Snooker. Let’s talk about snooker again. There is a point to this. I’ll keep it brief. For those of you who don’t know, snooker is like pool, only on a much bigger table. It requires a better technique than pool. If I don’t practice regularly, my game falls apart, but with pool I can pick it up and play competently even if I haven’t played for a few weeks. Timing on the stroke is everything, you need to be very still, push the cue through in a straight line and follow through on the shot.
To play snooker real good you have to be truly present. Truly in the moment - you have to empty your mind of thoughts. You can’t think about the bad shot you just played before. How would that help you? In its own microcosmic way, you must drop the baggage of the past. Strike it and move on. How many times have I talked myself out of victory in my head because I’ve played 3 or 4 terrible shots in a row? Or just lost a game I should have won? How can I expect to play a good shot, get my timing right, push the cue through correctly when I’m still ruminating on my poor play before, or that missed black ball that meant I lost the last game? When you are down on the shot, as soon as you start thinking about anything at all - the positional side of the shot, or the next shot after that, or how many points you are gonna get, the position you are in the match - you are sunk. The ball won’t go in, you’ll miss-time your shot. I play weekly, and it’s a wonderful weekly practice session for ego-management, boxing the chimp. I’m literally putting the methods I’ve learnt into use in every session.
Stephen Hendry, the most successful snooker player ever with seven world titles to his name, was once asked what was in his mind when he was playing the shot. Turns out he had a mantra of sorts, not that he called it that. His mantra? Get in the pocket you bastard. Get in the pocket you bastard. Pretty simple. Setting an intention too. The dude knew what he was doing.
The 1980 World Champion Terry Griffiths, who came through qualifying to beat the top players in the world and is now the most sought after coach would sing a song in his head when down on the shot. Exactly the same idea. A barricade to negative thoughts coming in. As a Welshman, the song he chose was Myfanwy. When down on the shot, he would literally be singing this song over and over in his head. If you are singing a song in your head, how can any negative thoughts come in? Pretty useful tool this, to stop negative thoughts getting in the way. He taught this method to fellow Welshman Mark Williams, while coaching him to two World titles, who chose ‘Waltzing Matilda’ as his song of choice.
There’s more to my snooker metaphor. When you play and think positively, and are playing well, the table responds positively to you. Little nudges, canons and kisses go your way. You can make your own luck on a snooker table. It’s a strange phenomenon to observe but it is real. Attack attack! Trust me, I’ve done a lot of on-table research. Hours and hours and hours and hours. Play positively, and good things happen. Exactly like life.
I have a long-standing rivalry with my studio partner Steve. We are pretty evenly matched, which makes for tremendous tussles. We have a shield that passes between us - the erroneously engraved Planck Music Cup - and we play tournaments, first to 9 games, over several sessions. The target provides a storyline and drama in each session. If he gets ahead by a few frames, which can happen, then of course my chimp goes into overdrive. ‘rubbish, if he gets this frame, he’s only two away from winning the tournament’ - and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to put into practice the methods I’m sharing with you today. Sometimes I find myself on a five minute long downward negative thought spiral before I catch myself and sort out my thoughts. I sing a song.
‘Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda, you’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me’
Don’t worry I won’t sing again. Those aren't even the right words. I just looked them up.
We call it the cruel game. You can have the most awful luck on a snooker table, no matter how positively you are playing. Sometimes, it just feels like the snooker gods have got it in for you. You might not get a decent chance at a pot in what seems like an age. It can be so frustrating. An entire game can go by without you feeling like you had a sniff of a chance to get a break going. You watch in pain as the ball runs safe again and again after your opponent makes a mess of his pot. Or you keep going in-off - scratching the white. Sometimes you can give your opponent 20 odd penalty points and in an amateur level club game twenty points is a big deal. I can feel the rage inside me come up and internally I’m screaming ‘just give me a shot! One chance and I’ll get some points on the board!’ and I have to take myself to the toilet, look at myself in the mirror and give myself a good talking to.
How does getting angry serve me in this case? How would getting frustrated at my seemingly bad luck help me win the game?
Strike it and move on. Your luck will turn, it always does. Be patient, and wait for your chance, enjoy the ride. And when that chance comes, don’t invest too much in the outcome. Have a plan in place for your next step, which ball you are playing onto, clear your mind, get down, and be present.
Get in the pocket you bastard.