Some Personal Practice Tips

Most players of average ability could benefit from spending some time on the table on their own, ironing out (no pun intended) their weaknesses and improving aspects of their game. I am indebted to Lloyd Roberts, of Bridgend Snooker Club, in Wales, who has given me some of the ideas for this, and to Clive Roberts (no relation) in my own area, who is a professional coach and referee. I will put down here some ideas that you can put into practice if you haven't a coach on whom you can call for advice.

Solo Practice - Part 1 (Courtesy of Lloyd Roberts)

Solo practice is difficult but yields benefits beyond belief. The snooker player with scope for improvement will improve at a faster rate by introducing solo practice into his or her schedule. But why does it yield such benefits?
The obvious answer is simple - it teaches you about yourself, your game, your weaknesses and your strengths. Very true. But the subtle answer is that it teaches you concentration. If you can just find a way of playing alone for 1, 2 or 3 hours without getting bored you've found a cast iron way of improving your game.
The key to being able to live with yourself on a table for long periods of time can be found in 2 parts:

(a) you must know what you're going to do BEFORE you go on the table; and
(b) you must create pressure by setting targets i.e. - I HAVE to complete so and so before moving on.
In this way you are always questioning yourself. At times you may think you have found the correct answer. But to every answer there is a follow up question. MOST PEOPLE LIKE TO THINK THAT THEY ARE THINKING. But if you have the willpower and determination to follow this article you will really be on a different plane to the Homer Simpsons out there.

In part 2 of this article we will move on to actual schedules which have been employed by Ryan Day (one of Wales' most promising young players) for the last 5 or 6 years. They have been modified to account for his improvement but the fundamentals still remain. Other better junior players are beginning to practice in the same way.
The schedules are tinkered with regularly to pose as 1, 2 or 3 hour sessions. Everyone has different levels of difficulty to allow for differing standards of play. Every session is clocked to make sure it's right and to show improvement levels. Clearly if you are doing your 2 hour schedule in 1.5 hours, you have improved and the schedules should be made harder to get back up to 1, 2 and 3 hours.
The routines about to be described split in to 2 areas:
(a) centre ball striking and continuing FAMILIARISATION with the centre of the white;
(b) cue-ball CONTROL or more clearly "break building".
You will note that the exercises switch between these two categories all of the time. Centre, Control, Centre, Control etc.
We will include all exercises that have been used. Some will seem very easy, and some will seem impossible to many of you. You must mix and match the exercises. Work out your own routine and add in anything else you may think worthwhile. But don't forget the order of play - centre/control/centre/control etc.
Finally let me make one thing clear: Lloyd is not saying they have invented everything themselves. Some have evolved through a bit of original thought, but the majority of the items have been gleaned from other coaches and players.
Success, whether it be in business, sport or any other walks of life depends upon being able to pick out the scarce particles of gold from the volumes of crap through which we wade.

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Solo Practice - Part 2

Centre Ball Striking Exercises

1. Cue ball up and down spots. This exercise should be used by all players to START all solo practice sessions. Do the following 5 times only. Place the cue ball on the brown spot and play it up through the spots and back down again, at varying weights but hard enough to at least get into baulk. The idea is to begin your session as you mean to go on. Concentrate on the things YOU do, eg stance, head stillness, pause of the cue, follow through etc.
2. Long Double Kiss.
kiss blue gifPlace cue ball on brown spot and blue ball on centre spot. Striking the cue ball below centre hit the blue full in the face. The cue ball will hold the centre spot and hopefully the blue will travel off the top cushion and back to double kiss it. This type of exercise should be done 3 times in succession for better players and 3 times in total for players of more average abilities before moving on.

3. Straight Pot Blue.
pot blue gifCue ball on baulk line, lined dead straight with blue into top pocket. Pot the blue in rotation into each corner pocket (4 pots). On one rotation use centre ball strike, ie like a stun run through. Next use low cue ball striking, ie hold the centre spot with the white. Final rotation: use top spin and try to make the cue ball follow into the corner pocket. If the pot is made but there is no in-off you have still succeeded. We'll leave it to you how to work this. You may want to split this into 3 separate exercises.
Maybe a player of good standard would want to just complete all 4. Someone of professional standard may want to do each 4 in succession.
4. Long potting.
pot reds gif15 Reds lined up between the middle pockets (1 on blue spot and 7 either side). Cue ball on the baulk line. Start with the extreme end red (left or right) and set up a dead straight pot into the top corner. To stop yourself pulling your hair out, this first red is allowed free, ie you may wait until you successfully pot it before starting the exercise proper. Now, levels of completeness depend on your ability. An average player may wait until he gets 8 out of 15. A top pro may want to do at least 12 out of 15 TWICE IN SUCCESSION, i.e. if he makes 15/15 first attempt and 11/15 on the second, he has FAILED and starts all over again until he gets it right.

Part 3 will cover cue ball CONTROL. Don't forget these exercises should be mixed with those in part 3 (centre/control/centre/control…..).

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Solo Practice - Part 3 Cue-Ball Control Exercises

1. AN EASY STARTER? Place the black on its own spot and pot it 15 times into the same corner pocket without picking up the cue-ball, ie maintain position. Top players should dispense with this exercise but every good junior should be able to prove that he or she can do it most of the time.
2. COLOURS CLEARANCES. The importance cannot be stressed enough. This set position comes up time and time again and the difference between the pro and club player is that the pro will clear 99/100. You will also learn about your little weaknesses. For instance Llloyd says he has an awful tendency to pot a half ball yellow and leave himself too close to the side cushion for the green. Ryan Day's problem was that if he had to pot the blue and go off the top cushion and back down for the pink he would always hit it short, leading to a power shot on the pink, sending the cue ball into baulk and back. Part of the solution to a problem is recognising you have a problem. Repeated practice at the following variants tends to identify problems and iron them out:
(a) Pot black, go down for the yellow and clear up. Do this 5 or 10 times starting with different angles and positions on the black.
(b) To go up a level, after potting the pink maintain an angle on the black and replace the colours. Pot black and go up for the yellow and clear again. Llloyd managed to do 5 complete clearances in this way (missed simple green on 6th attempt). Ryan regularly does this 10 times and stops.
(c) An interesting variant is to start with the yellow, down to the black, but before potting re-spot the colours. Then pot black pink blue brown green, and before potting the yellow replace colours again. Then of course it's yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black. How far can you go? How many times will your problems start on the blue to brown shot?
Whatever variant you use don't forget to set a target, eg I will do variant (b) until I've done it twice or three times, or variant (c) until I've done one complete rotation.

3 . FRAME WINNERS. Place the colours on their spots and scatter the reds around the pink and black area ensuring that black and pink pot easily into their own pockets (including the middle for the pink) and that there are no reds in awkward positions. Try to get a layout that you can generally remember. Now the idea is simple. Start with any red and try to make a frame-winning break. This means that by the time you have missed, your opponent would need a snooker, eg. You miss on 72 and there's 67 (5 reds) left on the table - for our purposes you have succeeded. Clearly if you miss on 65 and
there's 67 on the table you have failed. Ryan tries to do this 3 times in succession before moving on.
There are many other set positions, a favourite being 5 reds between pink and black, start with a long red and clear up with ALL blacks. The variants are endless but there's enough to be going on with above.

When performing the frame winners exercise stroll round and replace the colour before potting the red. This helps you to pace yourself through what can turn out to be a mentally gruelling stamina contest. Your opponent will be CONCENTRATION.

Hope you've enjoyed this little essay on personal practice. Even if you cannot achieve it all, it gives you some food for thought about what to concentrate on if you want to improve your game. Right, off I go to the snooker club. Hope those young b......s are not hogging the table again...

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