Do we really need snooker coaches?
It always surprises me why this is such a very controversial subject to many stalwarts. For me, I certainly think there is a place for snooker coaches within the sport and think if you are serious about progressing then at some point, unless you have a God given talent, you will progress further with a good one.
As a cue and case stockist I see many players come and go for equipment and as usual, we enjoy conversations over all the specifications of each item and how it will fit the player, the players style of play and what they feel they need to make them a better player; occasionally, if I feel it’s appropriate, I’ll bring up coaching and the potential benefits.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see customers spend £300+ on a cue and then look at £200+ for a case and then all the extensions but when I find out they’ve been playing for 20 years, take the sport really seriously and have a high break of 26 it’s tough not to try and understand why they haven’t spent a little money on their technique or thinking.
I played a lot of golf over the years and I’ve seen many players that are straight to the pro shop with their £500 for the latest driver that will gain them an extra 20 yards off the tee when I know for a fact they very rarely hit one straight; you then watch them take the new club to the course and gain an extra 20 yards straight over the fence!! Coaching is very cheap when you look at the cost of a driver and all the other peripherals golfers will invest in rather than see a coach.
I once saw a friend on the driving range with a brand new driver, he hit the ball everywhere but up the centre and just looking beaten when I walked over. He told me the driver supposedly had 9 sweet spots on the face and even showed me the sticker he pulled off with the numbers on it. I pulled the driver off him and knocked half a dozen straight up the middle to the end of the range to his dismay. I remember telling ‘Danny’ that if the driver isn’t pointing up the fairway, “Where do you think the ball’s going?” He was I call a searcher, you find them in snooker continually changing their cue looking for the magic wand or the ‘Eureka’ tip; I just stuck it on and over night I became world champion. Danny had some coaching and eventually used a ‘3’ wood which was more suited and forgiving.
Now, for me, there is a balance and I think you can be over coached. Coaching in my world is when a person (coach) will observe your play and then dip in when they see something of benefit and then dip out again as you trial it and engrain any benefits into your game until it feels natural and you don’t even think about it. This may be stance, tactical or break building angles and margins of error, anything that progress your game or thinking.
I once saw a golfing coach who I would call a trainer as a trainer to me is someone that does all the talking and you just listen while they show you what to do, this is something I would expect starting out in a sport when your knowledge is at it’s lowest point. Having a trainer at a later stage can be very damaging unless you are totally lost but too much information can certainly instil a paralysis by analysis in the player and cause commitment issues to the shot in hand. For the golfers out there, Seve Ballesteros was told he had the wrong game to win in America so went about changing his swing and by the time he had realised he had lost his game it was too late and sadly he never got back there; one of the saddest things I have seen for a player so naturally gifted to fall so low; he had been looking at a complete re-training rather than tweaking by a coach he could trust.
After I saw what I called a ‘training’ coach by mistake I worked it out that I had around 30 new learning’s which of course was completely unacceptable for any brain to build into a natural shot without being mechanical. The abundance of new information actually gave me the yips on the ‘Tee’ which is something that wrecked my game considering I’d been a single figure handicapper for over a decade since starting. With hat I know about trainers and coaches I would have stopped the lesson after the third tip!!
Snooker has a lot of similarities in the fact it is a dead ball sport and the opponent can’t (arguably) affect your game once you are at the table like other sports.
Like golf, a good coach can see things that you may be struggling with and spent hours of painful self analysis so I see them as a ‘short cut’ to success.
Now I think there are two sorts of players, ‘natural’ and ‘mechanical’. What I mean by this is there is always the guy at the club who pots everything, has all the shots and is respected by most as a good player; if they are from the older generation I rarely meet any that say coaching is a natural requirement and their advice is to forget coaching, free your mind and just get down and hit it and everything will come in time. For me, that is why nowadays there are professional players hitting more centuries in one season than players from the 70’s and 80’s hit in their whole career, they naturally accept coaching is fundamental. I was told the other day that Ronnie O’Sullivan is living proof that you don’t need coaches, natural talent will always shine through over robots. If anyone out there think’s ROS hasn’t had coaching over the years by many of the top snooker coaches, sports psychologists and ex World Champions then you need to do a little more digging as I can think of four he has seen and I haven’t even looked.
I am from that 70’s, 80’s era so it’s not a major criticism of the old ways, it’s just what I think is a progression in our thinking and learning’s. The first 20 years I played I didn’t even really know of coaching and even if I did, there certainly wasn’t a ‘Jack Karnehm’ in every town and I only found out that there were snooker coaching books from Joe Davis when I started collecting Billiard books at the age of 50!
Now I understand that the discussion isn’t as simple as that but times have changed for most sports and regular coaching from a decent coach for me will give a benefit over a similar standard player without it over time; there is always the exception but for me that isn’t the norm.
‘Mechanical’ players are the ones who have to know everything about the technical aspects of the game, angles, cue weights, the latest tip and every piece of knowledge that is out there and they suck it up like a sponge, for me, a lot of the information can slow progress and clouds the mind; you only need to be drip fed after you have got going and at a rate that reflects your ability and time invested in progression e.g. practice. Now I can almost hear the voices telling me you need a £2000 cue made by angels well I can tell you now that probably more World Championships have been won with a bent cue than a straight cue and even Stephen Hendry’s was bent. Ray Reardon used to role his bent cue on the table at exhibitions and say the table was out as a joke! As for “I need a cue made by this or that cue maker,” you’d be amazed by how many cues actually come from the same place but that’s another story!!
Today, one of the worst problems we have are the abundance of suitable tips to fit to our cues, they are everywhere and never has there been such a good choice. On every forum I see guys arguing that their tip choice is far better than the other guys to the point of abuse when if you have an open mind and know about tips then you would say they are both as good and it is just personal preference. Once you have a decent tip then you should forget tips for good and move on as if not, you be searching like the golfer with the new driver.
In the 70’s and 80’s, I used Blue Diamonds or Elks and once they were played in I just played; there’s enough to concern yourself with unless you fitted a ‘duffer!’
The truly mechanical players can never be natural and the truly natural players can never build too much mechanics into their game (or can they?) when required so luckily the majority of people sit in the middle and can decide where they want to be.
Selling a cue where the player insists he or she needs a 9.3mm tip with extraordinary grip so they can play the 1 in 1,000 screw shots 12ft (without any real control), a 29.1mm butt, 60 inches long but weighing 15 ounces is tough not to raise an eye brow when they tell you that is required and their high break is 16. I have been told many times by customers that the perfect cue length is 1 inch below your shoulder and I have to sigh. If you have twins come into buy cues and they are both the same height, one has an old dead straight bridge arm and the other a more modern bent bridge arm should the cue be the same length? If one has a standard bridge hand to cue ball touching point and the other has a closer one like John Higgins or suffers with twitches in the feathering or struggles to keep the feathering straight so has their bridge hand closer, are the cues the same length? Many people have an idea but cannot open their mind up to new knowledge or progress past a certain point but are very vocal in convincing people why they are wrong as they are a reasonable player so they must be right.
I am a reasonable club player and have certainly beaten players that are far better than me but continually make the same mistakes in their thinking so I just play on it, not all shots are played on the baize and not everything is won before the first shot because one player is supposedly better than another? How many players have lost before they start as they beat themselves up and how many times do you see someone who isn’t that good beat someone else that they have no right to beat; there is a place for different thinking and to learn to believe and examples certainly help some of the talented people out there that just don’t believe. The mind is a wonderful thing but can also be destructive with poor influence.
Good coaches should be able to help with most things and I stress, good coaches.
What about bad coaches? Well, a bad coach can certainly undo lots of good work by the player and throw enough confusion into the player’s mind to either paralyse improvement and in some cases introduce habits that can destroy a game. Imagine a coach introducing a pause into a player who has never had one and telling the player to hold, hold, hold, now take the shot. Two weeks later the player can’t let go of the cue and any natural ability can be lost forever; the game can then become painful.
The reason I came back to snooker was after some poor golf coaching. I had a reasonable game, shot many level par rounds off the back tee’s and certainly had a lot of enjoyable years winning my fair share of competitions. I started out with a few minor issues and saw a few coaches that were superb at tweaking certain aspects to improve my game and my game went to another level, I chose coaches that had a reputation for being a good coach at the various gold disciplines. Eventually I saw a local club pro who was what I call a ‘mechanical’ coach with a new golf swing that may be able to take my game down a few shots as although I was consistent I had reached my peak; yes, we mentioned this earlier, these are to be avoided as they will give you a mountain of information; he did and I never got back to where I was as a player.
I did a lot of management coaching over the years and one of the things I learned and proved was that the most you can give anyone that is being coached is two or three things to think about and then give them a decent amount of time to go and build it into their routine with an open ear to the coach if they haven’t quite got it or they want to debate it a little more to under pin their understanding.
Now at this point, if you haven’t ever seen a coach you’ll be thinking I don’t want any of that paralysis by analysis; just ask around, good coaches have good reputations and as long as you have done a little homework then you should be ok.
Does the coach need to have been an ex professional? In my opinion, no.
Clearly it depends at what level you are at and many coaches by their own admission will be able to take a player a certain way and then if they are honest, they will pass the player onto someone else they trust who has a different skill set or is at a different level. I think if you were to categorise players then most would be at the beginner stage and intermediate so that’s where the majority of coaching is.
If you coach 100 players then naturally you will have small group of gifted players coming through at a high level but most are progressing through the early to intermediate stages of learning the game and many never get past that point.
I saw an interview with Jimmy White once, one of the most naturally gifted players the world has ever seen. He said that a lot of things he just does and it’s a feel thing that he uses considering that he cues to the bottom of the ball regardless of what shot he is generally playing; he knows that is not going to help anyone else as that’s what he does. Having to think mechanically is not really his way and I would be interested if he felt he could become a good coach and transfer his knowledge to players at all levels, certainly a debate for another day. Terry Griffiths on the other hand is and was clearly more of a thinker of each shot and has made a natural progression to coaching and has carved out a very good reputation with many players of all standards and speeds singing his praises.
This is certainly a debate that could be made into a short book but for me, overall, coaching by a coach with a decent reputation is a plus to dip into your game occasionally to ensure you are progressing at a rate you are happy with and to at least give you enough knowledge for a swift self analysis when things are going wrong.
As regards equipment, once you know it is reasonable then you should trust it and concentrate on your game.