best of your ability, accept you may miss anyway, watch the result, and when you miss simply learn about where you should have aimed better or how you should have cued better. The pot is just a bonus…. And a SIDE EFFECT!