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

The Mental Snooker Tax – And how to be a happy snooker player

psychology Sep 06, 2018

recently had a Skype message from a client and good friend of mine Glyn Williams who expressed his frustration in the game. He plays about 15-20 hours a week, and complained:


“Why oh why do I keep playing ******* snooker!

I played like I'd never held a cue before today :( so frustrating.

I just don't understand how you can slip to like 30% of your usual performance.”


I responded:

Every snooker player has been in that place. Earmark 20% of all your future playing time as absolutely terrible. Literally expect that 20% of all your playing time will be a Mental Snooker Tax of misery, inability to diagnose or self correct, missing easy balls, and feeling as if you are playing with someone else’s arms.


However, they say that every cloud has a silver lining.

When you feel you are playing worse than you ever have played (it won’t be the worst – it will just feel like the worst!) then just use that time as an opportunity to build up these absolutely vital mental snooker skills. You will know you are in the 20% Mental Snooker Tax zone so have nothing to lose as you cannot play worse, and might as well enjoy it.


1. Practice applying your process no matter how badly you are playing. 
This means your pre shot routine, your cueing method and number of cue actions, and post shot routine where you stay down on the shot and watch the object ball until it hits pocket or cushion.

Most poor players quit their post shot routine if they have not played the shot right – as if whether they can be bothered to apply their post shot routine depends on whether they have played a good shot. To resist this, try committing to stay down LONGER when (not if) you play a terrible shot. Steve Davis and Shaun Murphy are very good examples of the ‘stay down longer on a rubbish shot’ method.


2. OBSERVING what is happening rather than JUDGING IT. 
Most poor players will mutter & mumble and moan & groan after they miss a shot, especially if it is an ‘easy’ shot or if they missed a tougher shot by a very wide margin. This is NEGATIVE judgement. 

Conversely, they will woop & hoop with joy when they see a good pot going in. This is POSITIVE judgement. 

ALL judgement blinds us from our top priority of OBSERVING what has happened after the cue ball it struck. As I like to say to clients who are struggling: ‘It is more important to WATCH the ball, then to POT the ball.’


3. Having the humility to downgrade your expectations.
The ONLY way anyone can be upset in life or in snooker is with a broken expectation (wants and hopes count as expectations). If you are frustrated or angry, use that as a great opportunity. Think of frustration and anger as gifts which sign post you to identifying the expectations that cause you upset.

The only way to remove this frustration and anger that will spoil your snooker performance, is to unhook the expectation. Once you have identified it, you have a choice to unhook it or not. The question is, is your ego willing to do that?

For example, if your broken expectation causing upset is ‘I should not miss a straight blue in the middle pocket’, 
are you humble enough to convert that attitude to: ‘I SHOULD miss an easy blue in the middle pocket if I don’t deliver the cue on the line properly!’

Taking responsibility in this way is what very few people are willing to do.

As another example, is your ego willing to convert: “I should not lose to someone ‘much worse’ than I am?’ to: “I deserve to lose to anyone if I lose my form and cannot self diagnose and self correct my issue”? Tough to face that ugly reality, isn’t it – and this is the reason we keep the comfortable expectations.


4. Realise that playing bad is a great chance to PRACTICE your self diagnosis and self correction skills.

I like to tell clients to expect that they will not be able to do this 50% of the time, will have to guess 25% of the time, and will know 25% of the time. If you can diagnose and correct at that frequency, you are at a good standard of self diagnosis. I notice that the LOWER the standard of player, the HIGHER their expectation is that they will be able to self diagnose and self correct.

With practice you will gradually get better and better at it – in the same way that we get better at the shots we practice.


What snooker players don’t realise is that snooker’s four mental skills are as important and as difficult as snooker’s four physical skills of technique, cue action, aiming, and positional play.


Practice the first four as much as you do the second four, and your happiness in the game as well as your standard will gradually transform.