Dougal wrote:Hi guys
I've just booked some coaching with Ian Williamson at Northern Snooker Centre, Leeds.
I've played bits and bobs and in fits and starts since I was 14. I'm 32 now and I've decided to challenge myself.
Have I left it too late to learn to play to any sort of standard? I don't mean like making centuries and winning the World Championship. I mean more sort of being able to pot a few, play some half decent safety and knock a 50 in every now and again. I practised for 6 weeks one summer and made a 40 break, but I was young then. I've never had any sort of coaching.
What do you think?
I'm coming late to this party, but when I saw the title, "Too late?", I was intrigued. Then, reading that you are 32 years old (in 2012), I about choked on my morning coffee laughing out loud (pardon...it's coffee, not tea for a Yank). So to re-visit my story quickly....
Learned the game at 20 years old, played a few times a week for about five years. In that whole time, I had two breaks in the forties, and maybe a dozen in the thirties. Twenties were not uncommon but I often went full sessions without seeing a twenty break.
Fast forward, I got away from the game for twenty years, and at 50 years old now, ancient by your standards, I have been back at the table for the last five years and loving it more than ever. For the last couple years, I have broken my age (half century) three or four times a year. Playing about 8 to 10 hours a week, I will break forty about once or twice a month, and the thirty breaks are too numerous to talk about. I now run twenties in more frames than not.
When I came back to the table, aged 44, I realized that the eyes just weren't right. I agree with Sickpotter that among the balls, it's not that big a deal, but it can be very difficult to get a break going with a long and/or thin starter pot. For me, contact lenses were the perfect solution. Took about six months and plenty of patience to sort out the correct prescription but well worth it, not because I necessarily stroke better, but simply because with clearer vision, the confidence level is higher.
Also, I agree with Sickpotter about the myth of the shelf life of professionals. On the cusp of 40 years old, I see Ronnie playing the game as long as he wants to. Of course, the victories are going to drop off, so what? I love to watch Steve Davis put together a good frame every now and then still. If playing perfect snooker even as you get older is your biggest priority, you have the wrong game. On the other hand, if enjoyment of the game is your driving force, you can play and enjoy this game until the day you drop dead. And if you are smart enough to learn something every time you swing the cue, then as an amateur like most of us, your game will probably continue to improve until that day as well, despite the physical deterioration of your body. Myself, I am looking forward to the next twenty, thirty years. And though I am not pressuring myself to produce it, I fully expect to reach 70, 80, and yes, even the century one day.
A couple things you said actually concern me a little bit.
The first was, "....I had to pot some very difficult balls and leave myself with half a chance of potting the next. It should have been over 30 though because I misjudged a potting angle on the pink. Never mind."--NEVER look at those apparent missed opportunities with that negative outlook because the next time a similar opportunity presents itself (which won't take very long, believe me), you will have simply added another layer of pressure on yourself to perform and it will just be that much more difficult and failure will soon spiral out of control because of the negative outlook. ALWAYS realize that another chance at a break is just moments away. We rank amateurs are not playing against a pro who can, at will, leave us buried behind a baulk colour with no chance to pot. Our real opponents leave us openers all the time. Literally, every single frame, I see the realistic possibility of a thirty or forty break several times but only occasionally I manage to convert my vision into an actual nice break. But like with twenty breaks now, I expect the day will come soon that I begin to make these thirties and forties happen on a very regular basis.
The second thing you said was, "If I make a point of slowing down and concentrating hard I play better." In my view, "concentrating" is ONLY useful when you are sitting in your chair watching your opponent at the table, or when you are standing, surveying, and deciding among your possible shot choices. If you are "concentrating" when you are actually down and stroking the cue ball, your mind can only get in your way. Sickpotter also mentioned the importance of "pre-shot routine" which I exactly agree with as going through this reflex action with each shot gets your body doing what it does naturally all the while preventing your brain from going places it ought not. My statement about this is: "Question: Why is Ronnie so good at potting balls? Answer: He approaches it exactly like he approaches tying his shoes....doesn't think about it at all, simply does it." Of course, you must concentrate, and think, and mull, and decide, and do arithmetic, and all kinds of other mental exercises when playing snooker, BUT (here is the important, critical factor) NOT when you are crouching and feathering and stroking the ball. If any distraction creeps into your mind while you are crouching, any uncertainty about a decision you made, or anything else, you must stand back up and start over again. THAT is why the pre-shot routine is so important...it keeps your mind out of the PHYSICAL business of striking the cue ball.
So the answer to your question "Is it too late?" at 32 years old....I am a far better player at fifty years old than I could even dream of at 25 (when I began my hiatus). Yes, I do wish I had my younger physical body to go along with this fantastic older, wiser brain, but as an either/or choice, I have the better of the two worlds now. And I expect to update this post with the positive events of the past decade about ten years from now when I am sixty.